The Challenge


How might we design an accessible election experience for everyone? read the brief


iPad Absentee Voting

For many individuals, even getting to a polling place is out of the question. This post outlines a concept of an iPad running custom voting software that will allow flexible absentee voting in places such as hospitals.

Between the aging of our population, general disabilities, and wounded veterans coming back from overseas, there are an ever-increasing number of individuals that are not able to easily make the trip to vote at standard polling locations. This system hopes to change that.

1. An application is currently under development that has the ability to take electronic ballot information (ideally in an XML format) and reformat it into a highly accessible presentation. This application is a simple, uncluttered presentation of the information and controls needed to complete the ballot and has many accessibility accommodations available including variable font sizes and screen-to-text contrast. The application is also designed to be compatible with a number of assistive technologies (sip and puff systems, joysticks, 2 or 5 button controllers, speech output, and more.)

2. This application can be utilized on any mobile device, laptop, or even natively on a voting machine, however, our principal idea involves the use of an Apple iPad. An iPad running this voting application will be installed into a custom, tamper-proof case outfitted with large tactile controls. This case will not allow interaction with the "Home" button on the iPad, removing the ability for users to exit the application.

3. Users can then interact with the application in two ways:

- The handheld iPad in the custom case can be brought to patients who are, for instance, unable to leave their bed. Patients can then interact and mark their ballots via the touch screen, the tactile controls on the iPad case, or another compatible assistive technology.

- The iPad can be installed in a kiosk or semi-permanent stand. The iPad and case will securely lock into the stand to prevent theft or unwelcome interactions. The kiosk itself can have a much more robust set of controls for interacting with the application, including a full keyboard. Users go to the kiosk, mark their ballots using a variety of available methods, and then the final marked ballots can then be sent into polling locations using any permissible submission method, like printing and mailing.

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?
Adoption of this concept in hospitals, elder care facilities, hospices and other similar, smaller scale environments will aid individuals in those facilities with the voting process. If the transition to this technology goes smoothly enough, this is a model than can then be expanded to various other locations. Ballot marking kiosks could be located in myriad places, enabling greater efficiency of voting for anyone at the actual polling location as well as an increased likelihood of voting due to the reduced hassle. The simpler voting interface combined with many potential methods of interaction (kiosk, custom iPad case with tactile controls, touchscreen, voice command, and other assistive technologies) should be more intuitive and less stressful than current polling methods.
How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?
This is a highly adaptable system. Not only is it portable, but the potential for varied iPad case designs allows users to interact with the software in a wide variety of ways. It also has the benefit of being able to grow and eventually act as a self-service voting center as long as the proper security protocols are in place for internet voting (though that is currently a very long way from happening).
What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?
This is a multi-faceted project that requires programmers, product designers, care facilities, and municipal, state, and national government to all work together to achieve this goal. Once the software and hardware is designed and tested, there needs to be an initiative to provide ballot information in a format that can be read and adapted by this application. Getting this ballot data in an appropriate format from the myriad, diverse organizations that control all of the different elections in this country is probably the single biggest roadblock to the success of this system. This design addresses one of the central problems (marking the ballot), but there are a lot of other problems before and after that step that have yet to be resolved.
My Virtual Team
This concept is currently under development by the researchers in the Georgia Tech Research Institute's Human Systems Integration Division.


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Edmund Ng

November 12, 2013, 16:27PM
This is definitely a new concept that has it's market value. There are definitely many people at hospitals at any moment in time. The ability to update their presence is definitely something great. The only thing I cannot see is how the authorities are going to get back their investment. Having it done on iPad might also been seen as cutting the other platforms out of the action.

Edmund Ng

Ann Tyler

May 03, 2012, 15:40PM
Great idea. When I read the part about it being used in hospitals it instantly appealed to me. I think this segment of the population is forgotten in the voting process as it is extremely difficult to transport them all to voting centers and get them through the process. Great idea.

Paul Reader

March 29, 2012, 03:19AM
Andrew and team - great result for this worthwhile concept. Like EZ Vote and MyVote it represents a convenient and effective platform for voting. In particular I see it replacing the need for bulky voting and casting machines, at the same time providing the portability essential for enabling Voting Vans and other means of taking voting to the people. It also represents a great vehicle for implementing things like Online Polling (which I see as a natural winning concept that becomes an integral part of the announced winners) and VApp (as an enabling technology). Hope to see how all the winning concepts fit together in the realisation phase.

Christopher Ho

March 16, 2012, 14:06PM
Why the need for an ipad? Creating a unique Device could work better, as there would be less need for the graphics, processing power, and memory that apple ipads boast and charge for. Moreover, apps can occasionally crash; and this brings one back to the homescreen, which we are trying to avoid. The tablet app interface is the main point, I suppose, and I definitely agree with the usefulness of that idea.

Whitney Quesenbery

March 16, 2012, 16:54PM
I agree that the tablet is the main idea. One of the strong aspects of this concept is the way that it uses a commercial tablet (easy to obtain or replace) and adapts it to be used as a voting system.

The prototype that Trace Center created years ago used a commercial tablet, but also enclosed it in a case that restricted access to general purpose functions.

One thing to consider is the different security requirements for a ballot marking device vs. a device that casts and counts ballots.

Paul Reader

March 16, 2012, 17:34PM
Congrtulations Andrew!
Agreed Christopher and Whitney - and very important distinction between marking casting and counting. Would still like to see the 'output' from marking embracing your idea of just the voters choices not the full 'menu'.
If the application is to grow into achieving all three then it also needs the fourth - the capacity to very voters and mark the roll.

Andrew Baranak

March 16, 2012, 18:09PM
Christopher, you are right in that the tablet app interface is the main point. We are currently utilizing an iPad in development, but by no means does it need to be run on that platform. The application currently in development will be available cross-platform (ideally everything from a smart-phone to a full desktop computer to a custom kiosk).

As for the other issues brought up, I am working on some refinements to the idea as have been suggested. Hopefully they should be up by Monday.

Daniel Castro

March 16, 2012, 20:57PM
Andrew, I'm curious -- are you eliminating the touch-screen input (replacing with tactile controls) or are the tactile controls just an optional form of input?

Andrew Baranak

March 19, 2012, 16:09PM
The tactile controls will be entirely optional. Individuals that are physically able to utilize the touchscreen would be more than welcome to!

Meena Kadri

March 19, 2012, 20:45PM
Great discussion guys! Andrew – feel free to update your post with any points you feel worth adding from this conversation. Looking forward to how it might evolve!


March 15, 2012, 20:54PM
Andrew, congrats on this post joining our Top 20 shortlist! We were really excited about your idea and appreciated the time you took to sketch out the iPad voting experience.

During this Refinement phase, perhaps we can think about how different voters could interact with this system, depending on their unique needs and abilities? Check out our Concepting Personas for some starter examples We might also spend time thinking about the initial steps we'd need to take to start testing and prototyping this idea. For more information on specific ways to iterate and update your concept, check and

A.C. Mink

March 15, 2012, 20:41PM
I love the incorporation of current technology into the concept. Practical and doable.

James Moyer

March 09, 2012, 20:48PM
This is actually a good idea for general voting equipment. Voting equipment is notoriously expensive (I have heard as much as $4000-$5000 per machine) and the tragedy of it is that they only get used once or twice a year. An iPad is a lot cheaper...but here's a question, what can be done with the iPad the rest of the time it is not being used for voting?

Paul Reader

March 10, 2012, 09:31AM
This is a good question and I wondered if the app could be developed for the first generation of ipads to five them an extended life as dedicated devices for this purpose to keep costs even lower, particularly in development phase.

Andrew Baranak

March 12, 2012, 15:35PM
This is an interesting element that I have to admit, I had not thought about. Absolutely the iPads and iPad 2s could be utilized to give them extended life now that a newer version has been released. Furthermore, these voting iPads could be used for mobile voter registration before they are needed for the actual election day. Volunteers could carry them and save people from having to fill out the paper registration forms.

Paul Reader

March 13, 2012, 08:40AM
Excellent use outside of formal voting periods.
I found a comment elsewhere but I don't have the reference at the moment which said "Corporate/public donation: Apple has been collecting and redistributing older model iPads to Teach for America. Perhaps a similar program could be instituted for election season." I will try to find it again.

Meena Kadri

March 08, 2012, 21:35PM
Exciting developments from Georgia Tech!

Meena Kadri

March 08, 2012, 21:37PM
It might also help others engage with your concept if you give some simple scenarios for it's use via our Personas post:

Andrew Baranak

March 08, 2012, 21:40PM
Excellent idea! I'll get on that!

Whitney Quesenbery

March 08, 2012, 21:25PM
Hi Andrew, Great to see so much thought about how the hardware could be secured and accessible.

Could this kiosk be adapted to be portable? I'm thinking about how it could be used with concepts for mobile polling places like:

You also mention the need for a standard format. Have you looked at EML / IEEE P1622

Andrew Baranak

March 08, 2012, 21:37PM
Absolutely it could be portable! Because it is currently only intended to be a ballot marking system, it is essentially as portable as a regular iPad. While that is not our initial intention, it is not a large leap to see this being deployed in many ways, such as being mounted directly into a mobile polling place or hand-delivered by "tablet toting door-to-door volunteers".

As for EML, I was not familiar with it before you mentioned it, but it does look to be an XML based standard. The problem is not with creating a standard, but getting all of the little municipalities across countries to adopt this standard. Even in the US, as you know, voting is very decentralized and some areas still do not offer anything outside of paper ballots. Having everyone utilize something like EML or any other XML-type markup will make this application and others actually useful, as it can then bring in the necessary data and reformat it into any custom user interface.

Paul Reader

March 09, 2012, 21:38PM
Interesting ideas here - would it be possible to upload a ballot already prepared using standardised software from other platforms and stored on removable media making the ipad/kiosk combination like the drug store photo printing kiosks?
Also could the printed ballot incorporate Whitney's idea elsewhere for a list of voter choices like a restaurant bill rather than the whole menu ie. just the voters choices rather than the whole field of candidates/issues?
Could the ballot also have a machine readable output together with a printed receipt for the voter?

Paul Reader

March 10, 2012, 09:56AM
This system would fit very well with an amalgam of Whitney's Ballot Navigator concept
and Gabriella's E-Book concept
to provide a range of guidance options too.

Andrew Baranak

March 12, 2012, 15:40PM
Paul, I think that all of those things that you mentioned are very possible. I am not 100% clear on your idea regarding the ballot prepared by standardized software, but I think that is what we are aiming to do in some ways. We want ballots to be created in a platform independent database format so that when it is pulled into our software, it is reformatted and presented in a clear, concise manner. If this is the case, anyone could potentially make a ballot and, if its in a compatible format, then it should work.

Paul Reader

March 13, 2012, 08:35AM
Andrew - sorry to be a bit obscure - my meaning was that if all the proposals for electronic voting software were common standard then preparing a ballot on removable media could be read straight into your system. There has been some comment elsewhere on the need for a physical ballot and a receipt so I thought about a bus ticket sized ballot as output that could then be read into casting machines and be secured for auditing. Hence I built my concept partially on yours -
Reducing the size of everything is, to a point, potentially cost cutting and therefore attractive from the point of view of authorities.

A kiosk system which your stand could incorporate would include everything for the Voter Vans (see Whitney's comments), hospitals etc. and even Ting-Hans store kiosks

Andrew Baranak

March 13, 2012, 16:05PM
Ahh, I see now! Yes, that would be excellent. I really like the idea of your small ballot though. A mini printer could be included at the kiosk that would zip out the ballot just like a parking receipt. Really really cool.

Paul Reader

March 13, 2012, 18:55PM
Thanks for the parking receipt example. I chose a bus ticket partly because I thought it might need to be robust for re-insertion and counting but also because some of them are magnetically encoded (machine readable). However it is more important that it be relatively small compared to the size of traditional paper ballots but still provide an auditable ballot.
I know suitable technology already exists for both printing and reading such small ballots and providing encoding/decoding should be no problem at all.
I personally have no problem with a completely electronic process but I also understand others concerns about tangible ballots.
Paradoxically I am also quite happy with our current relatively simple paper based approach here in Australia.
Login to OpenIDEO