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Thinking outside the ballot box
November 06, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Consider it thinking outside the box — the ballot box, that is.

San Mateo County is among several California counties trying out technology that lets more than 3,000 voters in dozens of countries access their local ballots with a few keystrokes no matter their location. While LiveBallot, developed by Washington state-based Democracy Live, is primarily aimed at military members stationed overseas, any voters living abroad can benefit.

"The goal here is to make it more convenient for voters and facilitate more participation,” said Mark Church, chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk-recorder.

So far, the county’s participation is pretty impressive. As of Monday, 376 ballots were actually downloaded which is the second highest of the state’s participating counties, Church said.

Those ballots have been accessed across the globe — Argentina and Australian, Bangladesh and Czech Republic, Finland and El Salvador, Guyana and Indonesia, Israel and Jamaica, Malaysia and Myanmar, the Palestinian Territory and United Arab Emirates just to name a few, according to the running tally by Democracy Live.

Users don’t actually vote online but can download and print ballots. The voter then fills out the form, signs it and can either mail or fax the paper. Some states, like Florida, allow users to fill in the ovals on their computer before printing, but California does not.

While anyone abroad can use the web-based system, the ideal user is a soldier who may be stationed, for example, in one part of Afghanistan but moving around, said George Munro, director of communications for Democracy Live.

"Even though he or she has a mailing address at the base, the ballot could just be sitting there while they are gone. By delivering the ballot through email they can access it anywhere they are,” Munro said.

Democracy Live estimates there are approximately 6.5 million eligible voters for United States’ elections living overseas.

San Mateo County sent out 3,020 notices to eligible voters overseas and, of those, 1,514 were returned, Church said.

San Mateo County and 12 others signed up in 2011 with the federally funded Cal E-Promise consortium facilitated by El Dorado County to offer the online access through Oct. 30, 2016. The program is an offshoot of the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 which aimed to improve the process.

The county’s relationship officially began Sept. 25, making Tuesday’s presidential election the inaugural contest.

Within a half hour of California counties going live with the system on Sept. 22, a ballot was downloaded electronically in Thailand, Munro said.

"It’s really pretty amazing it happened that fast,” he said.

The county received $150,000 as part of the $1.8 million federal grant which covers the costs of ballots downloaded and submitted through the LiveBallot system.

The technology is hosted on Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform and all the information is stored in the cloud rather than a local server which Munro said adds another layer of security.

The cyber-balloting also frees up local elections offices from needing to email out individual ballots after first figuring out who requires which form based on precincts. LiveBallot is quicker and less expensive, Munro said.

The company is expanding its civic offerings even further, too, allowing anyone visiting its site to download voter guides and sample ballots or look up information on financial contributions, top 10 donors and links to social media pages.

Munro said accessing the information in the comfort of one’s home may lead to better education.

"Everybody knows if they support Mitt or Barack, but so many out there feel intimidated when it comes to the other races. This gives them a way to make more thoughtful decisions,” Munro said.


The site is www.LiveBallot.com.

 


Michelle Durand can be reached by email: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.


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