Voters living overseas from Florida, Virginia and California can now get absentee ballots via a secure Web portal powered by Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.
The Florida 2012 Republican Primary is scheduled for Jan. 31, but Florida residents living and working overseas have had access to ballots since December via an online Web portal in the cloud.
To date, more than 1,200 Florida residents from 40 counties have used Democracy Live’s LiveBallot to get immediate access to their ballots. They have been able to fill out those ballots online or on paper and return them via mail or fax, depending on state election laws. LiveBallot is deployed and hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform.
In the past, many overseas voters have not received an absentee ballot in time for it to be filled out, returned, and counted. Others have been relegated to only casting a ballot for federal elections and have not had the opportunity to vote on important state and local elections. LiveBallot gives voters unique identifying information to access their voter-specific ballot. Upon return, the signature on the ballot is matched with voter registration records to verify the voter's identity, according to officials from Democracy Live and Microsoft.
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After many voters in the military were not able to receive absentee ballots during the 2008 presidential election, Congress passed The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which stipulates that citizens should have access to ballots 45 days prior to their state’s primary day elections.
On Friday, Jan. 20, overseas voters and members of the military from Virginia received access to the LiveBallot technology, in accordance with the MOVE Act's call for 45 days of access before the state's March 6 presidential primary. Beginning in late April, 13 counties in California will give voters the opportunity to use LiveBallot for the state's June primary.
Voters can access their ballots online just as if they walked into a polling place, said Kim Nelson, director of e-government for Microsoft. They will see the ballot specific to their jurisdiction. They can then mark it electronically and then print it out, or print it out first and mark the paper. Either way, the voter then faxes or mails it back to the director of elections in their state, who will cross check it with voter registration rolls to ensure that the voter cannot submit another absentee ballot or cast a vote at another voting place.
“The distinction is that people are accessing ballots via the Internet but not voting via the Internet,” Nelson said.
Democracy Live’s LiveBallot is well suited to run in a cloud environment because the application is seasonal – running during elections -- and therefore it wouldn’t make sense for the government or its partners to invest in expensive infrastructure, Nelson said during an interview with GCN.
Microsoft partnered with Democracy Live during the 2010 Congressional elections on several pilot projects with states that received federal funding. “We encouraged them to run it on the Microsoft Azure platform,” because Microsoft wanted to demonstrate that Azure had the appropriate characteristics to run the technology, Nelson said.
Azure is a platform-as-a-service cloud delivery model and many people don’t understand PaaS. However, PaaS can offer more additional services to cloud users than the other models such as infrastructure-as-a-service and software-as-a service, she noted.
With PaaS, the operating system, databases and software are all managed by the cloud provider so the users have twice as much capability than if they were to just rent a machine in a data center, Nelson said. The operation of the database and administering of software patches is all managed by the cloud provider, reducing the complexity of deploying and running the application.
PaaS takes away a lot of the difficult and time-consuming responsibilities from the IT staff and puts them on the cloud provider. “It lets the users focus on what is unique to them, which is the application,” Nelson said.
Democracy Live is a small company, and officials did not want to have to manage databases and operating systems so they chose Windows Azure, Nelson said.
"These elections are a huge step forward for voters living or serving our country overseas," said Bryan Finney, president of Democracy Live.
"LiveBallot allows us to deliver secure voter-specific ballots through the Web to any eligible voter, anywhere in the world,” he said. “By cutting the ballot's transit time in half, LiveBallot ensures that voters are able to access, vote and return their ballot in time for it to be counted."
California, Florida and Virginia election officials received Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) funding guaranteed by the MOVE Act to purchase the LiveBallot technology. In addition to these states, Democracy Live is providing electronic, accessible absentee ballots to voters with disabilities in Washington State during the 2012 elections, with funding provided by the Health and Human Services Department under the Help America Vote Act.