Tech executives offer vision of online voting for Arizona

At least trying online voting, such as in a pilot program suggested by Worsley, would maximize participation and give election officials an opportunity to study and if necessary improve the online voting method, Nolan said.

Courtesy of Azcapitoltimes.com

By: Ben Giles

February 27th, 2013

Internet VotingTwo tech company executives called it the future of voting in Arizona: online voting systems in the digital age that provide faster and more reliable vote counts and make participation in the state’s elections easier than ever before.

They made their pitch Tuesday to the Arizona Senate’s newly formed Election Committee, which is trying to fix problems that plagued voters in 2012, causing some to question whether their votes were counted.

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, invited the executives from SOE Software, a Texas-based government software firm, and Everyone Counts, a voting software company, and boasted of the value online voting could provide to Arizona. The companies have helped run online elections in other countries and have begun pilot online voting programs in some states.

Worsley introduced legislation that would have required Arizona to run a pilot online voting program in the 2014 primary and general elections, but the bill died in committee.

The online voting process has already proven accurate and secure. Everyone Counts ran the Academy Awards voting this year, the first time Oscar voting took place online. Online voting allows people who otherwise couldn’t participate in the voting process to do so, while also cutting down on long lines at polling places and the tedious process of counting paper ballots.

The current stand-and-wait voting process is a thing of the past, Worsley asserted. “Someday we’re going to look back at this and say this is byzantine and archaic,” he said.

Dan Nolan, vice president of strategic planning at SOE, told lawmakers his company’s software is used in 16 countries to process votes online. And other states are placing some of their voting online: Alaska delivered early-voting ballots online in 2012, while Florida and West Virginia have provided online voting for military and U.S. citizens who are overseas during elections, Nolan said.

There’s less potential for error and fraud with the online process, and it could be a more convenient alternative to expensive mail-in ballots that so many Arizonans now use, Nolan said.

Lori Steele, CEO of Everyone Counts, touted the 15 months of security tests her company ran on the voting system used by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Roughly 100 companies tried to crack the system and couldn’t, she said.

People already trust companies and banking institutions to make financial transactions online, Worsley said, so why can’t they also trust the Internet with their votes?

“I think I stand with some credibility here,” Worsley told the committee. “It’s time for us to start taking advantage of this technology.”

Worsley has the support of Secretary of State Ken Bennett as long as a system can prove to be secure and anonymous, the two characteristic concerns of online voting. Voters can’t be identified or linked to their vote. Finding a way to ensure that the person casting a vote online is who they say they are – and has only voted once – could prove challenging, Bennett said.

“I think it’s a challenge we can work on,” Bennett said. “And when we succeed in accomplishing that, then and only then will we move forward in any way.”

Nolan acknowledged that a new voting process, even if it’s already available is going to take time for people to get used to. California and Maryland are considering similar systems to the ones pitched to Arizona lawmakers.–

“Just as when new voting equipment was brought in, you need to go out and talk to community thought leaders and tell them what this process is,” Nolan said.

At least trying online voting, such as in a pilot program suggested by Worsley, would maximize participation and give election officials an opportunity to study and if necessary improve the online voting method, Nolan said.