The King Conservation District (KCD) is holding its board elections now through Feb. 11, and it is offering voters a mobile ballot option.
Mobile voting is intended to increase voter accessibility.
KCD has partnered with King County Elections, Tusk Philanthropies and Democracy Live — a Snoqualmie-based company — to pilot a new technology that allows voters to access and submit their ballot electronically.
Bryan Finney, Democracy Live president, said anyone who is registered can go and get their OmniBallot through the secure online portal, no app required, using their computer or smart device. They can fill it out and submit electronically, or they can print it and submit it by mail or at a ballot drop box location.
“You can get your ballot anywhere,” he said.
Users of the software can fill out the OmniBallot directly on their smartphone or tablet, marking their choices and even signing it with their finger or stylus on a touch screen, Finney said. Once it’s submitted, it can be tracked via the King County Elections website.
Ultimately, Finney said, this is not an online vote but a paper-based mobile vote. All ballots will end up as a tangible paper ballot to be processed by King County Elections — even those submitted electronically will be printed at the elections office for tabulation, once the signature is verified. He said having the tangible copies of every ballot is important, especially if there ever needs to be a hand recount.
Democracy Live was founded in 2007. It has provided cloud voting technologies in more than 1,000 elections in America with the help of Amazon Web Services.
The mobile method is secure, accurate and auditable. It can also increase participation and improve accessibility in elections.
Many voters who have disabilities cannot hold, read or mark a physical ballot, Finney said. Democracy Live was approved by the Elections Assistance Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assist voters with disabilities.
Additionally, those who are overseas, such as members of the military, still have the right to vote. The nearly 8,000 jurisdiction elections in the country are all required by federal law to deploy ballots to military members and other people outside of the country.
Finney said his company was selected by the Department of Defense and has deployed ballots to voters in more than 90 countries. OmniBallot is the most deployed accessible online balloting platform in the U.S.
Finney, who lives in North Bend, said the election is important, since it will determine how taxpayer dollars are spent on important environmental efforts, and he hopes the elections office will see much participation. KCD board members contribute local perspectives on natural resource management and conservation issues, set KCD policy, and direct the district’s budget and work plan.
“Every election is an important election,” he said.
The election also is the first where voters can submit electronically. Voters have been able to access their ballot online before, but not submit it from the same place. The secure portal access to the printable ballot has been available to many voters over the years, but the idea of being able to return it on the smart device itself is new.
He said they are starting with this small election and gathering feedback before moving on to bigger elections, testing responsibly. Already, there are other counties who want to partner with them.
“There’s quite a number of states interested in doing this,” he said. “I think people realize we can’t hold back the tide. The next generation of voters will come and expect that leaders will have tested newer technologies that better speak to that generation.”
Finney said this is the largest pilot of this kind of software.
“We’re trying to be responsible and start slowly and responsibly to test this software, starting with a smaller election and getting feedback,” he said.
He also talked about how mobile voting can help engage younger voters.
“The young voters spend most of their time on their smartphone,” Finney said.
He said with the many elections they’ve been involved with they have often had to use different languages for people, but there is one that connects almost everyone.
“The universal language of young voters is mobile,” he said. “We need to start speaking the language of young voters. We need to start going down that path of the language of the future, and we need to do it securely and responsibly.
“Really the idea here is to do this pilot as the first of its kind and get the lessons learned and ensure that as we build toward the future that we’ve been responsible and are doing it securely and keeping in mind that if it’s only paper you’re excluding swaths of the population who can’t see, hold or mark a ballot and young people.”
He said not going digital is “suppressing an entire generation of voters.”
“We’ve got to build that bridge and use their technology which is on their smartphones,” he said.
He said the goal is to continue to expand security and accessibility, while hopefully encouraging more people to participate. Finney said a big piece of this is working with the elections community, disabilities community, and security community.
He said the software is more secure than what is happening today. Often, when ballots are deployed electronically, it is done as an email attachment, Finney said, and voters reply to the email with the filled out ballot attached, or they fax it back.
“That’s insecure,” he said. But he said his company’s software is a secure cloud environment approved by federal security agencies.
He said the company is excited to be piloting this new software.
“We’re thrilled to bring modern technologies to more than 200 million voters in this country,” Finney said. “Being able to allow voters to access their ballots in different ways on their devices is just a logical next step.”
The direct link to the online portal where voters can participate in the KCD election is https://sites.omniballot.us/kcd/app/home.
More information about Democracy Live and the OmniBallot can be found online at https://democracylive.com/.