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How will we vote on Election Day -- 2020? The future of voting tech

  • Voters at booths 2012 1.jpg

    Nov. 6, 2012: Voters wait in line for the doors to Precinct 39 to open before casting their ballots on Election Day at the First Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa.AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

  • Voters at booths 2012.jpg

    FILE: Nov. 6, 2012: Early morning voting in Point Lookout , N.Y..AP

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    Nov. 6, 2012: A voter who did not wish to be identified votes casts a paper ballot on Election Day at the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia, N.Y.AP Photo/David Duprey

Why were the elections of 2012 so much like those in 1952?

With its telephone-based polls of homemakers, politicians stumping on the campaign trail, and the looming threat of hanging chads from paper ballots, the 2012 rumble between Romney and Obama felt almost archaic.

That’s all about to change, however. Futurists, technology visionaries and science fiction authors posit some tremendous change, such that the election of 2020 -- just eight short years off -- will be largely unlike today’s.

From campaigning to polling to the process of voting itself, the election 2020 will be different. No, we won’t have mind-controlled ballots or eyeball scanners for security. But we could have Facebook.

“Everyday, cheap technologies—digital cameras—could form the basis for a relatively inexpensive system of voter identification,” wrote Charles Stewart III, a political scientist with MIT and a member of the Caltech / MIT Voting Technology Project. A Facebook of sorts, in other words, with the actual faces of voters and maintained by individual states to verify a person’s identity.

Those who aren’t currently in the system could have their images captured at the polling place, he suggested. “A voter’s identity could easily and quickly be confirmed by a pollworker who has access to an electronic pollbook,” Stewart added.

'The more we learn about brain function, the more we're going to be able to tailor political messages to how people's brains work.'

- science fiction author Daniel Abraham

But well before voters make it to the booths, politics itself will have changed in 2020.

The ramp up to the election in, say, 2018 or ’19, should be very different than today, said science fiction author Daniel Abraham, who was nominated last year for a prestigious Hugo Award. Current political scientists rely heavily upon data analysis to hone their messages for the demographic. But as the databases full of information on us stack up -- thanks to all those clicks on Google and social networks like Facebook -- they’ll be able to write political ads for individuals, not groups.

“The more we learn about brain function, the more we're going to be able to tailor political messages to how people's brains work,” Abraham told FoxNews.com. “With the data profiles we're already building based on individual people's habits and behaviors, correlating that with brain function could lead to individually tailored political ads: ‘Kathy, we know how important motherhood is to you.  Here is what *our* health care reform will mean for your daughter, Susie, and her kidney problem.’"

Creepy? Maybe. But that’s the future. Possibly, anyway.

Despite widespread efforts to modernize a voting process that hasn't seemed to evolve in decades, technology has had little impact to date. The biggest effort involved the introduction of electronic voting machines from companies such as Diebold Election Systems Inc., since renamed Premier Election Solutions. 

Diebold booths were widely reviled, after security experts pointed out countless security flaws that could lead to miscounts or even compromise votes. 

One professional hacker recently revealed how easy it is to steal votes from such a machine -- using $30 worth of parts from RadioShack. 

Something is bound to change by 2020. At that point, the country will be awash in information about the race not from pollsters but from machines -- and from video games. After all, people barely answer their home phones today.

Pollsters won’t call you in 2020 as they did in 1936, when George Gallup invented his system, explained David Rothschild, a Columbia fellow and an economist with Microsoft research in New York.

“In eight years, there’s not going to be a telephone without a screen,” Rothschild told FoxNews.com. His group has been working on a new way to poll, using big data: While people watched the debates using the live TV feature in their Xbox game consoles, they asked questions  and then pored over the results.

Rothschild acknowledged that Xbox users aren’t exactly an ordinary demographic. But by parsing the data, he said meaningful information can be teased out. And by 2020, Xbox game consoles may be far more common than today.

“The people watching debates on gaming systems in 2012 may be extreme. In 2016 and 2020, interactive TV is going to be the norm,” he said.

And that whole secret ballot thing? Fugghedabouddit, Abraham said.

“As we get more sophisticated electronic voting, that the idea of a secret ballot is going to come under question.  Verifying that electronic and Internet-based voting is actually recording the right information is going to make secrecy a luxury,” Abraham told FoxNews.com.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called it back in 2010: The age of privacy is over.

That’s for those voters who make it down to a local polling place, of course. By 2020, more and more people will simply be voting online, others argue.

“The Internet will be increasingly used to transmit blank ballots to remote voters, who can print them out, indicate their choices on the printed ballots, and return them via postal mail,” Stewart wrote.

But why wait for the future? Several social media sites seemingly beamed here from the future can tell you today who won the Nov. 8 2020 election. Spoiler alert: it will have been a nailbiter.

Senator Akeem Mellis of Colorado defeated incumbent President Whitney Mason -- governor of “the superregion of Appalachia” -- with 270 electoral votes to Mason's 268 electoral votes, according to USG Wiki, a free governmental simulation website.

But just wait until 2036.

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.