The Challenge


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


Online Balloting

Given the wide nature of accessibility to the Internet these days, online balloting would make it easy for all voters to access their specific ballot style without the concern of transmitting votes through the web.
Already widely used in the United States, online balloting is a way to retrieve a voter specific (think county and precinct) ballot from any computer or mobile device with Internet access. Voters can go online, review and mark their ballot, and then print it for fax or mail in just like absentee voting.

Voter verification would still need to be determined when logging in, but this could probably be done with a voter ID or some other various forms of identification kept on record by election offices.

When a voter logs into the online ballot system, they can learn more about candidates and issues which are described in detail like the ballot pamphlets sent out prior to election day. Then a voter can choose to just review the options, print a blank ballot to have a paper copy, or mark their ballot online (possible inclusion of online voting here).

Marking a ballot would work like voting, allowing the voter to make selections. But they can save their progress and come back at a later time if they want more time to think about the candidates or issues. If ballots were available with a month or more prior to the election day, people would be able to have the time and freedom to review their choices and do research before submitting immediately like they do at a polling station. Plus, because the ballot is online, it can be set up to include links to candidate information or more ideas about an issue. Maybe there is even a social media application to the program that allows voters to cross-talk so they get the opinions of their friends and family (or other trust worthy individuals) before voting. I think it is important to allow as much knowledge to be accessible as possible.

After a voter has marked their ballot they can print it out, review, and submit it to an election office by way of standard post, via fax, or even direct email/online submission. The key difference here between online balloting and voting is that the voting is not taking place on a contest by contest submission, but rather, the ballot remains in whole and in control of the voter. I think this would ward off doubts about the security of online voting for those who don't trust the system. Otherwise, submission online can still be an option for those who want instant return.

Once a ballot has been sent out, voters will be able to see when their ballot is received, when it is tallied, and how that contributes to the total votes overall. This will encourage independence in voters (not just from people with disabilities).

The online ballot system would be built out in such a way so that the web-based platform can work in conjunction with a variety of tools that support people with disabilities who use technology in general. This can include refreshable braille display, MEMS (used to operate technology with slight puffs of air), spoken web/speech recognition, and browser text magnification. Voters could use the technology they are already familiar with, or the online ballot program could recommend (or have built in) certified software depending on the disability of the voter.

This online ballot system could be used not only at home, but practically translate to pre-election day voting stations all over towns and cities. There could be almost permanent polling booths set up in common places like the post office or grocery store or library. From these locations voters can mark and print their ballot. Part of this process would require that ballots can be accessibly printed for those who do not have Internet and/or a printer at home, but wish to submit a hard copy of their ballot.

This system could also translate to election day polling booths. The primary purpose of this system to is allow people to vote from home or absentee. However, so may feel more comfortable submitting directly on election day, or having a person to speak with prior to casting their vote. When a voter goes into the booth on election day, they may have already had an option to review their choices or even mark their ballot. They can then log into their account online from the polling booth, review their selections and then submit on the spot.

This one integrated system with a wide variety of software compatibility can produce a streamline and accessible system.

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?
Voters can use this system from home, a library, various ballot locations prior to election day, as well as in the polling booths on election day. An online ballot transcends location and offers voters with any number of disabilities the option to utilize a system that already works best for them. All barriers are stripped away by how easy it is to implement. Pre-election day polling stations will be equipped with any necessary hardware interfaces that can be used to address specific disabilities; this prevents inability to access a ballot if a voter doesn't have a computer with special hardware.
How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?
The online ballot is a universal web-based solution that integrates seamlessly with a voter's current technology software or interfaces. Those interface solutions will also be provided at the polling stations on election day.
What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?
First, election officials would need to work in conjunction with pre-election polling places (grocery, post office, library). Then, election offices would need to develop or buy the online ballot web-based platform in order to integrate it with their voting tabulation system. Finally, they would need to work with companies who manage the hardware for which to install for accessibility at these polling station.
My Virtual Team
I would like to thank the following people who were great in helping bring this idea together: Firstly, Vincent Cheng, whose idea on Online Voting prompted this post in the first place: Second, Rachel Happen., who raised a very good point about separate of voting and voter identity and spreading ballot accessibility primarily which I tried to address here: Other concepts which fueled inspiration:


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Christian Johnson

March 16, 2012, 14:06PM
Amanda, I am skeptical about the idea of online voting. In October 2010, the U.S. government created a beta for an online voting system. The beta was completely infiltrated within 48 hours, with the hackers able to change, erase, or create any votes. Its a good concept but I question the feasibility.

Whitney Quesenbery

March 16, 2012, 20:54PM
Even if the ballot is not cast online, there is a lot of value in being able to mark your ballot with a well-designed computer interface. We know that absentee ballots have much higher rates of errors - especially overvotes (voting too many times, and thus invalidating your vote in that contest). This could be a way to provide the benefits of an interactive ballot to remote or absentee voters.

Amanda Forker

March 23, 2012, 18:19PM
I totally agree with you Christian! I think the Internet can be a really hard location to put that much trust in. One of the work-arounds for this might be just a ballot, rather than actual "online voting". This way hackers can't manipulate the vote.

Paul Reader

March 24, 2012, 00:18AM
To pick up on Whitney's point here - one of the advantages of online forms, properly designed, is that where mutually exclusive selections are required this can be built in to the system i.e. so you cannot make two choices in a race where only a single choice is required.
In Australia where we have preferential voting and must number our preferences it would eliminate accidentally including two numbers 9 in a 15 'horse' race etc. And in our case the system would electronically sort the output into the order of our choice so we could be sure we had it right.


March 15, 2012, 21:17PM
Amanda, congrats on this post joining our Top 20 shortlist! We really liked your unique and comprehensive take on online balloting.

During this Refinement phase, it might be helpful to consider the steps we'd take to start testing out and implementing this concept. What are the puzzle pieces that would need to get pulled together in order to make this idea a reality? You might also check out Andrew's related concept for more inspiration: For more information on specific ways to iterate and update your concept, check and

Amanda Forker

March 23, 2012, 18:13PM
Awesome! I can already think of things other users have considered that would help flush this out!

Paul Reader

March 15, 2012, 11:46AM
Amanda, this is the complete package so far as online ballot preparation is concerned. I am uncertain if voter verification is entirely necessary unless and until the vote is actually to be cast.
Casting it online would require immediate verification;
postal casting would be similar to how Rachel described it in her concept; and
in person casting might be better handled in the usual way.

As I mentioned elsewhere (in line with Whitney's comments on Mark Anywhere ) the completed ballot (printout or whatever) only needs the actual choices made. This is what inspired my bus ticket size ballots (or as Andrew Baranak suggested parking slips) which could easily be posted, carried to polling places etc.

There is a multiplicity of sensible compatible options here in this challenge. Would love the opportunity to visit USA and participate in creating a pilot.

Amanda Forker

March 23, 2012, 19:17PM
So, you make a good point about voter verification from just a ballot perspective. Just like Whitney's idea about picking up a ballot from a public place (like a library) you wouldn't need to hand over your voter registration card just to pick the ballot up, right?

It brings up an interesting question though: How do we verify based on the number of logins to the site that all the ballots that are returned are returned from the right people? For example, if you can mail in your ballot, how do you provide proof that it is you that filled it out unless we can secure a way to know that the only way they would have filled out/marked that ballot from the online form is with verification? Maybe a PIN number security? Maybe James idea of ATM verification: ? I think it is important that we have the ability for people to submit their ballot somehow without necessarily being forced to leave their own home if they are incapable.

Paul Reader

March 24, 2012, 00:07AM
Two good points here.
Online balloting fits the Mark Anywhere model wonderfully well, including the possibility of reducing the size of the printed ballot to just the selections made, and including a machine readable representation of the vote like a barcode or qr code,
For the verification step there are two issues:
first to establish your online identity which would need to be similar to online banking;
then to generate a number or code plus date and time stamp to identify the ballot which can be verified against a database on lodgement.
In every system there has to be some level of trust - such a code printed on the ballot as machine readable means nothing to the person opening the posted ballot and the code either matches in the database or it doesn't.
I think the system is quite manageable.

Patricio M. Hidalgo

March 15, 2012, 11:10AM
I like your well thought out elaboration. As Meena mentioned! Let's consider some "personas" to incorporate their needs. Voting is an exercise for all

Ralph Munro

March 14, 2012, 21:22PM
While I was Secretary of State in Washington State (1980-2000), one of my election staff's top priorities was making voting accessible for EVERYONE. Our state has now gone to 100% vote-by-mail and initiatives like this are more important than ever. As we promote the conveniences of vote by mail, we can't forget about voters who may not be able to mark a traditional absentee ballot. We must ensure that there are alternative methods available so that every voter can access their ballot independently and privately. The ideas presented in this concept do just that, while ensuring the security of the voting process. Great job!

Ashley Jablow

March 15, 2012, 18:58PM
Glad to have you joining our efforts here Ralph! Your perspective will be very helpful as our challenge moves into Refinement.

Meena Kadri

March 19, 2012, 20:48PM
Fab to have you chiming in here Ralph – with your on-the-ground expertise!

Victoria Scarffe

March 08, 2012, 19:09PM
I like your idea, it allows a separation of the individual logging into the system from the ballot to maintain the secret ballot. Another option that could be added is to allow a post-mark challenged voter (I always get responses out late) to drop off a pre-filled ballot at a polling station.

Amanda Forker

March 12, 2012, 20:53PM
I like that idea. That would fit perfectly with this concept, too, since part of an online ballot is the ability to access it in any more. Then there wouldn't be a time constraint filling it out like at the polls.

Paul Reader

March 15, 2012, 00:35AM
Restricting the information on the ballot to just the voters choices and making it human and machine readable would cut down on paper and make it easier to carry (in wallet or purse) to take it to a polling station, or fit in a smaller envelope for posting.

Meena Kadri

March 07, 2012, 20:27PM
Great, comprehensive thinking Amanda! One thing you might want to check out is our Personas for Concepts tip sheet. It's a helpful outline of the kinds of accessibility needs we're designing for in this challenge: Perhaps you'll be inspired by one or more of the personas and have a think about how your concept could be further extended to meet their needs? We're looking forward to seeing discussions flourish here and your ideas evolve – maybe including a persona scenario or two. You can make updates to your entry at any time using the Update Entry button up there on the right.

Patricio M. Hidalgo

March 15, 2012, 11:17AM
Amanda, Tasha from "personas" fits the role for your concept

Vincent Cheng

March 07, 2012, 18:06PM
Awesome build & new concept Amanda! Have now referred & linked to it from my online voting concept.

You may also want to check out Whitney's related "Mark Anywhere" concept:

Paul Reader

March 13, 2012, 19:23PM
Agreed Vincent - great concept Amanda!
I would also particularly refer you to Whitney's comments about the physical ballot only requiring the voters choices, not the whole range of options.
Provided the physical ballot can be machine and human readable the casting machine could then confirm the choices and provide a similarly small receipt.
To that end I proposed bus ticket size ballots which would be cheaper, take less space to store etc.
Login to OpenIDEO