County auditor says Everyone Counts’ voting system increases access, reduces cost and prevents errors
By Michelle Dupler, Herald Staff Writer
Franklin County voters have an opportunity to try out a new online voting system in the Nov. 3 general election.
The system allows registered voters to log in using a code provided by the county Auditor's Office and fill out their ballot using a web-integrated form, then print it out and mail it in to be counted.
Washington state law doesn't allow votes to be submitted online, but Franklin County Auditor Zona Lenhart is hoping this test project will show the Legislature that web-based voting might be a good option for Washington's military and disabled voters.
"The idea of online voting is to remove barriers for people," Lenhart said.
She also thinks it could reduce the cost of elections, since the biggest cost comes from printing ballots and secrecy envelopes.
Lenhart said paper ballots and envelopes still will be mailed to each voter, whether or not they opt to use the online system, because state law requires a paper ballot. But she hopes many voters will instead opt to try the online ballot because it will be easy to use and less prone to errors such as double-voting.
Stephen R. Daniels, vice president of U.S. Sales for Everyone Counts, said the system his company developed for Franklin County is user-friendly and secure, with no individual's personal information connected to his or her vote.
Each precinct is issued a code, which is provided to all registered voters in that precinct. Logging in with the code allows voters to pull up a ballot that includes only the races in their precinct.
After marking their choices, they must print the ballot and mail it by the election deadline. They also can print a security envelope, which must be sealed and signed just like those elections staff will mail to each voter.
The system allows voters to click a link to get more information and watch a video about the candidate before casting a vote. It also allows them to go back and change a vote cast by mistake and print a corrected ballot before mailing.
Daniels said the system is designed to integrate with technology for people who are visually impaired so the online ballot can be read to them.
As someone who has only worked with elections systems for the past year, Daniels said he hadn't thought much in the past about the voting obstacles some people face.
"I thought you go to the polling place or you get an absentee ballot," he said. "It's not that simple if you're overseas. It's not that simple if you don't have eyes or if you don't have hands."
Lenhart said she expects disability -- especially vision impairment -- to be an increasing problem for voters as the population ages.
She also sees a younger generation that wants constant connection to the internet through devices such as smart phones, and thinks they'll be more likely to vote if they can do it online.
Lenhart hopes the project will show lawmakers that online voting is the wave of the future, and that they'll change the law that requires paper ballots.
She also hopes to see a statewide pilot project to extend online voting to military voters next year.
Franklin County first tried the online system in the August primary and had 67 voters participate. Lenhart hopes to increase that number for the general election in November.