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Voters in Oregon cast ballots with the help of iPads
Pilot program to expand in 2012 include military, overseas voters
“I Voted” took on a whole new meaning during the recent special election in Oregon when nearly 100 voters cast their ballots with the help of iPads.
The tablet device, which many people associate with surfing the Web, was used to allow disabled voters better access to their ballots.
According to Steve Trout, elections director for Oregon, the elections division hatched the idea of using the iPad for accessible voting as a way to save money and provide greater access.
“We have been spending large sums of money on our accessible voting system but having very few people use it. We wanted to see if there were alternatives that were less expensive, provided greater utility and were easier to use for both voters and election officials,” Trout explained. “We played around with the idea here long enough to think it was worthy of a pilot.”
Using software created by Everyone Counts, staff from the elections division spread out on Election Day to test the new program with seniors and voters with disabilities.
The software allows voters to download their ballot, mark their choice, print out their ballot and return it just like they would their regular mail-in ballot.
Like other accessible voting devices the iPad allows voters to enlarge their ballot for better visibility and is compatible with several accessibility devices such as Sip-and-Puff technology.
The pilot test in Oregon used Everyone Counts eLect Platform that automatically operates on any web-enabled device. The platform was customized for Oregon to include ballot data, voter registration data and the state’s seal colors and design formats.
“We were really astounded by the success of the iPad pilot,” said Secretary of State Kate Brown. “We had 89 Oregonians use the iPad to mark their ballots in November, that is a huge increase from the last General Election in 2010 when only six people statewide used the accessible computer stations. We look forward to the second phase of the pilot in January making the ballot more accessible to Oregonians with disabilities.”
Among the 89 voters who participated in the iPad program not one reported a problem, although Trout pointed out that there were a few “lessons learned” that according to Trout will make the experience better next time around.
For instance, because many of the participants were seniors, when they came to the step where they had to enter their birthdate, they had to scroll through quite a way to get to their correct birth year. Trout said they will look into changing the starting date range to somewhere around 1930.
Although everyone seemed happy with the device, Pamela Smith with Verified Voting does have some security concerns.
“Given there have been concerns in the past about being able to discern voters' choices on other electronic voting devices through various means, even when that device is not (deliberately) networked, this would appear to amplify some of those concerns, especially for a device that is meant to preserve privacy,” Smith said.
Smith noted that the program is just “a whisker away” from Internet voting.
Trout said that there were no security concerns since voters are not actually voting on the iPad, that it is only a ballot marking tool.
“The ballot is printed out and verified and then mailed in like all the other ballots in the state and the printout serves as the paper trail.” Trout said. “The iPad is really just a just a big electronic pen that has lots of features to help a voter with accessibility needs to mark their ballot.”
With Apple donating five iPads for the pilot, the program cost the state $75,000 for the development and administration of the software. This cost covers both the November 8 election and the upcoming January 31, 2012 special elections.
Once the program goes statewide, Oregon will need 72 iPads to make sure that each county has two.
Even with newer, cheaper tablets coming out seemingly almost every week Trout said the state plans on sticking with the iPads for now and doesn’t have any plans at the moment to move to other types of smart technology like smartphones.
“We tested five different pieces of hardware initially, but after initial tests with voters with accessibility needs it was clear that the built in accessibility features of the iPad were much better and simpler to use than other apps on different pieces of hardware,” Trout explained. “We expect that accessible features will become more prevalent in the coming months that we will look at again in the future.”
Although Oregon is currently the only state using the iPads in a pilot program, Trout said the state is willing to share what they have learned with any election officials interested.
“We have more to test in this pilot, but so far it looks like a very promising solution that will provide greater access to voters, more tools that are easy to use for election officials, and budget savings,” Trout said.
According to Lori Steele, chairman and CEO of Everyone Counts, the company is in “confidential discussions” with other states and believes that at least a half dozen more will be using iPads, or other computers, telephones or tablets in next year’s elections.
“The success of the Oregon pilot in increasing voter access and reducing costs has resulted in immediate new enquiries as well,” Steele said. “We have demonstration kits available to be shown immediately to all interested election officials across the country.”
Somewhere Steve Jobs has to be smiling.