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iPad Absentee Voting

For many individuals, even getting to a polling place is out of the question. This post outlines a concept of an iPad running custom voting software that will allow flexible absentee voting in places such as hospitals.

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25 24

Written by DeletedUser

Between the aging of our population, general disabilities, and wounded veterans coming back from overseas, there are an ever-increasing number of individuals that are not able to easily make the trip to vote at standard polling locations. This system hopes to change that.

1. An application is currently under development that has the ability to take electronic ballot information (ideally in an XML format) and reformat it into a highly accessible presentation. This application is a simple, uncluttered presentation of the information and controls needed to complete the ballot and has many accessibility accommodations available including variable font sizes and screen-to-text contrast. The application is also designed to be compatible with a number of assistive technologies (sip and puff systems, joysticks, 2 or 5 button controllers, speech output, and more.)

2. This application can be utilized on any mobile device, laptop, or even natively on a voting machine, however, our principal idea involves the use of an Apple iPad. An iPad running this voting application will be installed into a custom, tamper-proof case outfitted with large tactile controls. This case will not allow interaction with the "Home" button on the iPad, removing the ability for users to exit the application.

3. Users can then interact with the application in two ways:

- The handheld iPad in the custom case can be brought to patients who are, for instance, unable to leave their bed. Patients can then interact and mark their ballots via the touch screen, the tactile controls on the iPad case, or another compatible assistive technology.

- The iPad can be installed in a kiosk or semi-permanent stand. The iPad and case will securely lock into the stand to prevent theft or unwelcome interactions. The kiosk itself can have a much more robust set of controls for interacting with the application, including a full keyboard. Users go to the kiosk, mark their ballots using a variety of available methods, and then the final marked ballots can then be sent into polling locations using any permissible submission method, like printing and mailing.

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?

Adoption of this concept in hospitals, elder care facilities, hospices and other similar, smaller scale environments will aid individuals in those facilities with the voting process. If the transition to this technology goes smoothly enough, this is a model than can then be expanded to various other locations. Ballot marking kiosks could be located in myriad places, enabling greater efficiency of voting for anyone at the actual polling location as well as an increased likelihood of voting due to the reduced hassle. The simpler voting interface combined with many potential methods of interaction (kiosk, custom iPad case with tactile controls, touchscreen, voice command, and other assistive technologies) should be more intuitive and less stressful than current polling methods.

How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?

This is a highly adaptable system. Not only is it portable, but the potential for varied iPad case designs allows users to interact with the software in a wide variety of ways. It also has the benefit of being able to grow and eventually act as a self-service voting center as long as the proper security protocols are in place for internet voting (though that is currently a very long way from happening).

What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?

This is a multi-faceted project that requires programmers, product designers, care facilities, and municipal, state, and national government to all work together to achieve this goal. Once the software and hardware is designed and tested, there needs to be an initiative to provide ballot information in a format that can be read and adapted by this application. Getting this ballot data in an appropriate format from the myriad, diverse organizations that control all of the different elections in this country is probably the single biggest roadblock to the success of this system. This design addresses one of the central problems (marking the ballot), but there are a lot of other problems before and after that step that have yet to be resolved.

My Virtual Team

This concept is currently under development by the researchers in the Georgia Tech Research Institute's Human Systems Integration Division.

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DeletedUser

This is definitely a new concept that has it's market value. There are definitely many people at hospitals at any moment in time. The ability to update their presence is definitely something great. The only thing I cannot see is how the authorities are going to get back their investment. Having it done on iPad might also been seen as cutting the other platforms out of the action.


Edmund Ng
http://www.internetempire.com.sg

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DeletedUser

Great idea. When I read the part about it being used in hospitals it instantly appealed to me. I think this segment of the population is forgotten in the voting process as it is extremely difficult to transport them all to voting centers and get them through the process. Great idea.

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DeletedUser

Why the need for an ipad? Creating a unique Device could work better, as there would be less need for the graphics, processing power, and memory that apple ipads boast and charge for. Moreover, apps can occasionally crash; and this brings one back to the homescreen, which we are trying to avoid. The tablet app interface is the main point, I suppose, and I definitely agree with the usefulness of that idea.

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DeletedUser

I agree that the tablet is the main idea. One of the strong aspects of this concept is the way that it uses a commercial tablet (easy to obtain or replace) and adapts it to be used as a voting system.

The prototype that Trace Center created years ago used a commercial tablet, but also enclosed it in a case that restricted access to general purpose functions.

One thing to consider is the different security requirements for a ballot marking device vs. a device that casts and counts ballots.

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Photo of Paul Reader

Congrtulations Andrew!
Agreed Christopher and Whitney - and very important distinction between marking casting and counting. Would still like to see the 'output' from marking embracing your idea of just the voters choices not the full 'menu'.
If the application is to grow into achieving all three then it also needs the fourth - the capacity to very voters and mark the roll.

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DeletedUser

Christopher, you are right in that the tablet app interface is the main point. We are currently utilizing an iPad in development, but by no means does it need to be run on that platform. The application currently in development will be available cross-platform (ideally everything from a smart-phone to a full desktop computer to a custom kiosk).

As for the other issues brought up, I am working on some refinements to the idea as have been suggested. Hopefully they should be up by Monday.

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DeletedUser

Andrew, I'm curious -- are you eliminating the touch-screen input (replacing with tactile controls) or are the tactile controls just an optional form of input?

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DeletedUser

The tactile controls will be entirely optional. Individuals that are physically able to utilize the touchscreen would be more than welcome to!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Great discussion guys! Andrew – feel free to update your post with any points you feel worth adding from this conversation. Looking forward to how it might evolve!

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DeletedUser

I love the incorporation of current technology into the concept. Practical and doable.

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DeletedUser

Hi Andrew, Great to see so much thought about how the hardware could be secured and accessible.

Could this kiosk be adapted to be portable? I'm thinking about how it could be used with concepts for mobile polling places like:

http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/vote-van/
or
http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/voting-vans/
or
http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/tablet-toting-door-to-door-voting-volunteers/

You also mention the need for a standard format. Have you looked at EML / IEEE P1622
http://www.nist.gov/itl/vote/ieee-eml-examples.cfm

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DeletedUser

Absolutely it could be portable! Because it is currently only intended to be a ballot marking system, it is essentially as portable as a regular iPad. While that is not our initial intention, it is not a large leap to see this being deployed in many ways, such as being mounted directly into a mobile polling place or hand-delivered by "tablet toting door-to-door volunteers".

As for EML, I was not familiar with it before you mentioned it, but it does look to be an XML based standard. The problem is not with creating a standard, but getting all of the little municipalities across countries to adopt this standard. Even in the US, as you know, voting is very decentralized and some areas still do not offer anything outside of paper ballots. Having everyone utilize something like EML or any other XML-type markup will make this application and others actually useful, as it can then bring in the necessary data and reformat it into any custom user interface.

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Photo of Paul Reader

Interesting ideas here - would it be possible to upload a ballot already prepared using standardised software from other platforms and stored on removable media making the ipad/kiosk combination like the drug store photo printing kiosks?
Also could the printed ballot incorporate Whitney's idea elsewhere for a list of voter choices like a restaurant bill rather than the whole menu ie. just the voters choices rather than the whole field of candidates/issues?
Could the ballot also have a machine readable output together with a printed receipt for the voter?

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Photo of Paul Reader

This system would fit very well with an amalgam of Whitney's Ballot Navigator concept
http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/ballot-navigator/
and Gabriella's E-Book concept
http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/the-election-ballot-e-book/
to provide a range of guidance options too.

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DeletedUser

Paul, I think that all of those things that you mentioned are very possible. I am not 100% clear on your idea regarding the ballot prepared by standardized software, but I think that is what we are aiming to do in some ways. We want ballots to be created in a platform independent database format so that when it is pulled into our software, it is reformatted and presented in a clear, concise manner. If this is the case, anyone could potentially make a ballot and, if its in a compatible format, then it should work.

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Photo of Paul Reader

Andrew - sorry to be a bit obscure - my meaning was that if all the proposals for electronic voting software were common standard then preparing a ballot on removable media could be read straight into your system. There has been some comment elsewhere on the need for a physical ballot and a receipt so I thought about a bus ticket sized ballot as output that could then be read into casting machines and be secured for auditing. Hence I built my concept partially on yours -
http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/bus-ticket-ballot
Reducing the size of everything is, to a point, potentially cost cutting and therefore attractive from the point of view of authorities.

A kiosk system which your stand could incorporate would include everything for the Voter Vans (see Whitney's comments), hospitals etc. and even Ting-Hans store kiosks
http://www.
openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/year-round-voting-center-stores-equipped-with-voting-kiosks/

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DeletedUser

Ahh, I see now! Yes, that would be excellent. I really like the idea of your small ballot though. A mini printer could be included at the kiosk that would zip out the ballot just like a parking receipt. Really really cool.

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Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks for the parking receipt example. I chose a bus ticket partly because I thought it might need to be robust for re-insertion and counting but also because some of them are magnetically encoded (machine readable). However it is more important that it be relatively small compared to the size of traditional paper ballots but still provide an auditable ballot.
I know suitable technology already exists for both printing and reading such small ballots and providing encoding/decoding should be no problem at all.
I personally have no problem with a completely electronic process but I also understand others concerns about tangible ballots.
Paradoxically I am also quite happy with our current relatively simple paper based approach here in Australia.

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Photo of James Moyer

This is actually a good idea for general voting equipment. Voting equipment is notoriously expensive (I have heard as much as $4000-$5000 per machine) and the tragedy of it is that they only get used once or twice a year. An iPad is a lot cheaper...but here's a question, what can be done with the iPad the rest of the time it is not being used for voting?

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Photo of Paul Reader

This is a good question and I wondered if the app could be developed for the first generation of ipads to five them an extended life as dedicated devices for this purpose to keep costs even lower, particularly in development phase.

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DeletedUser

This is an interesting element that I have to admit, I had not thought about. Absolutely the iPads and iPad 2s could be utilized to give them extended life now that a newer version has been released. Furthermore, these voting iPads could be used for mobile voter registration before they are needed for the actual election day. Volunteers could carry them and save people from having to fill out the paper registration forms.

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Photo of Paul Reader

Excellent use outside of formal voting periods.
I found a comment elsewhere but I don't have the reference at the moment which said "Corporate/public donation: Apple has been collecting and redistributing older model iPads to Teach for America. Perhaps a similar program could be instituted for election season." I will try to find it again.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Exciting developments from Georgia Tech!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

It might also help others engage with your concept if you give some simple scenarios for it's use via our Personas post: http://bit.ly/vote_personas

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DeletedUser

Excellent idea! I'll get on that!