Cyber The Vote! interviews Everyone Counts CEO Lori Steele
By Rob Weber - Cyber The Vote!
Too often, critics of online voting are able to frame the discussion as a theoretical one regarding its viability. These critics tend to ignore the existence of companies that have been applying cutting edge technologies in the development of online voting systems for some time. These systems are being used, with great success and great cost savings to taxpayers, around the world.
One such major developer of online voting systems is Everyone Counts, an international company based in San Diego, California. When you consider the existence and use of the systems developed by Everyone Counts, you realize that highly secure online voting is anything but theoretical.
Last week in Oregon, select voters were able to read and cast their ballots with the aid of iPads, using software developed by Everyone Counts. The use of iPads allowed voters to view and cast their ballots in easier-to-read formats. The goal is increased access for voters. By all accounts, the iPad solution program has been a huge success.
On Friday, Everyone Counts CEO Lori Steele appeared on MSNBC to discuss the iPad election. Cyber The Vote’s Rob Weber was fortunate enough to speak with Lori later that day:
Rob Weber: Lori, reading about your career, it strikes me that online voting is important to you. Can you tell me a little bit about what the experience of leading this company has been like?
CEO Lori Steele: “It has absolutely been the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and perhaps the hardest.”
Rob: Do you feel like you are making a difference, and how does it feel to be providing increased access for voters?
Lori: “I do feel we have made a difference. We have been pioneers, and I think we have helped this movement progress faster than it might have otherwise.”
“And it is very moving to hear from voters who thank us, telling us that this is the first time they have ever voted independently, or the first time they have had access to vote since being deployed to Afghanistan.”
Rob: How has the feedback been so far regarding the iPad balloting in Oregon?
Lori: ”They are loving it. The Secretary of State is very happy with the program. The election last week focused on disabled voters, but in the next election it will include overseas and military ballots, which is great.”
“The voting won’t require an iPad. Voters can use any equipment. It is really more about the software since our system is “hardware agnostic”. But the iPad solution is getting a lot of attention right now.”
Rob: Do you have other online voting clients along with government elections?
Lori: “We do. We actually are conducting elections online almost every day of every week of every month. We have done thousands and thousands of elections.”
“We have done elections for clients such as KPMG, Deloitte, PWC, universities, associations, media awards. All kinds of things. Voting is probably just as big in the private sector as the public with regard to market size and, certainly, number of elections held.”
Rob: How much is the desire to “Go Green” with paperless voting helping to increase demand?
Lori: “Right now it is occurring more in the private sector than the public. Customers are certainly talking to us about that, but for governments it is still a big shift in thinking and going green isn’t as high a priority…yet.”
Rob: If I represented a municipality that was considering online voting and I came to you, what would be some of the typical concerns and questions that I would have?
Lori: “They think about a lot of things, such as ‘How will our voters accept this? Will they like this better? Will we still need polling stations?’ The questions are also different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction throughout the country and the world. The needs can differ significantly.”
Rob: “Given the international nature of your clientele, does the language diversity present a challenge to your company?”
Lori: “I know that it has presented challenges to many of our competitors. We are unique at Everyone Counts, though, in that we have brought together both internationally recognized election administration expertise and software systems and security expertise. So things like second, third, and fourth languages are not hard for us. We have conducted elections in English, Spanish, French, Portugese, even languages I didn’t know existed.”
Rob: Were there unique challenges to the development of online voting systems, compared to other types of online service software?
Lori: “Yes, it is hard and it is unique. Accessibility and usability are very important. You have to make sure you are protecting the voters from making mistakes themselves.”
“Certainly security. You have to think about how you are storing the votes and encrypting the votes. You also have to think about what is going on on the computer the voter is using, including the many types of browsers. These concerns do exist with online commerce and banking systems. However with voting it is different in that you need the system to always work when the voter needs to use it, unlike something like banking software when the user can come back later if there is a problem. There is a limited window of time with voting.”
Rob: A common claim that critics of online voting make is that election results that aren’t backed up with paper ballots or receipts are not “recountable, verifiable, or auditable”. What do you say to these claims?
Lori: “There is no truth to that. It’s not like we started out saying there would be internet elections and ‘who cares if they’re not good enough’. We addressed all of the issues and concerns about auditability and verifiability. We made it work. I would put forth that our systems are far more auditable, recountable, and far more able to detect any kind of voter fraud than any paper system.”
“They also tend to focus on the DREs of some years ago which also had “black box” code. We have from the beginning been about transparency with regard to our code.”
Rob: Isn’t it difficult to be secure as well as transparent, and not reveal proprietary information?
Lori: “Not at all. It is a misconception that you lose competitive secrets if you publish your code. Our work is copyright and patent protected. We can, and do, make it publicly available for audit, in order to demonstrate that it does what it is supposed to do.”
Rob: Can you tell me anything about the process of testing and trialing an online voting system?
Lori: ”We spend a lot of time on the project management end. This means ensuring that the customer and the customer auditors, as well as the voters, are all comfortable with the security, the human and technical processes, as well as the usability of the systems. Our software platform is then customized for the client, incorporating the type of electronic election they choose, and variables such as the election laws in their jurisdiction.”
“It then goes through penetration and security testing of all kinds. Followed by usability, logic and accuracy testing. Several jurisdictions will then do spot testing during and after an election.”
Rob: I assume the software continues to evolve. Do you foresee the use of biometric identification, etc?
Lori: “Absolutely. The US does not currently allow biometric identification, but several other countries do. One of the great things about a software based system, rather than a hardware based one, is that you can easily adapt and incorporate new innovations.”
Rob: I am of the mind that online voting will be used extensively soon because the cost advantages of online voting will rapidly drive the demand for it. Local election officials who have to answer to their taxpayers will not be able to ignore the cost savings of online voting. Do you feel I am correct?
Lori: “Without a doubt you are correct. The demand will come from two things. Some will be focusing on access, and a huge number will be looking to cut costs. A good example is the large number of special elections that have been taking place. These elections are ones that by law must be held, but which have not been budgeted for in advance. The special election two years ago in California cost 80 Million Dollars, and only had 17% turnout. Our elections are about half the cost of traditional elections.”
“When it comes to access, once voters have a choice, and are not forced to use only one kind of voting system, they continually prefer these systems, and that will drive the demand. The transformation will happen, first to electronic ballot delivery, then to online voting. It is happening.”
“I believe 2011 will be looked back on as the tipping point for online voting in the United States.”
Rob: Lastly Lori, how often do the critics of online voting that I speak of approach your company for interviews or information regarding your online voting systems?
Lori: “Sadly we have only been approached once by the critics in all of the years we’ve been trying to improve transparency and security in voting systems. However, people including academics, election experts and technology experts-who are committed to finding a solution-reach out to and work with us continually.”