Wednesday, June 11, 2014

E-voting can expand well beyond government elections

Source: Flickr
You might remember there was a trivia game show on television called 1 vs. 100 where a single contestant would be pitted against a “mob” of 100 other contestants. They would answer multiple choice trivia questions and the main contestant would continue if he got the answer correct and they would eliminate all the members of the “mob” who got the question wrong. The “mob” members would enter their choice through a small handheld device so that their selections could be instantly recorded and tabulated.

In many ways, this is not unlike how e-voting could be implemented in town meetings, board meetings and other gatherings where an instant poll among attendees could be invaluable. Traditionally, these kinds of polls would be conducted with those in favor of a motion verbally voting “yes” and those opposed verbally voting “nay” when prompted. This is hardly efficient or accurate, but electronic voting technology can be adapted to this purpose, just as the handheld devices used in 1 vs. 100 were used to quickly record the answers of the “mob” members.

While most conversations of voting technology understandably focus on how the machines and infrastructure can be best utilized in government elections for new members of parliament or a new president for a country, they can also be used under other scenarios. Online voting was utilized for the 2014 Academy Awards, for instance. With in-person e-voting, the system could be even more streamlined and easy to implement. It could be anonymous or the individual votes by the individual members could be recorded for public scrutiny.

This is an idea being proposed for the town of Eastham. Located in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts in the United States, Eastham voters are deciding whether or not to adopt electronic keypads for voting in their town meetings. The simple devices, which are similar to TV remotes in outward design, would be distributed among those in attendance at the team meetings. When a vote is held, attendees would push the corresponding buttons on their handheld electronic voting devices and the ballots could be recorded and tabulated in mere moments.

Counting paper ballots manually is very time-consuming and voice-based votes can be inaccurate and they do not allow for the anonymity of a secret ballot. Online voting could not only save a tremendous amount of time, but it could also improve accuracy, save money, and better protect the privacy of the vote. Hand counting the ballots in a recent secret vote took about an hour, according to Eastham town meeting moderator David Schropfer.

The cost to rent the necessary equipment ranges from $10,000 for a small meeting up to $50,000 for a larger town meeting involving 2,000 voting attendees.

But online voting isn't just restricted to large elections and town meetings either. Washington County in New York State is also considering the implementation of voting technology for its county board meetings. The current system calls for a verbal vote from the Washington County supervisors in the same specified order, getting each individual to voice his or her vote into a microphone. The same person always votes first and the same person always votes last. This can understandably have an impact on the results, as those voting later in the order may be influenced by those who voted before them. And the results could already be determined well before reaching voters further down the list. An online voting system would suitably address all of these concerns and at a minimal cost.