Cloud

Want to fix the voting process? It’s time to use the cloud

Election Day is here, and the good news is that many voters – nearly 22 million according to George Mason University’s U.S. Election Project – have already cast their ballots via mail or at pop-up polling stations in shopping malls, colleges, and hospitals around the country.

The bad news is that these early voting places are only popping up in swing states like Florida, Ohio, and Colorado. The majority of us don’t live in swing states and will be stuck waiting in line at polling centers all day long. This got me thinking, given the burgeoning use of the cloud and consumerization of IT, why aren’t we using cloud technology to make voting more convenient and accessible?

Here are some reasons why it should be considered:

Efficiency – Inconsistency in voting procedures, inadequately trained staff and outdated voting equipment all serve to fuel negative headlines and undermine voter confidence. By utilizing cloud technology, voters could choose the option of voting online rather than standing in a line at a polling booth. The U.S. is already one of the most computer-savvy countries in the world, with over 78 percent of the population online, according to Internet World Stats. Compare that to the 56 percent voter turnout witnessed in the 2008 presidential election.

Of course that doesn’t mean that everyone with a computer will vote — and not all Internet users are of voting age — but it does mean there’s potential to increase the number of voters if voting was a little easier. By automating things like multilingual ballots and audio voting for the visually impaired, counties could better serve a broader segment of voters and with far less overhead.

Security – We’ve all seen the news stories about egg-faced officials admitting that huge numbers of ballots had been stolen or misplaced. Ballots, when tabulated electronically and in real-time, eliminate the risk of being lost while in transit or in physical storage.

As part of this, voters could be authenticated via a database of registered voters linked to Department of Motor Vehicle photos. Meanwhile, polling results could be tabulated, backed up, and retained in the cloud for indefinite periods of time. In addition, detailed reports could be quickly generated if reviews were needed or questions arise.

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Cost effectiveness – Elections are expensive. This year’s primaries, for example, have cost Wisconsin taxpayers $7.6 million, including over $4 million combined for poll worker wages and staff salaries. Regardless of the type, for compliance reasons, officials must set aside budget resources and the man hours to execute the procedures involved. The cloud provides the IT elasticity that allows officials to “dial up or down” resources on-demand. Last minute corrections to voter materials, for example, could be done online at the click of a button versus reprinting thousands of voter handbooks.

Flexibility – Imagine if Hurricane Sandy or another significant natural disaster were to hit on Election Tuesday? It’s not an inconceivable thought after what the East Coast experienced this last week. Forget about red, blue or swing states  — a sizable chunk of the electorate would never make it to the polls. Cloud technology could go far to minimize the negative impact of such unexpected events.

The simple fact is that the electorate already knows and trusts the cloud. After all we work, shop, conduct personal banking, file our taxes, and, yes, vote (albeit for American Idol) in the cloud. So why should online voting be such a quantum leap? I think if the authors of the U.S. Constitution could have envisioned the cloud, they would have signed their virtual John Hancock to it.

Terry Cunningham is president and general manager of EVault, a Seagate Company. Terry is an experienced, hands-on senior leader with a track record of success in building organizations to realize their full potential. He founded Crystal Services, which was purchased by Seagate in 1994 and integrated into the company’s software division, which then became Seagate Software. Cunningham helped grow Seagate Software, including piloting the organization through $350 million worth of acquisitions. He can be reached at terry.cunningham@evault.com.