The Challenge


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


Online & Mobile Voting: Accessibility for All

If we're already filing our taxes with the government online, & even entrust the security of our $$$ through electronic (ATMs, credit card scanners, bank records) & online/mobile (banking, bill payment,shopping,investing, etc.) means, why not voting?

The majority of US Residents have done all of these above tasks online, and the # that have done these task through mobile phones is growing exponentially

In fact,the IRS (US Federal Taxation Agency), which receives most tax returns through e-filing, including mobile phone returns, says it’s “the most secure way to transmit your return to the IRS and it’s far more accurate, so you are less likely to hear from us”. Even drivers licenses/identity cards are being issued/renewed online.

We benefit from the convenience, ease, & accessibility of online and/or mobile systems in many areas of our life, including trusting their security for managing our financial assets. Around the world, trillions of dollars are moving around through online channels.

Furthermore, in US, most government election tallies are already counted & transmitted electronically, electronic voting (such as by touchscreen) is gaining significant share as the fastest growing voting system, and ballots are delivered online to expats. The 1st use of electronic election vote tallying in the US actually started in the 1960’s! And the Help America Vote Act which mandates at least 1 handicapped accessible voting station per polling place, is largely fulfilled through Direct Electronic Voting machines.

Let’s begin the next step to bring the option of online/mobile voting in government elections to all citizens, helping ensure everyone can exercise their fundamental democratic right, responsibility, & privilege to vote!

States like Arizona & Michigan have already used online voting in primaries, and Oregon has actually conducted a binding primary election entirely over the Internet. And, true fact, US astronauts have been able to cast votes from space since 1999.

Sidenote: Did you know online elections have a successful track record in the United States? Large non-governmental organizations like unions, coops, multi-national corporations, university student governments, alumni associations, & condo boards routinely hold elections online. One entertaining high profile convert: the Academy Awards/Oscars plans to use online voting in 2013.


Online voting has been used to varying degrees for government elections & referendums in the United Kingdom, Switzerland (with Geneva inscribing I-Voting into its constitution), & Estonia (including mobile phone voting); party primary elections in France; municipal elections in Canada; IVoting for people with disabilities & those far away from polling locations in Australia New South Wales (by web or phone); pilot tests in Sweden & Latvia; etc., often driving significant increases in voter turnout.


People with disabilities gain a new alternative for voting privately, independently, and with dignity, at their own pace, using the online/mobile tools of their choice, which they are familiar with using everyday and may have personally customized (screenreaders, specialized input devices, etc.). Examples from inspiration phase below:

  • Puts physical poll location & absentee voters on a more fair & equal footing, as all votes can be counted together, rather than having absentee ballots counted later when they may no longer affect the final result. In fact, this can even increase the possibilities for real-time, publicly accessible graphical visualizations of election polling results as they occur, or afterwards for further insight & analysis (see Mike McDearmon's inspiring build on this concept: /open/voting/concepting/election-analytics/
  • Pre-registration, which creates an additional participation funnel barriercould be eliminated, as voting eligibility is purely based on on-the-spot identification, not location tied paperwork
  • Allows people more time to consider, research, & think about choices, if vote gathering (or at least ballot previewing) is available for several days. If voting/re-voting (overwrites previous vote) is permitted over several days, this allows people the peace of mind in ensuring their vote is recorded early, while still enabling them to change their mind in the light of new information (e.g. a breaking corruption scandal).
  • Cost-effectiveness: especially as economic conditions & government budget deficits & debt, threaten funding of important programs like education, it’s important to find way to bring high quality, accessible voting to everyone at a reasonable cost. The money saved allowing people to vote online could also potentially be used to invest in resources to increase voting accessibility for other people unable to vote online easily (e.g. accessible/mobile poll stations).
  • Share your civic provide & make voting go viral: immediately after voting you could be brought to a thank you page that allows to to post a “I Voted” Facebook Update, Twitter Tweet, or Profile Badge.
  • Reminders: citizens could registers for election reminders before or during their first vote, increasing future vote participation.


This is not a call to create online/mobile voting technologies from scratch. Luckily, most of these technologies have existed for years and are already used in various forms from electronic tax filing, to online banking/bill payment/investing, to driver's license/identity card renewal, to actual online elections.

Instead, this is a call-to-arms to spread the adoption & design of online voting as an election participation option, so that the right, responsibility, & privilege of voting is broadly accessible to as many people as possible, a must for a healthy democracy & society!
How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?
This could improve accessibility for practically everyone, regardless of reason for marginalization: disability, polling location distance, time constraints, travelers/expats/military, students, discrimination/intimidation/safety concerns, etc.
How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?
***GUIDELINES FOR ENSURING WEBSITE/MOBILE ACCESSIBILITY FOR VARIOUS NEEDS (visual, hearing, physical, cognitive, language, etc.) ARE RELATIVELY WELL ESTABLISHED: e.g. clear, hiearchical organization & metadata structure; alt text/labels for images, forms, & other visual elements; large, high-contrast fonts; captions for videos; large targets for action items, etc. These will be very useful while designing voting online/mobile apps for maximum accessibility. ***SUPPORT SYSTEMS LIKE MULTIMEDIA, REAL-TIME CHAT AVAILABILITY, AND PHONE SUPPORT COULD PROVIDE FURTHER ASSISTANCE IF NEEDED/REQUESTED. Without the restraints of physical locations, there’s even the possibility of matching people with disabilities who need help with support workers that have the same disability and are trained on/experienced with the voting process. **IN CASES WHERE PEOPLE UNFORTUNATELY DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO ONLINE/MOBILE DEVICES APPROPRIATE FOR THEIR NEEDS, it would make sense to have these devices available for use at physical polling places, libraries, etc. One could even imagine someone being sent such a device before elections, such as how the US Library of Congress currently sends free loans of physical braille & audio materials, digital players, and recently downloads to eligible individuals. Or even distributed through mobile polling stations ( ), or installed/adapted into public transport ( ; think about the multi-functional entertainment systems that are becoming more common in planes, buses, subways, & even taxis)
What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?
SECURITY/TRUST/LEGITIMACY Yes, there are very legitimate security concerns. But these aren’t insurmountable and, given the importance of bringing accessible democracy to all, well worth tackling, as other countries have already done to build trusted online voting systems with public legitimacy. ***IDENTITY VERIFICATION: There are many potential verification procedures from pincode/password logins (like for online banking, ATMs) to credit card swiping (similar to machine-automated boarding pass pickup at airports, facilitated by credit card readers like the ones you can current get for free from to national ID’s (as is used for voting in other countries) to biometrics (fingerprints, eye scans). One form of identity verification that may be immediately acceptable to the US voters is replicating the currently used & accepted physical verification process i.e. poll workers currently visually match voter photo IDs (like a driver’s license) with physical appearances at polling locations. This could be done online through the webcams that are common in computers & increasingly in phones, and video call technologies (like what’s powering free video chats through Skype & Google Hangouts). ***POTENTIAL FOR SEPARATING ACTS OF VOTING & ELIGIBLE VOTER IDENTITY VERIFICATION (see Rachel Happen's amazing concept that built on this concept for more details: ): Identify verification & the act of voting can even be separated if desired, giving you the convenience to vote whenever you want, and further increasing anonymity. For example, after you cast a vote, you could receive a vote verification code. You can then activate your vote by verifying identity (either through the online mechanisms like those mentioned in the previous section above, or even in person, say at polling locations, or DMVs) to ensure you're an eligible voter who hasn't voted yet, and then passing your vote verification code to activate your vote. ***ENCRYPTED TRANSMISSION: Advanced encryption algorithms (similar to what’s used for top security government & online banking applications) can be used to transmit votes securely and avoid multiple votes under the same identity, while also protecting voter privacy (other cannot connect personal identity of voter with their vote choice). ***AUDITABLE/VERIFIABLE PROCESS: votes can produce both physical & digital paper trails (email & printed receipt for voter, digital & printed archives for election organization). You could even imagine independent election monitors using receipt sampling (as the new version of exit poll surveying) to verify fair election vote counting. In addition, digital votes can be stored in multiple redundant systems and, with proper encryption to protect identities, actual encrypted votes can be publicly posted, so that people can individually verify (with their receipts) that their cast vote has been received correctly, and independent organizations can calculate vote totals themselves to ensure the final tally is accurate (a level of auditing that’s impossible to do with the current voting system) **OPEN SOURCE: potentially, if this system was developed as an Open Source project, this could increase security of the technology, by ensuring more eyes look at it to uncover & improve any weaknesses. This could also allow online/mobile voting to more easily spread. I.E., if Los Angeles is successful with online voting, it's easier for New York, Mumbai, or anywhere else to pilot without worrying about obtaining proprietary licenses or getting locked in to a solution. **IS THE CURRENT PHYSICAL SYSTEM THAT SECURE ANYWAYS?: Current physical ballots, machines, & polling places have significant risks for manipulation/inaccuracy, as evidenced by cases where misplaced ballot boxes turn up after results are declared, or the infamous case of the 2000 US Presidential Election where the final outcome was resting on inconsistent vote counts which varied with each recount, due to hanging chads & other factors.
My Virtual Team
Really, the whole OpenIDEO community helped inspire this concept (as evidenced by the many inspirations linked to on the right). I.e., I consider everyone in the OpenIDEO community part of this concept's virtual team =). As people build on this concept, I'm trying to highlight the builds/related concepts below. During the refinement phase (if this concept makes it there), I will try to add the awesome commenters that are helping further this idea in the discussion: *Rachel Happen made an amazing concept that built on this concept. For more information on & the link to her concept, check out the "POTENTIAL FOR SEPARATING ACTS OF VOTING & ELIGIBLE VOTER IDENTITY VERIFICATION" subsection above. *Mei Hsieh's related/complementary concept ( ), which does a great job of illustrating the importance of building on devices that users are already familiar & comfortable with (excerpt from her video is also available above by clicking on the 2nd thumbnail), as well as exploring an interesting possibility for allowing mobile device voting at physical polling places. *Mike McDearmon extended this concept's framework of individual voting receipts & publicly available voting data, and brought its usage application to a whole new level with visualization & analytics! *Most recently Amanda Forker & Whitney Quesenbery built on this concept in creating 2 new online/anywhere balloting concepts ( , ) that could provide some of the benefits of online/mobile voting, while potentially being more quickly palatable & immediately implementable. These are awesome concepts in and of themselves, and could be a big step towards the online/mobile voting envisioned here.


Join the conversation and post a comment.


August 10, 2012, 16:09PM
Very impressive!

Online/mobile voting will not only benefit disable people, but also help other types of absentee voters such as uniformed and overseas voters. Uniformed and overseas voters have much at stake in making their voices heard due to the distance and the hardship circumstances. These voting impediments discourage them from exercising their right.

How nice it will be if all the processes can be done via their mobile device without mailing paper forms and ballots to the election office thousands mile away.

This is what I am working on now to help uniformed and overseas voters to access their ballot easier. We design an app called ABVote to allow applying to vote and mark ballot via mobile device. Especially, the Android version of this app has the features of Text to Speech and Shake to Vote. These will help people who have certain disabilities.

You may help test our app by searching ABVote on Google Play or App store. It is still a beta version, so what you will do is in a Mock Election environment. I would like to hear any comments from you to help us improve it. Thank you.

Rachel Happen

February 26, 2012, 23:51PM
Hi Vincent,

You've got a fantastic concept here, thanks for adding in my idea about two-step identity verification! I really like the idea of third-parties being able to independently verify the vote tally, and individuals being able to check their vote after the fact. Keep up the good work!

Vincent Cheng

February 27, 2012, 01:28AM
Thanks Rachel. When I checked out your concept, after getting an email notification that you'd built on this concept, I literally "WOWed" out loud about your creativity =). I was excited to add a link to your new innovative concept from this one.

Keep up the good work too!

P.S. Hmm, seems in my excitement, I actually forgot to applaud your concept. Not to worry, now remedied ;)

Shane Hogan

February 26, 2012, 21:41PM
Vincent - you refer to "4 duplicate records (a printed paper receipt for the voter, a printed vote paper trail for the election organizer, a digital receipt for the voter, and at least 1 digital record of the vote--that can be easily duplicated multiple times)."

The big problem with the Irish eVoting system was the absence of a Voter Verified Audit Trail (VVAT). An audit trail that hasn't been verified by the voter is worthless. Only the voter can say that the audit trail is accurate. How can a voter verify a paper audit trail for the election organiser, given that the voter is at home?

Vincent Cheng

February 27, 2012, 01:11AM
Thanks for the follow-up question Shane.

I briefly mentioned the basics of the voter verification mechanism above, but I'll try to clarify & flesh this out a little more for you here.

The most important record for other records to backup & validate against in this case, is the primary digital record. After all, this is the 1st & main vote that's generally totaled to determine the results of an election.

When someone votes, they receive an easy to read/understand receipt (digital & printed) clearly detailing how they voted, along with a special code that they can use to lookup & verify that their vote is included correctly in the primary record (which can actually be publicly posted, for both individual voters, and for independent election observers/media to verify individual votes & totals).

If desired, there's even the possibility of having a live video feed of the election organizer's printed vote paper trail, to ensure that it matches up with your own receipts printed at home. Or, in the case of having a separate identity verification at a physical location (one of the options proposed by Rachel Happen, & incorporated in the concept above under the sub-section "*POTENTIAL FOR SEPARATING ACTS OF VOTING & ELIGIBLE VOTER IDENTITY VERIFICATION"), you can have all paper receipts printed out during physical verification for you to check. Both the virtual & physical options can allow you to 100% match all 4 duplicate records against each other to make sure they match. Personally, I think this is overkill, because the main important thing is to verify the primary voting record is correct as done in the previous paragraph, however this is certainly a possibility if needed.

One important thing to note to keep things in perspective, Voter Verified Audit Trails certainly can increase trust in, legitimacy of, & support for a voting system, and rightly so since you have redundancy checks in place if things go wrong. For individual voters though, some studies have found most of them comfortable/unconcerned enough with the voting system, that they don't bother to verify their votes even when a physical Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is put right in front of them after they cast their vote (I'm guessing the studies I came across weren't conducted recently in Ireland, where I'd expect different results to surface).

As everything has a balance/tradeoffs, we also need to be wary about over-engineering solutions that might over-complicate ease-of-use, and skyrocket costs.

Shane Hogan

February 25, 2012, 11:54AM
I have many concerns about electronic voting. We spent about €55 million on electronic voting equipment here in Ireland around 2004 - a huge amount for a small country of 4 million people. The equipment was not fit for purpose, and is now being scrapped.

I get frustrated when people say 'We've all used ATMs for users, so we can't we vote online'. There is one major difference between ATM transactions (and most other online transactions) and voting. Voting must be anonymous. A secret ballot is the cornerstone of any democracy. It must not be possible to connect a vote back to a voter.

But there is also a contradictory requirement for the vote collection and vote counting process to be visible secure and reliable. I haven't come across any technology solution that provides this anonymity along with an open, transparent, secure vote counting process. The systems that do exist generally rely on complex cryptography which is not understood by the vast majority of the population. So people are expected to trust in something that they can't understand.

In many of these debates, the benefits of electronic voting are either not clear or are exaggerated. Some people claim that eVoting will give increased participation rates, but I've never seen any evidence that supports this. The UK did trials on a range of eVoting methods and didn't get any increase in participation rates. Some people claim that eVoting will save money. In Ireland, each voting machine required an additional dedicated operator to ensure that the machine gets reset between voters. The cost of these extra staff outweighed the saving on vote counting staff.

What problem are we really trying to fix here?

Vincent Cheng

February 26, 2012, 00:42AM
Hi Shane,

thanks for raising your concerns about electronic voting machines, particularly from Ireland's experiences, as it show the huge importance of having a voting system that is trusted to be secure & reliable by the general populace.

The watchouts you bring up here are even more important, considering that the stalled voting system switch we are talking about in Ireland is to basic electronic voting (which is already widely used in other countries: for example, in the United States, the majority of accessible voting systems are actually already direct recording electronic voting machines, and almost 30% of the votes cast in 2004 were by direct recording electronic voting machines). Just to be clear, this concept is proposing online/mobile voting, which would be a form of electronic voting.

TAKEAWAY 1: switching to electronic voting machines (already used elsewhere, including in the US) stalled in Ireland, due to the lack of backup verification/audit mechanisms. This points to the huge importance of having a voting system (physical, electronic, online, or otherwise) that is trusted to be secure & reliable.

It seems that a key problem with the electronic voting machines in Ireland, is that they lacked the paper trail for an audit/verification system. Without this audit/verification system, I agree, I wouldn't trust this type of electronic voting either.

In the online/mobile voting proposal above, the audit/verification system is designed so that each vote generally creates at least 4 duplicate records (a printed paper receipt for the voter, a printed vote paper trail for the election organizer, a digital receipt for the voter, and at least 1 digital record of the vote--that can be easily duplicated multiple times). The concept allows for verification by the election organizer (you can count up paper ballots, just like in a regular paper ballot system), verification that their vote was accurately included by each voter, & verification of accurate tallies by independent election observers, while also preserving voter privacy. In other words, the backup paper trail & amount of verification possible for this online/mobile voting concept is actually more than is possible with a traditional paper ballot system.

TAKEAWAY 2: the proposed online/mobile voting concept actually provides more of a backup paper trail (at least 4 duplicate records, 2 physical), and more verification/audit possibilities (by election organization, voter, & independent observers), than a traditional paper ballot system.

You're also right Shane that an electronic system to protect user privacy relies on complex cryptography, which is hard for people to understand. However, I I don't think this obstacle is necessarily insurmountable. After all, we trust these same encryption algorithms in our online banking (both for password verification that ensures only you can access your account, while ensuring even the bank doesn't know your secret password; and for protecting your financial information as it's sent back & forth between you & your financial institution). Another example, most people today don't truly understand how airplanes, automobiles, & trains function, but we all generally trust these inventions to move us around without exploding & killing us.

TAKEAWAY 3: Trust in complex systems is not just based on complete knowledge & understanding. It's also based on other factors like history/experience, legitimacy given by others that you trust, etc. This is certainly a design opportunity to find ways to build trust/legitimacy in online/mobile/electronic voting, such as through education materials, and pilots in local elections & referendums, rather than immediate topdown national directives.

Finally, I agree with you Shane, that any new innovation, particularly one that isn't implemented properly, can cause problems, and even not achieve it's intended benefits, such as increased voting participation. That's why careful implementation and minimizing the risk through pilots is so important. And, when online voting is properly implemented, there's certainly the chance to increase voter turnout. For example, Markham, one of the 1st major Canadian municipalities to try online voting in 2003, increased turnout by 35% after implementation. Afterwards, 80 more Canadian municipalities have implemented online voting. And ~80% of Canadians in a survey said they want the option to vote online & would do so if it was available. In fact, Canada's chief electoral officer is seeking approval to further test online voting in an upcoming byelection.

TAKEAWAY 4: Online voting, when properly implemented, has already been shown to increase voter turnout, and gain trust, legitimacy, & popular support from the voting populace.

NOTE: Shane, I really appreciate your comment, which points to very important watchouts & legitimate concerns. Given Ireland's experience ( €55 million is a huge amount to spend, and unfortunately not achieve the desired goals! ), I certainly wouldn't recommend pushing down a top-down directive for some huge voting system change in Ireland right now. At the same time, other countries may be in a different situation where voting systems like electronic, online, mobile, & otherwise may make sense.

Paul Reader

February 26, 2012, 14:11PM
Interesting discussion.
I can see the inevitability of online and/or mobile voting in the USA just as we have largely moved away from (but not eliminated) imprint transactions on credit card (A month ago I did an imprint transaction for the first time in over 10 years).
There are two issues in this discussion I should like to revisit.

1 Separation of establishing entitlement to cast a ballot and the act of casting that ballot - together they form the process of voting.
In physical polling places this should be straightforward regardless of whether the ballot is cast on paper, through a machine or online terminal to which access is only available once entitlement is established. It is this 'obvious to all' separation that preserves the privacy and anonymity of the cast ballot.
With the banking transaction, unlike in the voting system, it is highly desirable that the transaction is correctly identified with the transactor (voter). Thus analogies with the banking system (including the telephone voting system used by Australian visually impaired voters) carry impressions of non-anonymity.Overcoming this perception is a necessary part of the education of potential online/mobile voters.
In mature democracies I suspect most people will not care if the "system" actually knows what choices an individual has made because beyond the collective result the "system" has no interest in following up the choices of individuals. On the other hand in emerging democracies and places where corruption is extensive the "system" may have a vested interest in knowing how an individual has voted and introducing online or mobile voting even in places like India probably posses as many problems as it solves.

One additional word of caution regarding online voting that is banking related is the issue of phishing. - again perhaps more concerning in emerging democracies.

2. The paper audit trail is an interesting issue.
I can see the slight benefit in providing it to allow physical recounts in close elections although malfunctions in printing are probably as likely, in the overall scheme of things, as are malfunctions in the electronic count on which the production of the paper trail is based in the first place. I presume that, as in this country, recounts occur largely for two reasons the margin of the result is sufficiently narrow to warrant reexamining the votes, or there is dispute in determining the intention of voters through the marking of the ballot paper.
Where a paper copy of the vote is produced it is a matter of judgement (or legislative edict) which is the true record and therefore where there are discrepancies between electronic counts and those based on the paper copy, which count is to be accepted as the correct result. Again in Australia in the physical polling places we maintain a count of the ballots made available, the ballots issued, the ballots remaining unissued and the total of votes cast. Usually these balance but occasionally we have to go through rubbish bins to locate ballots thrown away and very rarely the election official in charge will have to file a discreption report. I imagine but don't know if a similar paper record is produced following a telephone or online ballot here probably with similar questions about the necessity for it.

Finally, at least for Australian voting, I remain a fan of the use of paper based ballots for most situations (for one thing it provides gainful if low paid employment for some people). On the other hand I am in favour of using technology where it can assist those who have no access to voting or whose access causes discomfort or unsatisfactory voting experiences.

Vincent Cheng

February 26, 2012, 19:11PM
Thanks Paul for your continued adds! Lots of great points raised, and I'm enjoying the discussions =).

Unsurprisingly, I agree with you about the inevitability of online voting ;), though I'm certainly not going to pretend I have a crystal ball and can predict time lines. I think the best we can do is try to understand where society is moving, and initiate positive impact projects that take this and specific regional contexts into account.

To address the 2 issues you raised to revisit:

1) Agreed about the importance of providing separation between "identification/verification of voting eligibility" and the "actual vote choice made", and really, all the points you made here. In the traditional physical voting process in private booths (assuming no one tries to "hack" the system, such as directly through physical coercion or indirectly, say through hidden cameras), this separation is relatively complete & intuitively obvious. A digital voting system can have the same level of complete separation (as you mentioned can be, and actually is often currently, done with electronic voting in physical locations. For an online/mobile system, if desired, the same level of complete separation can be enforced (literally no stored linkage between your identification & your vote), though you're right that there's a design/education challenge to overcome given perceptions of non-anonymity. In terms of phishing this is currently a concern

  -Note: One thing I'd like to add here, is that there's a partial tradeoff between A) separation of voting eligibility/actual vote choice to ensure anonymity, and B) keeping enough records to maximize verifiability/auditability (that totals are accurate, all votes have been counted, all votes are legitimate, etc.).

To take the extreme case, the most anonymous vote would only keep track of vote totals...period (any other records would be continuously destroyed): even with anonymous paper ballots, there are many ways to try to triangulate someone's vote, from factors like knowing which polling place they went to, to narrowing down stack position in the ballot box to when they voted, to obtaining biometric information like fingerprints/DNA from the physical ballot =P. This would basically provide no verifiability/auditability though, you need to trust there were no weaknesses/corruptions in the system.

On the other extreme end, the most verifiable/auditable vote would be publicly recording your vote & associated identity in full view of others (like how many of our democratic legislative bodies function). Full accountability, no anonymity.

How this tradeoff is balanced is really a decision that each voting populace needs to make for itself. An interesting thing with advanced encryption is that it provides a way to decrease this tradeoff, and thus increase both desired goals. Through advanced one-way encryption, it's possible to reach a relatively high level of anonymity & verifiability/auditability at the same time.

2) In regards to paper trails, physical and digital, agreed that just like the systems that they backup, nothing is perfect, and there's always the possibilities of malfunctions. Yet, these redundant backups together, can create more resilience in the voting system results & legitimacy: e.g. it makes it harder for anyone to completely corrupt/rig the vote, increases confidence in the voting system & final vote tallies particularly in close elections (or in the cases of conflicting recounts, provides evidence for when a revote may be ruled necessary). Of course there are tradeoffs here too, so the exact amount of redundancy is another decision to be made, and likely to change with time, given how experienced/confident people are with a particular voting system.

Vincent Cheng

February 26, 2012, 19:15PM
Hmm...some of my comment seems to be cut off. Don't have time to rewrite. But just to quickly build on your mention of phishing. This is definitely a concern to be addressed, particularly in countries where "offline phishing" already occurs: i.e. fake poll locations, ballot boxes, & ballots setup specifically to rig elections.

Anne-Laure Fayard

February 27, 2012, 00:06AM
This is a long and thoughtful discussion about a very interesting and well developed concept.
What I keep from the discussion are the following points:
1. the importance of understanding the development / implementation of online voting systems as any major new IS implementation and change management project and thus to include in the process communication, training and understanding the context of use.
2. the importance of anonymity in voting vs. the importance of identification in banking which might make the metaphor of banking confusing for some of us. In fact, when I read Shane's comment about this issue, I thought to myself: of course, this is crucial! I want my vote to be anonymous!
3. the conversation on online voting "vs." or "and" physical polls. Per many of the inspirations, the experience of voting as a materially and socially situated experience seems to be important in many contexts and important to keep.
4. the independence and increased accessibility that online voting (at your pace, with your own interface, etc.) might provide for people with disability.
5. when people don't have online access, providing access to this online interface in poll stations but also in other public spaces:
is crucial.
6. The importance of having a consistent interface as Whitney suggested it for other interfaces:
is also important

Vincent Cheng

February 27, 2012, 01:19AM
Thanks Anne-Laure. Indeed a long & thoughtful discussion, probably made unnecessarily long due to my stream-of-consciousness rambling =P

Agreed with all 6 of your takeaways, and thanks for linking to some of the other concepts. You're absolutely right that they and this concept together are very complementary in concert to improve voting system accessibility!

Myles Kaufman

February 24, 2012, 19:00PM
Voting on mobile phones would be very useful in developing countries where the barriers to getting to a voting booth can be too costly. In India, more people own cell phones than have a toilet in their house. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, voters have be pressured to vote for President Kabila by the mobs that gather around voting booths. Having the comfort of voting in a safe space, in one's own home, could add legitimacy and fairness to elections around the world.

On a basic phone, though, how do you make sure people can only vote once? Say people are asked to text 'CARLOS' to 8001 to vote for a certain candidate, can you ensure that the voting machine only accepts a text from that number once?

Also, how do you ensure that someone else isn't going around to their friends phones and texting for them? Or even worse, a militia going around and forcing people to vote?

Vincent Cheng

February 24, 2012, 20:16PM
Hi Myles,

I focused the concept description on illustrating how online/mobile voting might be applied in the United States, given the jurisdiction of the challenge partner (L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk) and the geographic focus of the challenge sponsor (The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation).

However, I absolutely agree that voting on mobile phones could be very useful in developing countries given widespread mobile use, as well as voting concerns on accessibility, privacy, safety, etc. As can be seen from some of my concepts/inspirations on previous challenges, I'm a big fan of smart & basic feature mobile phone applications for both the developing & developed world ;)

In terms of avoiding double voting from one phone, one way would be to only allow one vote from a particular phone # (which can be screened). Perhaps a better way (to allow people to correct a voting error, or if they change their mind, say due to breaking news of a corruption scandal), is to allow for each person/phone # to change their vote up to a certain time, and only have the last vote preference recorded.

As for implementing so that people are likely voting independently from their phones and not being coerced to do otherwise, below's one potential way to tackle this. People pre-register to vote with their phone #'s and are given an associated secret voting pin #/password & confirmation secret phrase (similar to how dial-in televoting is already working in some countries). This ensures that each phone # that votes is only associated with one registered voter (so someone couldn't just buy/obtain a bunch of mobiles/SIM cards to vote multiple times). This double confirmation of identity through an associated phone # AND pin (stored through one-way encryption on the database side), also helps guard against hacking/phreaking attempts.

People vote by texting their pin #, then vote choice, which is then confirmed with a reply text that contains their secret phrase. If a friend tries to vote for someone, the friend would not know the pin #. If the militia tries to coerce someone to vote/change their vote a certain way, that person can simply fake a vote by entering a fake pin #. A confirmation reply text would still be sent, proving to the militia that the person had voted, but it would contain the wrong secret phrase, discreetly confirming to the coerced individual that his/her vote is still intact.

One could also imagine this "texting" vote system implemented by "automated voice" to increase accessibility, though this would likely have larger end-voter cost implications in developing countries, unless subsidized by the government/carriers.

-Thanks for the comment and though provoking questions Myles =). The above are just off-the-cuff ideas, so I'd also love to hear your and other's thoughts on how to tackle the questions you raised.

Ashley Jablow

February 21, 2012, 19:36PM
Great concept Vincent – you've made a very clear case for why online voting should be considered as an important tool for accessibility.

Here's a question for you: I was struck by your point about the need for the adoption of online voting across polling counties/districts etc. Some of our Themes touch on the importance of supporting poll workers and improving the election experience – perhaps your next concept might address exactly how we could encourage election officials and other people to adopt these online voting systems? Let's think creatively about toolkits, incentives or behavior change tools we might design to help encourage the adoption of online voting technology. Clearly there's a need, and clearly there are online systems we could use – but how do we get polling places to use them? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Vincent Cheng

February 21, 2012, 20:17PM
Thanks Ashley!

That is indeed a key next step question.

Part of the answer is to be found by gaining & surfacing community traction through channels like OpenIDEO ;).

Another is to highlight & build on the current successful pilots mentioned in the concept above.

I.e., is Los Angeles (jurisdiction of challenge sponsor: L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk ) ready to be the next accessibility trendsetter here, perhaps starting with a local election or referendum (especially since, for LA County, you can already look up real-time election vote counts, verify voter registration, & download sample ballots online)? Maybe LA could pilot through a school district vote, providing additional online voting access at school computer labs afterschool or on weekends. Will tech-savvy Silicon Valley (home of IDEO's Headquarters beat them to the punch)? Or perhaps Washington D.C., our nation's capital (and location of challenge sponsor Information Technology & Innovation Foundation), will step up to the plate?

I'm also hoping the rest of the OpenIDEO community can chip in here on how best to encourage adoption of online voting technology =). Everyone, any ideas?

Ashley Jablow

February 21, 2012, 21:48PM
Nice thoughts and questions, and yes! All of our challenge partners are excited to leverage our community's bright ideas and use them to inform their efforts going forward.

Another note: One thing that I think about when it comes to adoption and technology is network effects ( If we can increase the number of districts using online voting, the technology will become more valuable to everyone....I'm going to have a think about this and will keep you posted :)

Vincent Cheng

February 27, 2012, 01:38AM
Just *bumping* this up, as I think Ashley posed a key next step question here.

I'd love the talented OpenIDEO community's help in coming up with ideas that address "How can we encourage election officials and other people to adopt these online voting systems?", given the important benefits it can bring, accessibility and otherwise.

Paul Reader

February 21, 2012, 14:18PM
Excellent and very thorough (as usual) Vincent.
Looks like in the US that the system is organising itself.
Do you know what percentage of potentially eligible voters might have been marginalised or disenfranchised in the past internet based elections through inadequate access to the internet?

Vincent Cheng

February 21, 2012, 14:46PM
Thanks Paul and great question!

At this point, apart from one local primary, I don't think any governmental elections were held 100% on the Internet, though questions have certainly been raised about marginalization due to internet access. Governmental online elections are at an early stage of development in the United States, though digitizing of the process in general is relatively far along.

Disenfranchisement has occurred in the past (mainly through inadequate access to physical polling places, and more recently the internet). Although internet access in the US is quite high, it's disproportionately underrepresented in certain populations including low-income & rural areas.

I believe the best solution given current conditions would be to offer online voting as an option, while still having the traditional pop-up physical polling places (that are increasingly using electronic voting & tabulation, which is quite compatible/complementary with remote online voting). Traveling mobile polling solutions as suggested in various inspirations/concepts could also increase enfranchisement.

Personally, I like the thought of public libraries & schools with computer labs as natural polling places.

Paul Reader

February 21, 2012, 15:15PM
Thanks for the reply and I agree with you on the enhancement of physical polling places. I have included a concept (based on the Australian experience of being able to use any DTMF phone) that references your concept as an option for those with adequate access to internet or smartphones.
As usual my dial-up access is limiting how much I can incorporate in my original concept publishing.
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