San Diego company innovates online voting

By KATHERINE CONNOR, The Daily Transcript
Monday, April 28, 2014

San Diego County Bar Association’s Law Day theme of “Why Every Vote Matters” is also the focus of Everyone Counts, a local company that provides state-of-the-art voting platforms, particularly to disenfranchised groups such as deployed military personnel and the disabled.

“When I was a young girl, my mother said, ‘You can do anything you want in life,’” said Lori Steele, founder and CEO of Everyone Counts.

“She managed a grocery store in Ohio, but I heard something different," Steele said. "When I saw the first Iraqi election, with people holding their fingers with purple marks, I saw in their eyes that, possibly for the first time, people believed what my mother had told me — they mattered. I thought, ‘I have to do something to ensure elections matter and everyone’s ballots count.’”

Steele founded her company in 2004 after her 17-year investment management career led her to speak at the United Nations about technology sector investment. It was about the time of the Iraqi elections, and she realized how antiquated the election process was compared to the technology in most other industries.

When she started the company, election voting was done either by a manual paper process, “which is clearly extremely error-prone, or purpose-built hardware-based systems, which are antiquated before they even reach the voting room floor,” Steele said.

The company acquired the Everyone Counts technology from Australia, and built the Software as a Service platform (a cloud-based software distribution model) to be perpetually state of the art, adapting to advances as they surface. The company can provide a platform for the entire voting process, from voter registration to election poll book authentication, election administration, balloting, voting, tabulation and auditing.

Steele said part of the benefit of the Everyone Counts technology is that 80 percent of the system is reusable for all customers, although there is the option to completely reconfigure it for new organizations or those with special circumstances.

The Software as a Service model can integrate with legacy systems, which Steele said is a huge benefit because it means customers can migrate to the system one module at a time, instead of having to switch over everything at once.

The company has had success with both the public and private sectors, and the system has been implemented on the public side in Bosnia, Australia the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as Utah, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Washington and West Virginia.

Everyone Counts is also used by universities, associations and trade unions, and two years ago was used to transition the Oscars to an online voting system, leading to record voting turnout.

Steele said she anticipates a jump in public domestic clients as systems bought with money from 2002’s Help America Vote Act become obsolete, and governments are able to switch to a new system.

In addition to facilitating easier, more reliable and secure voting for organizations and governments, Steele said the company takes pride in ensuring no populations within those groups are left out.

“We’ve done the same for voters with disabilities across the country, giving those voters the right to vote privately and independently, in many cases for the first time in their life — and it is an absolute honor,” Steele said. “We make sure voting is universally accessible so no one has to feel unique.”

Everyone Counts has also focused on deployed military personnel and U.S. citizens living abroad. Steele said typically 70 percent of people living overseas who try to vote either aren’t able to or don’t have their ballot counted, since voting by mail is wrought with problems, given time constraints.

She said that while the Department of Defense posted lower turnout in the 2012 election than in 2008, every state that hired Everyone Counts to build its overseas voting system showed higher turnout.

“Our system can be implemented in many ways — that’s one of the beauties of the system. The software is the same for whoever it’s deployed for and it’s also hardware agnostic. Whether you’re voting from home on a PC or at an airport on a Mac or on a train on a mobile phone or Android device, it works.”

With an electronic system, privacy and security are of highest concern. Everyone Counts’ ballots have military-grade encryption, and there are many levels of authentication to ensure voter identity, which eliminates the possible voter fraud with mail-in ballots.

The company employs about 50 people, although Steele said she expects the number to double this year. She also said 2014 will be the tipping point for the country to move toward a Software as a Service voting platform, with Everyone Counts leading the way: President Obama’s Presidential Commission on Election Administration has issued a report describing many of Everyone Counts’ products in detail as the way forward.

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