Given the wide nature of accessibility to the Internet these days, online balloting would make it easy for all voters to access their specific ballot style without the concern of transmitting votes through the web.
Already widely used in the United States, online balloting is a way to retrieve a voter specific (think county and precinct) ballot from any computer or mobile device with Internet access. Voters can go online, review and mark their ballot, and then print it for fax or mail in just like absentee voting.
Example of what an online ballot would look like.
Voter verification would still need to be determined when logging in, but this could probably be done with a voter ID or some other various forms of identification kept on record by election offices.
When a voter logs into the online ballot system, they can learn more about candidates and issues which are described in detail like the ballot pamphlets sent out prior to election day. Then a voter can choose to just review the options, print a blank ballot to have a paper copy, or mark their ballot online (possible inclusion of online voting here).
Marking a ballot would work like voting, allowing the voter to make selections. But they can save their progress and come back at a later time if they want more time to think about the candidates or issues. If ballots were available with a month or more prior to the election day, people would be able to have the time and freedom to review their choices and do research before submitting immediately like they do at a polling station. Plus, because the ballot is online, it can be set up to include links to candidate information or more ideas about an issue. Maybe there is even a social media application to the program that allows voters to cross-talk so they get the opinions of their friends and family (or other trust worthy individuals) before voting. I think it is important to allow as much knowledge to be accessible as possible.
After a voter has marked their ballot they can print it out, review, and submit it to an election office by way of standard post, via fax, or even direct email/online submission. The key difference here between online balloting and voting is that the voting is not taking place on a contest by contest submission, but rather, the ballot remains in whole and in control of the voter. I think this would ward off doubts about the security of online voting for those who don't trust the system. Otherwise, submission online can still be an option for those who want instant return.
Once a ballot has been sent out, voters will be able to see when their ballot is received, when it is tallied, and how that contributes to the total votes overall. This will encourage independence in voters (not just from people with disabilities).
The online ballot system would be built out in such a way so that the web-based platform can work in conjunction with a variety of tools that support people with disabilities who use technology in general. This can include refreshable braille display, MEMS (used to operate technology with slight puffs of air), spoken web/speech recognition, and browser text magnification. Voters could use the technology they are already familiar with, or the online ballot program could recommend (or have built in) certified software depending on the disability of the voter.
This online ballot system could be used not only at home, but practically translate to pre-election day voting stations all over towns and cities. There could be almost permanent polling booths set up in common places like the post office or grocery store or library. From these locations voters can mark and print their ballot. Part of this process would require that ballots can be accessibly printed for those who do not have Internet and/or a printer at home, but wish to submit a hard copy of their ballot.
This system could also translate to election day polling booths. The primary purpose of this system to is allow people to vote from home or absentee. However, so may feel more comfortable submitting directly on election day, or having a person to speak with prior to casting their vote. When a voter goes into the booth on election day, they may have already had an option to review their choices or even mark their ballot. They can then log into their account online from the polling booth, review their selections and then submit on the spot.
This one integrated system with a wide variety of software compatibility can produce a streamline and accessible system.
How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?
Voters can use this system from home, a library, various ballot locations prior to election day, as well as in the polling booths on election day. An online ballot transcends location and offers voters with any number of disabilities the option to utilize a system that already works best for them. All barriers are stripped away by how easy it is to implement. Pre-election day polling stations will be equipped with any necessary hardware interfaces that can be used to address specific disabilities; this prevents inability to access a ballot if a voter doesn't have a computer with special hardware.
How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?
The online ballot is a universal web-based solution that integrates seamlessly with a voter's current technology software or interfaces. Those interface solutions will also be provided at the polling stations on election day.
What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?
First, election officials would need to work in conjunction with pre-election polling places (grocery, post office, library). Then, election offices would need to develop or buy the online ballot web-based platform in order to integrate it with their voting tabulation system. Finally, they would need to work with companies who manage the hardware for which to install for accessibility at these polling station.
My Virtual Team
I would like to thank the following people who were great in helping bring this idea together:
Firstly, Vincent Cheng, whose idea on Online Voting prompted this post in the first place:
Second, Rachel Happen., who raised a very good point about separate of voting and voter identity and spreading ballot accessibility primarily which I tried to address here:
Other concepts which fueled inspiration: