With its software platform, San Diego company wants to bring voting into the digital age
Mike Freeman - San Diego Union-Tribune
December 19, 2011
In a special congressional election in Oregon last month, 89 disabled voters cast ballots using iPad tablet computers — the first time the iPad had been used in an election.
The brains behind Oregon’s pilot program to boost voter participation was Everyone Counts, a San Diego company that provides election management software sold through a software-as-a-service business model to public and private election organizers.
While relatively few voters in Oregon marked their ballots on iPads — and the ballots were subsequently printed out and delivered to ballot boxes by the voters themselves or assistants — the pilot project did spark the imagination on what technology can do to improve elections.
Lori Steele, founder and chief executive of Everyone Counts, has spent more than five years working on that very topic. “Antiquated, hardware-based systems do not serve voters or election officials well, and billions of dollars have been spent implementing them,” said Steele. “Electronic voting solutions are here to stay.”
Everyone Counts has developed a software platform that works with whatever hardware elections officials have in place, giving them an incremental method to go digital. Along the way, Everyone Counts addresses security, anonymity, accuracy, access and a host of other issues that make election technology difficult.
For competitive reasons, Steele keeps many of the details about the small, private firm undisclosed. She won’t provide specifics about revenue, how much money the company has raised from investors or how many workers it employs. She did say half of the company’s employees are based in San Diego, and it has subsidiaries in Panama, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.
Steele spoke recently with the Union-Tribune about the Oregon pilot voting project and the future of digital elections.
Q: Elections are complicated, with issues involving access, transparency, security and so forth. Has it been hard breaking into this business?
A: It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and certainly harder than I thought it would be. Getting the government to change is hard, anyway. And we didn’t just say, “These must be the problems.” We talked to local, state and national election leaders throughout the world and asked them what works and what doesn’t.
Q: What did you do to address the concerns of election leaders?
A: I looked around the world for the best technology and also began to learn and bring into the company some of the most experienced and brilliant minds in the election administration process, because I have seen how many companies failed by simply trying to add technology to a process but not actually understanding that process.
Q: Was it difficult to find and attract workers knowledgeable in elections?
A: Everyone Counts has a social mission that everyone who is legally entitled to vote in the world should have the ability to do so independently, privately and securely. Because of that social mission, we were able to bring in really amazing people, literally internationally recognized experts in election administration, computer security and network security.
Q: How is the technology different?
A: There are a lot of things. We have a software-as-a-service platform. If you think about what we’re really delivering, it’s a software platform for everything from voter registration to ballot delivery, ballot return and tabulation and everything in between.
Because it’s modular, our customers can make a decision on which piece they need most, so they don’t have to transform their entire voting and registration system all at once. They can start with a piece and see if that works for them.
Q: What’s the return on investment for buyers?
A: If you were to transform your entire system to Everyone Counts software as a service system today, we could save you 50 percent. We could also help increase accessibility, security and in many cases, participation.
Q: Oregon was a pilot program. Is that mostly what has occurred to date?
A: What we’re finding now is that we are undoubtedly past the tipping point. While governments will occasionally still do pilots such as Oregon, they also are looking to immediately implement at scale once the pilot has been proven, because we’ve had so many proven successes.
Q: So other states are customers?
A: We have signed a multiyear contract with Washington state. We are working in Colorado, Utah and Oregon. We expect at least another half dozen to a dozen U.S. states to contract with us.
We’re working in Australia, Europe and Latin America. Also on the private-sector side, our customers in elections include KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, universities, membership organizations. There are political parties, labor unions. The private sector market is as big as the public sector market.