San Diego Woman is CEO of Electronic Voting Solutions Company
By Eilene Zimmerman
Ever fantasize about an election where you could vote without leaving your home? No frantic ride after work to the local elementary school before the polls close? No more worrying: Did I completely color in that bubble? Poke the correct hole in that ridiculously long ballot? Welcome to the future, the future as Lori Steele, founder and CEO of Everyone Counts, envisions it.
Everyone Counts is a small San Diego company with a big idea—changing elections worldwide so they are more secure and, as a result, ensuring that democratically elected leaders are legitimately elected. Everyone Counts has a secure electronic voting system that works online or over the phone.
Steele started the company because she didn’t want the U.S. to have to live through another election like the one in 2000, where because of faulty, corrupted balloting systems the Supreme Court wound up choosing the president. She had been a private wealth advisor for 17 years, but wound up leaving a job she liked at Solomon Smith Barney to start a company with one thing in mind: getting rid of the insecurity of voting by paper or mail.
Steele recognized, as she mixed and mingled in Geneva with some of the world’s most prominent technology leaders, that state-of-the-art technology had not yet made its way to elections, but if it did, could change how elections work—making them accessible and irrefutable.
She began going to Washington, D.C., every month to attend the U.S. Election Assistance Commission hearings, which involved local, state and federal election leaders.
“I was able to define the problem,” she says. Then Steele searched worldwide for a technology that had the transparency, security and accessibility she wanted and found it in an Australian company with an Internet and telephone voting system. The company’s name was one she had thought of on her own---Everyone Counts—and after she acquired them she also adopted the name.
UTC-based Everyone Counts doesn’t provide hardware like voting machines, but instead secure software that allows voters to vote by personal computer or telephone (or by iPhone or other smart phone). It gives voters lots of choices—if you enjoy going to the polls and being around other voters while you cast your ballot, you can still do that. But, says Steele, “There also needs to be a way for all voters, no matter where they are, to vote. If you’re in Afghanistan, if you’re a missionary in Indonesia, the mail isn’t always reliable or timely. Or if you’re disabled or blind, you can vote securely and independently.”
The most disenfranchised voters—the disabled, overseas personnel and the military—often don’t even try to vote. In fact research shows 70 percent of the time that they do vote, that vote isn’t counted.
In 2007, Steele’s company was used in an election in Swindon, England, where voters could vote the traditional way or by Internet or telephone. Steele also set up wireless poll stations in libraries. Those who wanted to vote online could vote at any polling station, not necessarily their assigned station. That same year Everyone Counts was part of an election for Australian military in Afghanistan.
“Turnout increased to 75 percent from 23 percent. Before this election, the military could only use mail-in ballots," she says. In 2008, Steele’s company handled the primary election for the group Democrats Abroad—which is, as its name sounds, registered Democrats living abroad. Registration for that election went up 10-fold from what it had been. “We had voters living in 164 countries voting.”
And now, more good news. Everyone Counts was selected by the U.S. Department of Defense, through the Federal Voting Assistance Program, to be a supplier of voting systems for U.S. states and territories for 2010 elections. They are one of six vendors qualified to meet the requirements of the MOVE Act, which passed in October. That act requires states and territories to implement a way for voters living or serving in the military overseas to vote electronically.
As states look at the DOD-approved vendors they can use for that electronic balloting, Steele feels her company is pretty well-positioned. Of the five other vendors chosen, four have no election experience. "I figure we are going to get very busy, very soon," she says. "MOVE is going to change the way elections work in the U.S. This is just the first step.”