Sunday, July 14, 2013

Terrible Idea? So You're Saying There's a Chance!

I have my own voting machine.

Okay, I don't really, but I might.

You might, too.

For nearly three years, I've taken the spin on "BYOD" (Bring Your Own ((Mobile)) Device) to what I've called Bring Your Own Voting Machine.

BYOVM isn't as catchy as BYOD.  In fact, BYOVM makes BYOD seem catchy.

But, it's my thing.  I wrote about it here, just to document that I'd been thinking about it for quite a while.

Last week, I started thinking about innovative ways to deal with lines and I wondered if there was a way to pre-qualify voters.  The notion of "pre-qualify" seems rather odd, I know, because voting is a constitutional right.  Citizens are pre-qualified by breathing.

But what could constitute something that said, "I'm good to go!" when coming into the polling place?  Really, verification that the voter is registered and at the correct polling place is the answer.  It's not much more complicated than that, although such a thing would reduce the bottleneck at polling places.

That's not earth-shattering, but it would form the foundation of a smartphone app.  Many election offices either have launched some sort of app or are planning to do so.

But when discussing this at an industry meeting recently, someone carried it further.

Could that app have a sample ballot?

Sure, I said.  In fact, I think we should think of this app like a concierge service (again, something I recently typed here).

Could it allow the voter to print off the sample ballot as a ballot and cast it?

"Well, now you are getting into my thoughts of Brrrrrrr....," I began to say before being interrupted.

"They do that already," someone else said, matter-of-factly.

And, quickly the conversation picked up elsewhere.

But, wait.  I pulled it back.

Whoa, whoa, whoa--who are THEY and what do THEY do?

The company, as explained to me, was Everyone Counts, famous for star power it has attracted to join the company and for star power in dealing with the Academy Awards.

I met with Everyone Counts about this very topic more than an year ago.  I also met with other companies and spilled my same vision.

As I've said, I want to shift the cost of voting machines to the voters.  That's not because I have it out for voters--I am a voter, after all--but voting machines are expensive, and they bring security and chain of custody concerns.

What if, instead of buying voting machines, we have technology that allows persons with a smart device the ability to pull up a ballot at the polling place?  Half of the adults in the United States have smartphones today and more than 1/3 have tablet devices.

And that's today.  We're talking about the time we need a new system in Johnson County--2017.  What if, just like the IRS transferred the cost of producing publications to taxpayers who now buy tax software, we could avoid a $12 million short-lived expense of new voting machines by using devices that already are in everyone's hands?

If there is any way to do this, we will.  And that's what I told Everyone Counts.  And, ES&S.  And, that's what I told Unisyn when I met with a friend from that company on Friday.  My wife has two little dogs who hear this story daily, in fact.

I know this idea has legs because every time it comes up, there seems to be a natural conclusion of, "that's being done already."

At a conference on disabilities and voting I attended last year, we had breakout sessions to discuss the future of voting and each team came back with some version of the Bring Your Own Voting Machine Concept.

The New York Times ran a blog piece last year on this topic and quoted someone saying it was a terrible idea.  I took that as progress that this really can happen.

Good ideas anticipate user needs where users see a solution and immediately say, "Finally!" although they never articulated the need before.  Focus groups alert companies to what users want today, in today's terms.  As election administrators, we need to think ahead of that framework.

Think back to the early days of iTunes, or the first time you saw your order typed back at you on a fast-food drive through, or the giant Post-It Note whiteboard sheets that don't require pins or tape when putting them up throughout the room during a planning meeting.

To a large degree, these things were met with a mix of "Eureka!" and a yawn.  Often users know what they want when they see it before they can say what they want.

Our college intern is making progress at mapping out our process to pursue a next-generation voting system and we are borrowing (stealing) liberally from Los Angeles County and Travis County.  We hope to have his early version complete by mid-August.

Whenever we issue a Request for Proposal (probably two years from now), it will have requirements to support the BYOVM concept.  Respondents won't be eliminated if they can't support the solution, but it's very likely the final solution will incorporate this concept.

At this pace, though, by then, it will be as commonplace as seeing my order typed back to me at the Wendy's drive-through.