State, local officials share tales of e-voting

State, local and industry officials today discussed ways technology can help keep one of the cornerstones of democracy vibrant and credible: voting.

Leading a panel on e-democracy at FOSE 2004 was Julia Glidden, managing director for the United Kingdom and international division of Accenture Ltd.'s E-Democracy Services.

Great Britain is a centrally driven government, she said. Everything comes out of Parliament and 10 Downing Street. In early 2000, Tony Blair said that all government services would go online by 2005, including taxes, health care, records and voting.

Voting in England at that time was done with 'Band-Aids, bubble gum and index cards,' Glidden said. It took place in drafty parish halls with pencil and paper. Although the country had no electronic-voting equipment, there were also no pesky legacy systems, so England could build a system from scratch, she said.

Only 59 percent of registered voters in England voted in the last general election, Glidden said. A huge part of the drop-off was among young people. Officials wondered if the problem wasn't the polling stations. They are looking at telephone, Internet, digital interactive TV and text messaging, which is far more popular in Europe and Asia than it is in the United States.

Dave Molchany, CIO of Fairfax County, Va., compared his county'which also has a highly centralized government'to England. Fairfax has used touch-screen voting machines from Advanced Voting Solutions of Frisco, Texas, twice, Molchany said.

The first time, problems arose in the back-end process. The vendor didn't do system volume testing adequately, and when it came time to pool all the votes together at once, it was too much for the server, Molchany said. For the touch-screen machines' second trial, the Feb. 10 Democratic primary, it worked well, he said.

'Local government is like a retailer, like Bloomingdale's,' Molchany said. 'We want you to be happy from the time you come in to the time you leave.'

Maryland also has faced concerns about the accessibility and integrity of e-voting, said Russ Doupnik, the state's deputy CIO. The state performed a recount of electronic votes with 100 percent accuracy, he said.

People used to think of voting as purely local, Doupnik said. 'You knew the people staffing the polling place'they were your neighbors.'

Now issues of voter trust and perception have the potential to reduce voter turnout. One hanging chad affects that one vote, he said. But an error in a line of software code could affect many votes.

'Voter trust is the highest priority,' Doupnik said. 'Not just technological decisions.'

The press has focused on the technical issues of e-voting such as software and security, he said. But what Glidden called the P factors'people, participation, process, perception'are often more central to the problems swirling around e-voting than the technology.

Nancy Tate, executive director of the League of Women Voters, talked about the league's new Web site, DemocracyNet. Many people call the league on Election Day to find out their polling place. The new Web site not only offers detailed information on candidates but also links to voter registration sites and polling place locations.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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