Technology Landmark for Oregon Voters

November 11, 2011, By George Lang

In 1990, I wrote my first publishable article (I Know, who cares; but I feel like telling you about it, and it was a free country last time I checked). It was created on a Commodore 64, GEOS OS graphical user interface (GUI), long before Microsoft Windows caught on. I used the GeoPublish desktop publishing application from GeoWorks. The topic was electronic voting from a home-based device. Well folks, after twenty one long years, I’m here to tell you it has finally happened!

This week, Oregon became the first state in the union to allow an iPad to cast a formal vote for an elected official. The process was seamlessly successful (albeit only 89 people took advantage of the opportunity) and is sure to have domino-like ramifications for the rest of the country. Who would have ever guessed Oregon, of all places, would be the next bellwether state?

Oregon Votes on the iPad

The issues, of course, in voting from a personal home phone, computer, laptop, iPad, or cellphone are security and risk of fraud; i.e., some hacker might be able to figure out how to vote more than once and skew the election results, or a computer virus or worm might scramble the results into a non-sensible stew. These issues have held up the process for all these many years.

A similar easing of security concerns has been taking place with online banking. Online bank financial transactions, until the past decade, have been restricted to extremely secure, proprietary ATM protocols, with dedicated wide area networks (WANS) instead of public TCP/IP networks. Today, the vast majorities of banks have succumbed to competitive pressure and are now allowing public Internet access via standard online-banking services, many of which are offered for free in keeping with common banking trends.

The Handicapped & Elderly to Benefit the Most

According to technical consultant Lori Steele, CEO of Everyone Counts, the voting system used in Oregon is software-based. This cuts the costs of using hardware-based systems (e.g., voting booths; embedded computer chips; etc.) by around half, largely because system upgrades and security fixes can be performed in the same way your personal computer gets those annoying Microsoft updates on a weekly basis. Optional paper printouts were used this time to backup the electronic ballots.

The biggest advantage, in my mind, goes to the average voter who may no longer have to take a drive to the local voting center every cold November, in rush hour traffic, and run the political gauntlet on the sidewalk outside. Instead, we can relax before or after work on voting day; and sit back with a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or even our favorite martini and cast our vote in our pajamas. In the meantime, I’ll hang onto a copy of that old original article in case anyone wants to know if I told you so.

Let us know what you think. Would you like your representative to fight for the right to vote from home in your state? Right now, only Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have taken serious steps to open the voting process to online voting. Take  a few moments to watch this MSNBC video, then drop us a comment below!

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