Alaska: taking eBallot processes a step forward …online voting on the horizon?

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Alaska is the only state in the USA that has opted to allow all registered voters to receive and cast a ballot electronically for the US mid-term elections on November 4, 2014. This is a step forward from what was originally intended for voters who fall under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). The federal Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (MOVE), passed in 2009, requires states to provide absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters in at least one electronic format — email, fax, or an online delivery system — at least 45 days before an election. Civilian voters in Alaska however must apply beginning 15 days before the election.

This will be the third time since 2012 that Alaskan voters are provided with an alternative channel to in person voting and voting by mail.  In the 2012 presidential election, the state of Alaska issued 7,383 ballots to voters electronically with 5,239 of those voters finally casting their ballot using the online voting system. Similarly in the 2014 primary, 1,874 e-ballots were issued and 1,165 were subsequently returned using the same system. To serve that purpose Alaska contracted SOE, an experienced election management software solution company, to develop the Clarity eBallot Delivery Voting System.

Alaska provides an excellent example of how the e-ballot system can serve geographically alienated members of the electorate who would otherwise be excluded from the voting process. To use the system voters are required to access an online platform via any available media whether desktop, laptop, mobile smart phone, or tablet, to request an e-ballot. Once the election official receives this request voter identity and registration is verified, and in turn the voter receives an email containing links and instructions. Voters then mark and submit their ballot through the online system, along with a scanned digital copy of their voter certificate and identification sheet. These last two documents which serve the authentication process must first be printed and signed by the voter and a witness. Once a digitally cast ballot is received by the election officer, it is printed on official ballot paper and counted using the same optical scan system that counts other paper ballots cast in polling station or sent via traditional mail. To ensure security, the Clarity eBallot Delivery Voting System is hosted in a dedicated secure data center protected by a layer of redundant firewalls under constant physical and application monitoring.

State of Alaska officials do not claim that this new approach is a money saver when comparing the cost per vote to other channels providing an absentee ballot. Their aim was to expand the voting channels available to ensure wider voter inclusion. Similarly after two consecutive problem-free deployments of the system, they are quite confident that it will operate once again according to the required standards. Alaska has chosen to pave a new way for electoral innovation in the US and although it is taking slow and steady steps things usually evolve must faster on the other side of the Atlantic. The e-ballot approach is definitely a whole new area for e-voting worth following closely.