Business

Building a better ballot: Elections never end for coming Valley company

Bryan Finney, president and founder of Democracy Live, uses a tablet and phone to demonstrate the capabilities of his company, delivering electronic ballots and voting information to U.S. voters around the world. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Bryan Finney, president and founder of Democracy Live, uses a tablet and phone to demonstrate the capabilities of his company, delivering electronic ballots and voting information to U.S. voters around the world.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Election season will soon be over for most of us in the Snoqualmie Valley, but for one group of people soon to call Snoqualmie home, the election cycle never ends.

“There’s an election in this country every eight days, it turns out,” says Bryan Finney, president and founder of Democracy Live, Inc (www.democracylive.com).

His company, now based in Issaquah but relocating to Snoqualmie in the next month, is responsible for delivering accurate electronic ballots to U.S. voters around the world, using “cloud-based” technology in partnership with Microsoft. As of last Thursday, Nov. 1, he said Democracy Live was handling the ballots for more than 200 U.S. elections, with voters scattered among 92 countries and on every continent, including Antarctica.

“If you’re a missionary in Africa, or you are the ambassador to France, or you’re a G.I. in Khandahar, historically, it’s been very difficult for these voters to get their ballots on time in order to be counted, even though they’re completely eligible to vote,” Finney said.

Voters served by Democracy Live could review their complete, detailed ballots online, and mark their selections, but not submit them through the ballot program. Election law prohibits electronic transmission of voters’ choices for security and other reasons. So overseas voters still needed to print their ballots, then fax, scan and e-mail, or send by regular mail, them to their elections administrator.

That’s a positive thing, according to Finney. “There’s still paper involved in the process, so there’s always ability to go back and do a hand recount….”

The 2000 presidential election recount issue is actually one of the reasons Finney created Democracy Live. Outdated voting systems and Florida’s “hanging chads” made him think, “Here it is, the year 2000 and we can’t seem to count ballots correctly in this country… something’s wrong here.”

Finney also wanted to “improve democracy” by providing voters with more information. “Everybody knows Obama and Romney,” he explained, “but when you get to the down-ballot candidates… who are these guys?”

With Live Ballot (www.liveballot.com) you can find out. The product, the first to be developed by Democracy Live, provides every voter in the country detailed information, down to the state level at least, on the candidates in each race they can vote in. For voters whose election jurisdictions are contracting with the company, the ballot includes every race —“we call it the dog-catcher ballot!” Finney jokes. Information from candidate websites, websites like votesmart.org, and financial disclosures for each candidate are all included on the sample ballots.

Live Ballot, called the Video Voters Guide when it ran as a pilot program in 14 Washington counties in 2009, led to Finney’s company winning its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to deliver ballots to overseas servicepeople.

As Democracy Live continues to grow — it has 22 in offices in Virginia, Colorado and Oregon, as well as locally — Finney also plans to expand the company’s offerings. He foresees a day when “the Facebook generation of voters will start growing up and will start demanding 21st-century ways to participate in the process,” and he plans for Democracy Live to be at the forefront of technology then, too.

 

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