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Online & Mobile Voting: Accessibility for All

If we're already filing our taxes with the government online, & even entrust the security of our $$$ through electronic (ATMs, credit card scanners, bank records) & online/mobile (banking, bill payment,shopping,investing, etc.) means, why not voting?

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The majority of US Residents have done all of these above tasks online , and the # that have done these task through mobile phones is growing exponentially

In fact, the IRS (US Federal Taxation Agency), which receives most tax returns through e-filing, including mobile phone returns , says it’s “the most secure way to transmit your return to the IRS and it’s far more accurate, so you are less likely to hear from us” . Even drivers licenses/identity cards are being issued/renewed online.

We benefit from the convenience, ease, & accessibility of online and/or mobile systems in many areas of our life, including trusting their security for managing our financial assets. Around the world, trillions of dollars are moving around through online channels.

Furthermore,  in US, most government election tallies are already counted & transmitted electronically , electronic voting (such as by touchscreen) is gaining significant share as the fastest growing voting system, and ballots are delivered online to expats. The 1st use of electronic election vote tallying in the US actually started in the 1960’s! And  the Help America Vote Act which mandates at least 1 handicapped accessible voting station per polling place, is largely fulfilled through Direct Electronic Voting machines.

Let’s begin the next step to bring the option of online/mobile voting in government elections to all citizens, helping ensure everyone can exercise their fundamental democratic right, responsibility, & privilege to vote!

States like Arizona & Michigan have already used online voting in primaries, and Oregon has actually conducted a binding primary election entirely over the Internet . And, true fact, US astronauts have been able to cast votes from space since 1999.

Sidenote: Did you know online elections have a successful track record in the United States? Large non-governmental organizations like unions, coops, multi-national corporations, university student governments, alumni associations, & condo boards routinely hold elections online. One entertaining high profile convert: the Academy Awards/Oscars plans to use online voting in 2013.


Online voting has been used to varying degrees for government elections & referendums  in the United Kingdom, Switzerland (with Geneva inscribing I-Voting into its constitution), & Estonia ( including mobile phone voting ); party primary elections in  France ; municipal elections in  Canada ; IVoting for people with disabilities & those far away from polling locations in  Australia New South Wales (by web or phone) ; pilot tests in Sweden & Latvia; etc.,  often driving significant increases in voter turnout.


People with disabilities gain a new alternative for voting privately, independently, and with dignity, at their own pace, using the online/mobile tools of their choice, which they are familiar with using everyday and may have personally customized (screenreaders, specialized input devices, etc.). Examples from inspiration phase below:

  • Puts physical poll location & absentee voters on a more fair & equal footing, as all votes can be counted together, rather than having absentee ballots counted later when they may no longer affect the final result. In fact, this can even increase the possibilities for real-time, publicly accessible graphical visualizations of election polling results as they occur, or afterwards for further insight & analysis (see Mike McDearmon's inspiring build on this concept: /open/voting/concepting/election-analytics/
  • Pre-registration, which creates an additional participation funnel barriercould be eliminated, as voting eligibility is purely based on on-the-spot identification, not location tied paperwork
  • Allows people more time to consider, research, & think about choices, if vote gathering (or at least ballot previewing) is available for several days. If voting/re-voting (overwrites previous vote) is permitted over several days, this allows people the peace of mind in ensuring their vote is recorded early, while still enabling them to change their mind in the light of new information (e.g. a breaking corruption scandal).
  • Cost-effectiveness: especially as economic conditions & government budget deficits & debt, threaten funding of important programs like education, it’s important to find way to bring high quality, accessible voting to everyone at a reasonable cost. The money saved allowing people to vote online could also potentially be used to invest in resources to increase voting accessibility for other people unable to vote online easily (e.g. accessible/mobile poll stations).
  • Share your civic provide & make voting go viral: immediately after voting you could be brought to a thank you page that allows to to post a “I Voted” Facebook Update, Twitter Tweet, or Profile Badge.
  • Reminders: citizens could registers for election reminders before or during their first vote, increasing future vote participation.


This is not a call to create online/mobile voting technologies from scratch. Luckily, most of these technologies have existed for years and are already used in various forms from electronic tax filing, to online banking/bill payment/investing, to driver's license/identity card renewal, to actual online elections.

Instead,  this is a call-to-arms to spread the adoption & design of online voting as an election participation option, so that the right, responsibility, & privilege of voting is broadly accessible to as many people as possible, a must for a healthy democracy & society!

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?

This could improve accessibility for practically everyone, regardless of reason for marginalization: disability, polling location distance, time constraints, travelers/expats/military, students, discrimination/intimidation/safety concerns, etc.

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

***GUIDELINES FOR ENSURING WEBSITE/MOBILE ACCESSIBILITY FOR VARIOUS NEEDS (visual, hearing, physical, cognitive, language, etc.) ARE RELATIVELY WELL ESTABLISHED: e.g. clear, hiearchical organization & metadata structure; alt text/labels for images, forms, & other visual elements; large, high-contrast fonts; captions for videos; large targets for action items, etc. These will be very useful while designing voting online/mobile apps for maximum accessibility.

***SUPPORT SYSTEMS LIKE MULTIMEDIA, REAL-TIME CHAT AVAILABILITY, AND PHONE SUPPORT COULD PROVIDE FURTHER ASSISTANCE IF NEEDED/REQUESTED. Without the restraints of physical locations, there’s even the possibility of matching people with disabilities who need help with support workers that have the same disability and are trained on/experienced with the voting process.

**IN CASES WHERE PEOPLE UNFORTUNATELY DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO ONLINE/MOBILE DEVICES APPROPRIATE FOR THEIR NEEDS, it would make sense to have these devices available for use at physical polling places, libraries, etc. One could even imagine someone being sent such a device before elections, such as how the US Library of Congress currently sends free loans of physical braille & audio materials, digital players, and recently downloads to eligible individuals. Or even distributed through mobile polling stations ( ), or installed/adapted into public transport ( ; think about the multi-functional entertainment systems that are becoming more common in planes, buses, subways, & even taxis)

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


Yes, there are very legitimate security concerns. But these aren’t insurmountable and, given the importance of bringing accessible democracy to all, well worth tackling, as other countries have already done to build trusted online voting systems with public legitimacy.

***IDENTITY VERIFICATION: There are many potential verification procedures from pincode/password logins (like for online banking, ATMs) to credit card swiping (similar to machine-automated boarding pass pickup at airports, facilitated by credit card readers like the ones you can current get for free from to national ID’s (as is used for voting in other countries) to biometrics (fingerprints, eye scans). One form of identity verification that may be immediately acceptable to the US voters is replicating the currently used & accepted physical verification process i.e. poll workers currently visually match voter photo IDs (like a driver’s license) with physical appearances at polling locations. This could be done online through the webcams that are common in computers & increasingly in phones, and video call technologies (like what’s powering free video chats through Skype & Google Hangouts).

***POTENTIAL FOR SEPARATING ACTS OF VOTING & ELIGIBLE VOTER IDENTITY VERIFICATION (see Rachel Happen's amazing concept that built on this concept for more details: ): Identify verification & the act of voting can even be separated if desired, giving you the convenience to vote whenever you want, and further increasing anonymity. For example, after you cast a vote, you could receive a vote verification code. You can then activate your vote by verifying identity (either through the online mechanisms like those mentioned in the previous section above, or even in person, say at polling locations, or DMVs) to ensure you're an eligible voter who hasn't voted yet, and then passing your vote verification code to activate your vote.

***ENCRYPTED TRANSMISSION: Advanced encryption algorithms (similar to what’s used for top security government & online banking applications) can be used to transmit votes securely and avoid multiple votes under the same identity, while also protecting voter privacy (other cannot connect personal identity of voter with their vote choice).

***AUDITABLE/VERIFIABLE PROCESS: votes can produce both physical & digital paper trails (email & printed receipt for voter, digital & printed archives for election organization). You could even imagine independent election monitors using receipt sampling (as the new version of exit poll surveying) to verify fair election vote counting. In addition, digital votes can be stored in multiple redundant systems and, with proper encryption to protect identities, actual encrypted votes can be publicly posted, so that people can individually verify (with their receipts) that their cast vote has been received correctly, and independent organizations can calculate vote totals themselves to ensure the final tally is accurate (a level of auditing that’s impossible to do with the current voting system)

**OPEN SOURCE: potentially, if this system was developed as an Open Source project, this could increase security of the technology, by ensuring more eyes look at it to uncover & improve any weaknesses. This could also allow online/mobile voting to more easily spread. I.E., if Los Angeles is successful with online voting, it's easier for New York, Mumbai, or anywhere else to pilot without worrying about obtaining proprietary licenses or getting locked in to a solution.

**IS THE CURRENT PHYSICAL SYSTEM THAT SECURE ANYWAYS?: Current physical ballots, machines, & polling places have significant risks for manipulation/inaccuracy, as evidenced by cases where misplaced ballot boxes turn up after results are declared, or the infamous case of the 2000 US Presidential Election where the final outcome was resting on inconsistent vote counts which varied with each recount, due to hanging chads & other factors.

My Virtual Team

Really, the whole OpenIDEO community helped inspire this concept (as evidenced by the many inspirations linked to on the right). I.e., I consider everyone in the OpenIDEO community part of this concept's virtual team =). As people build on this concept, I'm trying to highlight the builds/related concepts below. During the refinement phase (if this concept makes it there), I will try to add the awesome commenters that are helping further this idea in the discussion:

*Rachel Happen made an amazing concept that built on this concept. For more information on & the link to her concept, check out the "POTENTIAL FOR SEPARATING ACTS OF VOTING & ELIGIBLE VOTER IDENTITY VERIFICATION" subsection above.

*Mei Hsieh's related/complementary concept ( ), which does a great job of illustrating the importance of building on devices that users are already familiar & comfortable with (excerpt from her video is also available above by clicking on the 2nd thumbnail), as well as exploring an interesting possibility for allowing mobile device voting at physical polling places.

*Mike McDearmon extended this concept's framework of individual voting receipts & publicly available voting data, and brought its usage application to a whole new level with visualization & analytics!

*Most recently Amanda Forker & Whitney Quesenbery built on this concept in creating 2 new online/anywhere balloting concepts ( , ) that could provide some of the benefits of online/mobile voting, while potentially being more quickly palatable & immediately implementable. These are awesome concepts in and of themselves, and could be a big step towards the online/mobile voting envisioned here.
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Photo of Anna

Very impressive!

Online/mobile voting will not only benefit disable people, but also help other types of absentee voters such as uniformed and overseas voters. Uniformed and overseas voters have much at stake in making their voices heard due to the distance and the hardship circumstances. These voting impediments discourage them from exercising their right.

How nice it will be if all the processes can be done via their mobile device without mailing paper forms and ballots to the election office thousands mile away.

This is what I am working on now to help uniformed and overseas voters to access their ballot easier. We design an app called ABVote to allow applying to vote and mark ballot via mobile device. Especially, the Android version of this app has the features of Text to Speech and Shake to Vote. These will help people who have certain disabilities.

You may help test our app by searching ABVote on Google Play or App store. It is still a beta version, so what you will do is in a Mock Election environment. I would like to hear any comments from you to help us improve it. Thank you.

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