Thinking outside the ballot box
|November 06, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff|
Consider it thinking outside the box — the ballot box, that is.
San Mateo County is among several California counties trying out technology that lets more than 3,000 voters in dozens of countries access their local ballots with a few keystrokes no matter their location. While LiveBallot, developed by Washington state-based Democracy Live, is primarily aimed at military members stationed overseas, any voters living abroad can benefit.
“The goal here is to make it more convenient for voters and facilitate more participation,” said Mark Church, chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk-recorder.
So far, the county’s participation is pretty impressive. As of Monday, 376 ballots were actually downloaded which is the second highest of the state’s participating counties, Church said.
Those ballots have been accessed across the globe — Argentina and Australian, Bangladesh and Czech Republic, Finland and El Salvador, Guyana and Indonesia, Israel and Jamaica, Malaysia and Myanmar, the Palestinian Territory and United Arab Emirates just to name a few, according to the running tally by Democracy Live.
Users don’t actually vote online but can download and print ballots. The voter then fills out the form, signs it and can either mail or fax the paper. Some states, like Florida, allow users to fill in the ovals on their computer before printing, but California does not.
While anyone abroad can use the web-based system, the ideal user is a soldier who may be stationed, for example, in one part of Afghanistan but moving around, said George Munro, director of communications for Democracy Live.
“Even though he or she has a mailing address at the base, the ballot could just be sitting there while they are gone. By delivering the ballot through email they can access it anywhere they are,” Munro said.
Democracy Live estimates there are approximately 6.5 million eligible voters for United States’ elections living overseas.
San Mateo County sent out 3,020 notices to eligible voters overseas and, of those, 1,514 were returned, Church said.
San Mateo County and 12 others signed up in 2011 with the federally funded Cal E-Promise consortium facilitated by El Dorado County to offer the online access through Oct. 30, 2016. The program is an offshoot of the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 which aimed to improve the process.
The county’s relationship officially began Sept. 25, making Tuesday’s presidential election the inaugural contest.
Within a half hour of California counties going live with the system on Sept. 22, a ballot was downloaded electronically in Thailand, Munro said.
“It’s really pretty amazing it happened that fast,” he said.
The county received $150,000 as part of the $1.8 million federal grant which covers the costs of ballots downloaded and submitted through the LiveBallot system.
The technology is hosted on Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform and all the information is stored in the cloud rather than a local server which Munro said adds another layer of security.
The cyber-balloting also frees up local elections offices from needing to email out individual ballots after first figuring out who requires which form based on precincts. LiveBallot is quicker and less expensive, Munro said.
The company is expanding its civic offerings even further, too, allowing anyone visiting its site to download voter guides and sample ballots or look up information on financial contributions, top 10 donors and links to social media pages.
Munro said accessing the information in the comfort of one’s home may lead to better education.
“Everybody knows if they support Mitt or Barack, but so many out there feel intimidated when it comes to the other races. This gives them a way to make more thoughtful decisions,” Munro said.
The site is www.LiveBallot.com.
Here’s an interesting milestone for Microsoft Surface: One of the tablets is being tested in Virginia this week as a balloting device for state and national elections there.
The test is being conducted by Democracy Live, a company based in Issaquah, Wash., that works with Virginia and other states to deliver electronic ballots and voter information. Democracy Live uses Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud-based platform, and the Surface is running the company’s “LiveBallot” application through the browser.
The web app lets the voter use the Surface to access, mark, and print a ballot for tabulation by a separate machine.
For now it’s just one Surface in one precinct in Charlottesville, Va. However, Democracy Live CEO Bryan Finney says the company plans to work with Microsoft on a broader rollout of Surfaces following the upcoming release Surface for Windows 8 Pro, which will run legacy Windows applications on traditional Intel processors. (The current Surface for Windows RT runs on an ARM processor, so it doesn’t support legacy apps.)
The idea with the Virginia test is to get feedback in advance of that broader rollout. Many balloting computers are older machines running Intel 486-era processors, so the Surface has been in high demand in the precinct so far, Finney says.
Advantages include Windows 8′s built-in screen-reading functionality, plus USB support to enable sip-and-puff input devices for people with disabilities.
Update, Tuesday: Just to clarify, the key word here is that the Surface is being tested as a balloting device. It will still need to go through approvals for actual voting. Here’s a follow-up statement from Democracy Live …
“The LiveBallot deployment on the Microsoft Surface tablet is an exciting pilot test and an opportunity for voters to experience the next generation of voting technologies firsthand. The Surface is not being used for actual voting in Charlottesville. We will continue with another round of testing when the Surface Windows 8 Pro is released and we can fully deploy our LiveBallot technology. We look forward to continuing our work with Microsoft and deploying technologies that make voting more accessible for all Americans.”
Microsoft's Surface tablet is now a voting machine in Virginia.
Democracy Live, a company based in Washington, works with several states to offer electronic ballots through its software, LiveBallot. According to GeekWire, which spoke with Democracy Live CEO Bryan Finney, a single Surface tablet is being used in a precinct in Charlottesville, Va., allowing voters to mark their ballots from the device.
Microsoft launched its Surface tablet late last month. The Surface is the first tablet from Microsoft, and runs Windows RT, a version of the company's operating system that supports ARM-based chips.
With LiveBallot running on the Surface, users are able to vote for their desired candidates. Voters then print out the ballot from the Surface to allow another machine to count it. LiveBallot is a cloud-based application running on Microsoft's Windows Azure platform.
Tablets have long been viewed as possibly useful voting machines. Last year, Apple donated five iPads to Oregon to help election workers in five counties make it easier for voters with disabilities to place their ballots. That was believed by some to be the first step toward a broader rollout of tablets across voting precincts.
However, with any device that can connect to the Web comes security concerns. And security is a huge concern in an important election. That's precisely why e-balloting hasn't taken off to the degree certain companies would like. It's also why the future of voting on a Surface oriPad is decidedly in doubt.
LiveBallot.com, a free, nationwide eBalloting tool for voters, is now available to research the candidates and issues that will appear on a voter’s specific ballot. Any voter in the country can now access a wealth of information and make informed decisions before they cast their ballot. LiveBallot.comis powered by Democracy Live, the nation’s leading eBalloting provider, and offers unbiased, nonpartisan information that is individually tailored to each voter.
“Many voters feel like they don’t know enough about the candidates to make informed decisions,” said Bryan Finney, the President of Democracy Live. “LiveBallot.com allows voters to educate themselves before they go to the polls. Our tool gives voters a one stop shop to learn about candidates and issues they will vote on in an unbiased environment.”
LiveBallot.com is the nation’s first online Voter Information Guide. After a voter enters an address, the voter’s specific ballot displays in a clickable, markable form. The voter can click to view biographical and background information about candidates, review fundraising reports and connect to campaigns through social media and YouTube videos. After voters mark their selections online, they can print their completed Voter Information Guide as an Election Day cheat sheet.
“LiveBallot.com takes the mystery out of voting and provides every voter with a free, interactive guide that they can use to educate themselves,” said Finney. “Empowered voters directly lead to higher turnout rates in our country and at Democracy Live, our top priority is developing tools that encourage active participation in our democracy.”
Democracy Live is the country’s leading election technology provider and currently serves over 10 million voters in seven states. The company’s public sector arm has delivered thousands of electronic ballots to military and overseas citizens in over 90 countries on all seven continents. In addition, Democracy Live partnered with Microsoft Corporation and the Center for Technology and Disability Studies at the University of Washington to deploy the first ever accessible absentee ballot. Democracy Live technologies have been reviewed and approved for federal funding by the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.
There are few aspects of modern life that haven't been touched by information technology. One of them is the voting process for U.S. overseas military personnel. For the most part, it's still done by snail mail. A soldier abroad receives a ballot by mail, marks it manually and returns it by mail.
"We've been doing this since the 1860s," said Paul Lux, supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County in northwest Florida. But that's in the process of changing.
Okaloosa and 12 other Florida counties have deployed a one-stop Web portal that lets overseas voters access their ballots online. They can mark their ballots on screen or print them out. While they still have to return the ballots to their voting districts by mail or fax, election officials are looking toward a time when absentee voters can return their ballots electronically.
The 2012 Republican primary‘s first vote was not cast in New Hampshire, as most Americans would assume. An Okaloosa County, Fla., resident living in Thailand got that privilege in December, thanks to a new technology called LiveBallot.
LiveBallot, a new platform for accessing ballots built on the Windows Azure operating system, allows American citizens living abroad to access their official ballots from the cloud, 45 days before a state primary or national election.
Once voters download their ballots — from anywhere in the world with Internet access — they can return them by postal service or, for overseas voters only, fax.
You may be thinking that getting your ballot online is only half of online voting. However, as Kim Nelson, director of eGovernment at Microsoft points out, it eliminates the more difficult part of the process.
“While it does only solve half the problem, it’s the most important half,” Nelson told Mashable. “A person living overseas is highly mobile, but almost always has access to the Internet. The Secretary of State isn’t moving, so getting it back to the U.S. is a whole lot easier.”
Nelson notes that while several countries in Europe allow Internet voting, the U.S. does not, largely due to security concerns. Making ballots available online does not, however, present the risk of election fraud, because all ballots still must be signed by registered voters.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) is giving states funds to support the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The act builds on existing voting rights for individuals in the military or American citizens living abroad, by ensuring that they are still allowed to vote in their local US elections and have those votes counted. Florida and Virginia were the first states to get DoD money associated with the MOVE Act and they’ve partnered with Microsoft to give voters abroad online access to their ballots.
CivSource spoke with Kim Nelson, executive director for e-government at Microsoft, about LiveBallot an application that is part of the company’s DemocracyLive product which will provide online ballot access for residents of Florida and Virginia. The solution is already in place and since voting began for the Republican primary in December, over 1,200 Florida voters from 40 countries have accessed their ballot using LiveBallot, through an online web portal.
“Florida and Virginia submitted their applications on the basis of using LiveBallot,” Nelson explains. California was also awarded funds from DoD to use LiveBallot and will be opening their portal up for voting ahead of their primary in June.
The Florida 2012 Republican Primary is scheduled for Jan. 31, but Florida residents living and working overseas have had access to ballots since December via an online Web portal in the cloud. To date, more than 1,200 Florida residents from 40 counties have used Democracy Live’s LiveBallot to get immediate access to their ballots. They have been able to fill out those ballots online or on paper and return them via mail or fax, depending on state election laws. LiveBallot is deployed and hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform.
TechFlash.com: Democracy Live is playing an important role in the presidential primaries in Florida, Virginia and California by making it easier for American military personnel stationed overseas and other citizens living abroad to vote in U.S. elections. Since voting began, more than 1,200 Florida voters in 40 countries have accessed ballots using LiveBallot, a technology developed by Issaquah-based Democracy Live and hosted on Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform.
Florida, Virginia, California Turn to Democracy Live and Microsoft Windows Azure to Instantly Deliver First Ballots of the 2012 Presidential Primary