Unable to leave your house and you want to vote? There's an app for that.
Oregonians weren't really voting with the iPad -- it was taken around to the homes of the disabled in five counties to help them print out ballots they could use to vote in a special election held yesterday.
"Armed with iPads and portable printers, county election workers are going to parks, nursing homes, community centers and anywhere else they might find groups of voters who have trouble filling out traditional paper ballots," wrote the Associated Press. "Using the iPad, disabled voters can call up the right ballot and tap the screen to pick a candidate, with or without the help of election workers. The voters then print the completed ballot and stuff it in an envelope to sign, take with them and drop in the mail or an official ballot box."
The system is intended to help voters with a variety of disabilties, wrote the AP. "Voters with poor vision can adjust the font size and screen colors, or they can have the iPad read them the candidates' names and even the voter pamphlet. A voter with limited mobility could attach a "sip-and-puff" device to control the screen."
Oregon officials decided to try iPads because its other equipment for helping disabled people vote is nearing the end of its life. The old tools, including laptops with various accessibility modifications, were hauled around in two suitcases and were difficult for election workers to set up. Around 800 people used it last year, the AP reported.
The iPad-based system also showed the promise of being less expensive, noted the AP. Apple donated five of its devices for the experiment, and the state spent about $75,000 to develop the software. Oregon would need at least 72 iPads -- two per county -- to bring the program statewide, for a cost of about $36,000 plus printers, according to the state director of elections. While some people have expressed reservations about the cost, in the last two-year budget cycle, Oregon spent more than $325,000 to maintain accessible voting tools, the AP reported. The state also tested an Android tablet, a Windows-based tablet, the Lenovo Thinkpad and a regular laptop at several meetings of accessibility groups, all of which were provided free by the vendors, but found the iPad to be the simplest to use, reported Politico.
Advocates for the disabled criticize the solution to a certain extent because it still relies on a paper ballot that is difficult for visual impaired people to use without help, which interferes with the privacy of the voting process.
Oregon has a history of being innovative in its voting solutions; it was the first state to make all elections vote-by-mail. Now, the state is saying that if the pilot project is successful, they’ll make the service available across the state, and might let people use their own iPads as well, Politico said. A representative for the Oregon American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) told CNN the program could also be useful for senior citizens, noting that Oregon had a higher percentage of residents 65 and older who used computers compared with other states.
The U.S. is somewhat behind in this initiative; as ReadWriteWeb points out, Canada and some European countries, notably Estonia, have experimented with Internet voting for as long as four years.
But ironically, in the U.S., this is happening against a backdrop, in other states, of making it increasingly more difficult to vote, requiring voters to show a state-issued photo ID or even proof of citizenship to vote, claiming it helps prevent voter fraud. Consequently, it isn't clear how far Oregon's innovation is likely to spread beyond the state.