Hawaii Holds First All Digital Election

Sunday, May 24, 2009  |  Updated 11:11 AM PDT
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Hawaii Holds First All Digital Election

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City officials say the experiment appears to have generated few problems; it has even saved the financially strapped city around $100,000.

Voting has ended in what is being touted as the nation's first all-digital election, and city officials say it has been a success.

Some 115,000 voters in Honolulu's neighborhood council election were able to pick winners entirely online or via telephone. The voting, which started May 6, ended Friday.

City officials say the experiment appears to have generated few problems; it has even saved the financially strapped city around $100,000.

"It is kind of the wave of the future," said Bryan Mick, a community relations specialist with the city Neighborhood Commission, "so we're kind of glad in a way that we got to be the ones who initiated it."

Web voting, which produces no paper record, cannot be used in city council or state elections because state law bars voting systems that do not include a vote verification process, said Warren Stewart, legislative policy director for Verified Voting Foundation, a nonpartisan advocacy group.

Lori Steele, head of Everyone Counts, the San Diego-based firm chosen by the commission to run the election, said Web voting will make it easier for civilian and military voters who live overseas or those who just don't have time in their busy days to visit a polling place.

The commission's move to digital voting was dictated more by a lack of money than a strong desire to use the Internet in new ways.

For at least two decades, the agency conducted mail-only voting, paying the postage to send the ballots to voters and to get them back. In a moneysaving effort two years ago, the commission gave voters the option of choosing candidates by mail or through the Web, but most voters chose mail ballots, Mick said.

Then the Honolulu City Council cut the Neighborhood Commission's election budget from $220,000 to $180,000. That prompted the agency to shift to all-digital voting for this year's races. Preliminary calculations show Web voting may cost only $80,000, Mick said.

Before the first day of balloting, voters living in 22 neighborhood board districts with contested races received a passcode that, along with the last four digits of their Social Security number, gave them access to an election Web site created by Everyone Counts.

Voting also was conducted by phone, with results electronically fed into the same computer system that collected the Web votes.

The results should be ready Tuesday.

Everyone Counts has used the system for numerous private and foreign elections, such as the presidential primary held last year by Democrats Abroad, an arm of the Democratic Party that represents overseas voters.

Steele said the computer codes in her firm's system are available for auditing, and that each completed ballot is heavily encrypted, as is the overall system. The process is more secure than that used in Internet banking, she added.
 

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