Democracy requires participation. Only 55 percent of registered voters vote in major U.S. elections. Voting laws are meanwhile getting even more restrictive and locally unique, thanks in part to recent Supreme Court revisions to the Voting Rights Act. Can technology help fix America’s broken voting system? Will we eventually vote by phone or Internet? How will 2016 be different from 2012?
Krontiris: Welcome, everybody, to what is going to be a fantastic conversation. We are so glad that you’ve selected the panel on Towards 2016: The Future of American Elections. We have a fantastic group of people here today, and just to start off, this is a conversation that’s going to sort of look at, what are we expecting for elections in the United States in the next couple of years and beyond?
And I don’t think the problem needs to be stated, but if it does, the problem is that democracy depends on the inputs of its citizens, and generally only half of us give our inputs. And you can look to all kinds of effects of that, kind of downstream, and part of the challenge is also the sort of very localized and historically dependent nature of this thing, which is the delivery of democracy as a service, basically, in the United States. And it’s very different everywhere.
And so, today, what we’ve done—Katherine Grainger and I will be co-moderating this discussion. What we’ve done is brought together a really, really, really cool group of people from very different perspectives who have worked on the issue of improving elections and elections administration from a variety of different perspectives to kind of talk with you today. So, we’re going to briefly introduce them to you. Katherine will start us off with a few questions to the panel, and then we’re going to try and pretty quickly open it up to you so that you can ask your questions as well.
So, I will start by introducing Tammy Patrick, who is sitting right here to my left. She’s the Federal Compliance Officer for Maricopa County, Arizona, which I learned contains 65% of registered voters in the state. So, it’s in a neighboring county to Pima County, which is where we are now, so—and Tammy helped to pioneer online voter registration starting back in 2002 in Arizona, which is an innovation that’s been demonstrated to create pretty significant cost savings in terms of elections administration, and now about 17 states are using some version of this process or approach. She’s also finishing up an appointment to the Presidential Commissions on Election Administration, which President Obama launched about six or seven months ago?
Patrick: About five, because it’s a six-month stint.
Krontiris: So hence the finishing up, and so—and that’s an honor, really, that has given her a kind of interesting bird’s-eye perspective into the sort of challenges in the nation more broadly, not just in Maricopa County, Arizona.
To her left is Judd Choate, and Judd is the State Elections Director for the State of Colorado. He is a political scientist and election lawyer by background, and his tenure in Colorado has witnessed the development of a couple of innovations. Among them, also online voter registration, but being, I think, the first state in the nation to have a mobile-optimized experience so that you can, from your mobile phone, register to vote online.
Did I say that right?
Choate: Mm-hmm, or change your registration.
Krontiris: Or change your registration.
And Colorado’s actually interestingly the first state in the nation to go to all-mail ballot and have same-day registration. So, what does that mean? That means that in Colorado, the norm now is voting by mail and there’s same-day registration. So, you can register to vote on the same day that you actually vote, and that’s kind of an innovation in the nation.
So, and to his left is Eric Hysen. Eric leads Google’s product work around elections and civic engineering. He has a background both in political science and computer science and has been responsible for important contributions to the Voter Information Project, which takes—essentially takes data from Tammy and gives it to Scott at the end—and we’ll introduce you to Scott in a little bit—to make that data usable and useful for people who are seeking to learn about elections in some way. And Eric also has experience supporting elections, not only in the United States but also in Kenya, Germany, Egypt, a couple of others places as well. So, he’ll bring a bit of that international perspective into this conversation.
And then sitting to his left, we’re joined today by Jocelyn Benson, who is the Dean of the Wayne State University Law School and a former candidate for Secretary of State in Michigan. She launched—and you currently direct—the Michigan Center for Election Law, which works on issues of transparency and integrity in elections. And she’s also an expert in how the institution of the secretary of state has had an influence on elections administration and campaign finance issues and so brings a bit of the flavor of institutional history to this conversation.
And then, finally, next to her is Scott Duncombe. Scott is the Lead Developer for ShareProgress, which is a progressive technology company that’s helping organizations drive more sharing within their online communities. And he also has a background in political science and chemistry, so there’s something about political and science that’s kind of happening here on this panel. He’s originally from Oregon, which is another state that is sort of more on the leading or bleeding edge—depending on what you want to call it—of kind of elections innovation. And in 2012, in the lead-up to the presidential election, he built something called TheBallot.org, which helped people discover some of the issues that they were going to be voting on.
And then my co-moderator over there at the end is Katherine Grainger. She is a Principal and Managing Director at Civitas Public Affairs Group, and she has worked in government. Formerly, she was counsel to the New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, among other positions within government, and she specializes in civil rights and labor issues and education, and she actually also served as an election monitor.
Am I correct?
Grainger: I have done that many times, yes.
Krontiris: She has done that, examining the voter lists to ensure integrity. And so, it’s awesome to have them.
My name is Kate Krontiris. I’m a civic researcher and strategist. Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to embed in six different elections offices, including the city and county of Denver, Colorado, to understand how elections are administered from a kind of qualitative perspective.
So, thank you all for agreeing to join us today, and we’re glad for everybody in the room. I think Katherine’s going to get us started on some questions.
Grainger: Yeah, thanks, Kate.
So, this panel, I had the pleasure of dining with most of the group yesterday, and we are election geeks, like really into this. So, we want this to be a conversation, but we could talk amongst ourselves—we did already for several hours. So, just jump in, raise your hand, because we love this stuff.
And because I know you love it, the first question that I’m going to throw out that I think I can only ask this panel is to tell us—and we’ll just go down the line—tell us what you’re most excited about around elections, kind of gearing up for 2016, but also what keeps you up at night, right? Because as all of these innovations occur, what is it that also is troubling you or that you’re just afraid could go wrong?
Duncombe: Starting here?
Grainger: Go ahead.
Duncombe: All right. Well, I don’t want to get ahead of some of the amazing election workers, but one of the things that I’m most excited about is the work that they do to make registering to vote and being a voter easier. The work I did around elections was mostly with young people, and we have this—young people have a really bad rap when it comes to being participants in their democracy, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. The reasons, when you ask them why they didn’t vote, is they messed something up. So, they moved, because they move a lot, or they didn’t know better. And these people, the election administrators down there, are making that first one hopefully not an issue for young people. So, that is really exciting news.
The second thing is that people didn’t know better is that hopefully where civic innovators can come in, and I’m excited because that hopefully is becoming easier. You know, if there’s just more information out there, you can become more empowered by the little thing that we keep talking about that we put in our pockets and look at all day. And so, I’m getting excited that hopefully these populations which aren’t—haven’t been included in democracy are going to be able to be participants.
What I’m worried about is also there seems to be a big push to stop those people—young people, people of color—from being voters that, just as they’re on the cusp of being able to seize this new kind of technology, new automatic registration future, there’s a big block to make sure that student I.D.s aren’t valid I.D.s, but, you know, your firearm registration is. And that’s something that’s kind of new and really scary. So, those are the things that keep me up at night.
Grainger: Me, too.
Benson: It’s similarly—I think the marriage of the technology industry to the elections industry is really exciting, is really taking off. For the past century, our elections have been stagnant in the way that we administer them, and we haven’t really seen—I mean, whether it’s in the registration process or the actual casting of a ballot, it’s only been really in the past decade that we’ve started to finally see a lot of the leaps and bounds forward in the marriage of technology to election administration that our voters sorely need and that have done things like—I mean, and really, because here in Arizona, championing online voter registration is a great example of that, and it’s enabled voting to be not just easier and more convenient but also the process to be more cost effective.
What keeps me up at night is—I’m this—I’m a military spouse, and my husband was deployed in Afghanistan last year. He’s actually just left today on another deployment. And he—before he enlisted, he was basically like—I hear Scott talking, I’m thinking, he’s just like what my husband would talk about. He did democracy work. He particularly mobilized young voters and voters of color, and I say that to say that his whole work was around engagement and voting. And the struggles that he as an election expert has had in the military as a soldier trying to get his ballot received and cast and counted and that I as a spouse have struggled with, just as someone who knows the Secretary of State and can call her up, it’s still not—the difficulty we’ve encountered in ensuring that military voters can cast their ballots at all, let alone with convenience, has been mind-boggling.
And so, there are many, many aspects of our democracy that are in dire need of improvement and that is one, I think, that is at the top of my list in terms of what keeps me up at night.
Hysen: So, at the risk of sounding like we have a very self-congratulatory panel—Scott said he’s excited about Judd and Tammy—I’m excited about entrepreneurs and innovators like Scott. And I think what’s really unique about the election space is that we’ve got this really strong ecosystem that marries government nonprofits, big tech companies like my own, and innovators and entrepreneurs like Scott that is enabling some really interesting things to happen.
So, Kate hinted at this in her opening that the heart of Google’s work in elections is with a project called the Voting Information Project, which we started in 2007 with The Pew Charitable Trusts that seeks to organize information about elections across the several thousand different jurisdictions that are responsible for it in the country. So, they’ll go and they’ll work with people like Judd and Tammy, they will help them open up their information in new ways using standard formats, and then we’ll take it. And it really is a big data problem that we’re pretty uniquely able to deal with where we have thousands of different data sets, really complicated geodata, that’s changing really frequently. We’ll process it, we’ll surface it to Google’s users, but we’ll also open it up and let innovators do really interesting things with it. And we see groups like TheBallot, but also established groups like the League of Women Voters, that use this same type of technology to really supercharge everything else they’re doing.
We’ve had, for the past two cycles, we’ve really gotten to a baseline of being able to cover the core information you need to vote. So, where do I vote? Can I early vote? Who am I voting for? And are, increasingly, what are the I.D. requirements around voting? But towards 2016, I think we’re starting to see a lot of really exciting ideas around how you make the process of researching candidates more dynamic, much more easier, more social, and I’m excited to see what people come up with and how we can help make that possible.
What keeps me up at night is that we won’t have enough of those innovators. Every day, the HealthCare.gov story keeps going. I think more and more people who are interested in civic and election technology probably are telling themselves, why the hell would I ever try to get involved in that space? It’s just such a mess waiting to happen. I think we need to do more—as much as we can to get more people into this space, trying out new ideas, because this is really hard. We need as many innovators as possible to see what’s going to actually work and be transformative.
Choate: As Kate mentioned, my name is Judd Choate. I’m the state election director for Colorado. The two things that I’m excited about and concerned about are both data. I’m very excited about the fact that we can use data now in a way to help clean our rolls, to keep them relatively updated. All of you move and you don’t tell us when you move. All of you think the DMV tells us when you move and they don’t. You think that the post office tells us when you move and they don’t. So, we’re all concerned about that because that means that we have your address from two moves ago, and sometime in the next six months, we’ll get the one from one move ago. And we’ll do an NCOA clean, and then about the time the election comes, you’re in a third address that we have no idea about.
So, there’s—data is a huge deal in elections and it’s something that for, you know, 220 years didn’t really matter, and then suddenly, with Florida in 2000 and subsequent to Florida with a couple of major federal pieces of legislation data, suddenly mattered. And we’re doing our best to try to get our arms around it, even though it’s extraordinarily complicated and difficult.
So, along those lines, Colorado’s in a couple of major initiatives that use data and use it creatively to try to overcome these kinds of issues. One’s called ERIC, which is the Electronic Registration Information Center, and that is a cooperative of states that exchange our rolls. We basically trade rolls and we try to spot people who have moved and we try to identify who’s the most recent state. And the old state reaches out to their voter and says, hey, it doesn’t look like you live there anymore. And we try to clean our rolls that way.
We also do things after the election. So, we do a post hoc analysis of who voted, and maybe somebody voted in Tammy’s jurisdiction that also voted in my jurisdiction. You’re not really supposed to do that, and so we have to reach out to that person and explain to them that federal law dictates that they not vote in two jurisdictions in one election. And so, that’s the way we’re trying to use data and that’s a new thing for elections, which is kind of revolutionary.
But also on the data side, I’m very concerned about the data that I have and the implications of losing that data. So, right now, as Kate mentioned, we are the only state in the country that does vote-by-mail and also has same-day registration. Well, same-day registration means that somebody can come into our jurisdiction on the day of an election and register to vote or change their registration to become eligible to vote in that election. In order to be able to do that, you have to have realtime connections into our database.
So, our database has upwards of 4 million people with 4 million, you know, confidential information about all those voters. And it is not just conceivable, but a real possibility that if a county were to keep that data in a way that’s not especially safe, they share their passwords or maybe they have a password that’s p-a-s-s-w-0-r-d or they have a wireless signal which they’re using and they’re basically bouncing it off the Starbucks next door and they’re not using a MiFi to filter it, and this stuff happens. It happens in a lot of jurisdictions around the country, not just in Colorado. If they don’t keep that data and keep it secure, then it will just take one incidence where that gets out to basically derail all the great activity that we’ve been doing and cost our state millions of dollars, as we’ve seen in South Carolina and Utah, which had sort of laptop problems where laptops disappeared and they had to go through a whole remediation based on the loss of data.
So, data is my great future expectation. It’s also my great concern.
Patrick: Well, welcome to Arizona. I think I’m probably one of the only people here—there’s a couple of people from Arizona. So, what has me excited is that earlier this year, I was at home in Phoenix watching the State of the Union, and the President was talking about the long lines and that he was going to pick ten people or a commission to fix it, and I never envisioned that I would get that phone call or that I would have the pressure of fixing it.
So, the last couple of months have been very interesting because we’ve traveled around the country and what has been, I think, the most invigorating is that between now and 2016, I think we’re going to see a huge paradigm shift on how we cast our ballots. So, a year ago, there wasn’t a vendor that made voting equipment that really provided you the opportunity to get your ballot electronically, mark it electronically, capture your selections as either a QR code on your smart device or some other captured mechanism, printing it out on a piece of paper, whatever you want to do, and then go into a polling place in person, have that scanned so you’re able to review your options before accepting it or changing it, printing it out, and having it counted through the traditional optical scan system. A month ago, we had a technology conference with the commission in Ohio. It was a two-day conference, and almost exclusively every single voting equipment vendor was demonstrating that very thing. They did not have it in January, but in September, August, September, now that’s where things are going.
The reason I think that is so exciting is that, for states that currently don’t allow a voter to request their ballot by mail and either cast it by mail or drop it off at the polls, voters are expected to know everything that’s on that ballot, to have made their decisions before they even get to the polling place, because many states have a restriction on how long you can spend in the booth. Here in Arizona, our statute actually says three minutes, but we don’t enforce it because it’s crazy. Many places, it’ll take you 20 to 30, 40 minutes to just read the ballot.
In Florida, the reason there were so—such long lines is that their ballots were five and six pages long, front and back. So, I think that that’s very exciting, to shift when the ballot choices are being made and not necessarily the casting of it could still be in person, although there are some jurisdictions who would certainly like for that to be an electronic casting as well, but I don’t know that we’re there yet. I’m sure many of you would probably agree that we’re not, but that’s certainly something that’s being studied by both NIST and IEEE’s working on some common data format issues that will perhaps get us there.
What keeps me awake at night is the voting equipment. So, Judd mentioned the 2000 election and the federal legislation that came out of that, which was the Help America Vote Act. And what happened is that prior to HAVA, and I’ll try not to use too many acronyms, but that’s the Help America Vote Act.
Krontiris: You have to define NIST, IEEE, and HAVA.
Patrick: Okay, sorry. So, NIST is the National Institute of Standards and Technology. They write the standards and—for all of the voting systems and are currently doing risk assessment for military and overseas voters on traditional ballots being cast and then also potential for electronic delivery mechanisms.
IEEE is the Industrial Electrical and Electromechanical Engineers and they are a working group of P1622 that’s looking at common data formats, which what is so important with elections is that it’s—you talk about silos. You have silos within a state, within a county, within a city of how we’re doing things. So, it’s very difficult for jurisdictions to send information to the Voter Information Project and have it be readily available. But when HAVA was passed, there were all these federal dollars, and states and jurisdictions all went out within about a two-and-a-half-year time period and bought new voting equipment. So, prior to the Help America Vote Act, cities, towns, jurisdictions, counties were buying new equipment on a rolling basis. But suddenly, now our entire country has replaced our voting equipment within a very short window, which means it’s all aging at the same rate, which means it’s all going to start failing at the same rate. And 2016 will be about ten years. Voting equipment has about a ten-year lifespan.
So, that keeps me up at night, worrying about whether or not we can get through 2016 without there being a major failing of the voting equipment, and then in light of that, the other thing that keeps me awake at night is what will be in the next law. What will the legislature do next? Which really governs a lot of what we do. We’re seeing an ever-complicated process for the voters, which means an ever-complicated process for our poll workers, and as well as administering in an arena where we have dwindling resources with higher and higher expectations.
So, I don’t sleep a lot.
[ Laughter ]
Krontiris: Yeah, I wouldn’t sleep if I were you, but. So, maybe just, because I’m kind of curious for folks in the room, to the extent that you voted recently, just like popcorn style, what were—like, what are words or phrases that kind of embody the experience that you have? And just feel free to like shout it out, wherever you were voting.
Audience: Out of date.
Krontiris: Out of date, okay.
Audience: I got stickers.
Krontiris: People love stickers.
Audience: Junk mail.
Krontiris: Junk mail.
Krontiris: Uninformed, okay. Any other experience-related—
[ Inaudible audience member comment ]
Okay, anything else?
Audience: (Inaudible). I always walk in and I feel so inspired, like I have the right to vote. So, I go from here (inaudible).
Krontiris: That’s interesting.
[ Inaudible audience member comment ]
Grainger: New York is as old school as it comes for voting, yeah.
Audience: I like that. (Inaudible).
[ Laughter ]
I like filling it out. I like putting it in. I love the scanner. I take it with me. I have a receipt. Frankly, (inaudible) you know, we have no idea who won the presidency in the last couple elections, not that we ever did before, maybe, you know (inaudible), but I work for a software company and it concerns me that software companies have that much power to decide, really, who wins the election as opposed to the populace. So, I’m all for the optical scanner.
Audience: Can I ask a rhetorical (inaudible) an uninformed question?
Krontiris: No, nothing’s uninformed. Go for it.
Audience: Okay, so I voted in every election since I turned 18, and I’ve been really excited about it, but I’m not convinced my ballot has ever been read at a certain place. Like, I vote late. They’ve already given the results to people, and like, what percentage of ballots are actually read by the time the announcement comes out in most jurisdictions?
Patrick: So, I’ll start and I’m sure there’ll be something I miss. Depending on your jurisdiction—so, if you live in a state where the vast majority of the voters have to go to a polling place on Election Day, then when the polls close, anyone who’s standing in line still gets to cast their ballot. So, the majority of the ballots would already be counted at that point, with the exception of some provisionals and maybe a couple of votes that, you know, ballots that were coming in by military or overseas voters. Some states allow for that to happen in a couple of days following the election.
Other states—for instance, Arizona—we had about 600,000 ballots that were not counted on Election Night, the reason being is that we had 122,000 provisional ballots cast on Election Day because 72,000 people didn’t vote the ballot we mailed to them and showed up in person. And in order to make sure that they hadn’t already voted, they voted a provisional ballot. So, if you read “The New York Times,” turned on any —
Krontiris: I’m sorry, a provisional ballot is?
Patrick: A provisional ballot is—the definition of provisional ballot changes from one state to the next. So, that’s part of the discussion that we have and what’s problematic is that many of the terms, even with federal legislation, a state adoption of that law will be interpreted in a variety of ways. So, we use it when people move and they don’t update their registration. They can vote a provisional ballot. It updates their registration, their ballot counts. The majority of our ballots that are provisional will count in Arizona, which is good.
We also had almost 200,000 people who got their ballot in the mail and dropped it off at the polling place. Then we had about another 300,000 that came in in the mail on Monday and Tuesday. So, there are 600,000, and there’s this urban myth that we don’t count ballots unless it affects the outcome of an election, but what election? Because most ballots are very lengthy, and there will be races that come down to one or two votes.
We’ve had races that are tied. You recount the ballots, hand-count, they’re tied. And so, we actually do a game of chance because this is the Wild West. So, it’s—you can choose cards or flip a coin or what have you. So, everything is counted that’s eligible and able to. So, it’s only people who cast a ballot that’s not supposed to be counted because they already voted that doesn’t get counted.
Audience: Like, are you serious about the coin thing? Now I’m scared.
Patrick: I am 100% serious. In fact, there’s—that’s an Arizona law. So, if it’s a tied race, you can say—some states will say, we have to hold a whole ‘nother election, and it could be millions of dollars. Out here in the West, they do a game of chance. So, in fact, there’s Show Low, Arizona, it’s the northern part of Arizona, and that’s the outcome of an election. The governor’s race, they chose to show low, and they won the governor’s race and they named it.
[ Inaudible audience member comment.]
Patrick: It’s—that’s it. I’ve been in the department for ten years and we’ve had it happen twice, so—and it’s always local races. So, if you think that something’s not going to count because it doesn’t affect the outcome of a race, that’s problematic, because it always affects the outcome.
Audience: I’m curious. Where do ballots go after?
Choate: Well, in our state, under state law—and frankly, there’s also a federal law which relates to this. In our state, we keep them for 25 months. Federal law, it’s 24 months; is that right?
Patrick: Twenty four, right.
Choate: So, we keep them for one extra month. I’m not exactly sure why, but we keep them for 25 months. They are packed away and available to the public if they want to view them. We’ve even had people that have made what are called CORA requests, or Colorado Open Records Act requests, to view or copy, make copies of each one of those ballots for a chosen jurisdiction. And, you know, they’ll spend 10,000, 100,000 dollars making all that, you know, paper, so.
Krontiris: Jocelyn, did you want to add something to this?
Benson: Just that, I mean, I think that with the—all the technical explanation that the question of confidence that your ballot is counted, I think, is a real serious one, apart from the sort of practical answer. And I think there’s a lot that—a lot of innovative techniques that can be employed. Obviously, having the ballots available for inspection afterwards, as they are in most states, is—I think on all states—is really important, but it’s particularly problematic in the absentee ballot process or when you’re mailing in your vote and you don’t know, will it ever reach the destination?
And a lot of states have started having confirmation so that you can get a receipt or some sort of—something to give you—while we know and we hope that all ballots are counted that are validly cast, you need to have that confidence as well. And so, I think, one of the areas for reform and improvement and where technology can come in is particularly in the mail-in ballot process, making sure you can—you can go online, for example, and check to make sure your vote was received and it was counted, so.
Duncombe: Your vote is a matter of—not who you voted for but if you voted is a matter of public record. So, the guy, the person who said junk mail, that’s probably because you’re a consistent voter. So, yeah, campaigns know that.
[ Inaudible audience member comment.]
Oh, yeah, yeah. Okay. So, yeah, so you could actually look yourself up later and check if your ballot got counted.
[ Inaudible audience member comment.]
With the clerk or something. Yeah, it’s a great way to encourage people to vote is tell them that you sent their neighbors.
[ Inaudible audience member comment.]
Krontiris: Judd, were you going to respond to something?
Choate: Yeah, so one more thing along those lines. Colorado has something called Ballot TRACE. So, if you got your ballot by mail, which is now everyone, and you sign up for Ballot TRACE, it’ll tell you when your ballot was mailed, where it is in the mail. It’ll tell you that it’s arrived. It’ll tell you that it’s been re-entered into the mail stream, that it’s been binked in at the office, and that your vote has been logged. So, that’s available in Colorado. You can also look up your voting status in Colorado, just online. So, you can type in your information. You need your name, your address, and your birthdate, and it’ll tell you: Your ballot was issued on this date. It was received on this date. It was counted.
Audience: So, that sounds really fancy. How come you can’t integrate with the DMV or the post office?
Benson: A lot of the issue is data and matching names. It can sometimes be mismatched, and so—I mean, go ahead.
Choate: We actually, I mean, we do, but the problem is them giving us data, not us combining data. I mean, we can ask them for their list, but—so, let me give you an example. If you—let’s say you live in Denver, Colorado, but you have another place in Ward, Colorado—that just happens to be me, by the way—and you want to not pay local sales tax. You want to buy a car in Ward because Ward is cheaper than in Denver. So, you have all of your major sort of purchases done out of your Ward address to save all your money, but you want to have your ballot address be your Denver address because that’s where you live.
Well, so if I relied solely on DMV, I would not have the right address. And if I automatically changed it—so, let’s say anything I get from the DMV, I automatically change your information. I mean, are you comfortable with that? I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that because, first of all, that assumes the DMV is correct, and then secondly, that that’s what you wanted, and I don’t know if that’s what you wanted. And there’s actually lots of people that live at multiple addresses or lots of people that move quite frequently but want to keep it at one central address. So, like, let’s say you’re a college student. Maybe you’re a college student, you want to have it at your home address so your parents can vote it—no, just kidding.
Patrick: So, that is a very big challenge for election administrators and some states do just that. I think all of us use NCOA, National Change of Address, information for a variety of reasons and ways, but it’s certainly a challenge for all of us to try and get there.
Krontiris: So, I have a question here, and then I want to pose another question to the panel.
Audience: I have two questions. One, what would it take to allow me to vote with an app so we don’t deal with all this address and mail and all this stuff that doesn’t really apply to a lot of people in this room’s generation? And, actually, I think my parents would like to vote with an app.
And two, after 2000, it’s amazing to me that the electoral college system didn’t get dismantled given the fact that one person won the popular vote and the other person got to be president. And I’m just curious what you guys think and if you think that system still applies today.
Krontiris: So, maybe on the app question, Eric, do you want to respond to that?
Krontiris: And then on the electoral college, maybe Jocelyn?
Hysen: Yeah, I think it’s an interesting question. It comes up a lot. And ultimately, the technical reasons are not as relevant as the legal policy reasons, the PR reasons that—and from a legal framework side, it’s federalism that we have thousands of different election jurisdictions. We might get to a point where individual counties or states are going to be able to offer electronic casting of ballots, but that’s still not going to apply to the whole country, and I think—I would actually view that as pretty dangerous, if in every individual county you had to know which app you need to get to be able to vote.
Audience: Could it be maybe one app that’s tied to your Social Security number to avoid duplication and make it simple?
Hysen: Right, but so now you’re thinking about a national I.D., right? Which is—
Audience: But we have one, Social Security number.
Hysen: I’m—we’ll turn to the lawyers.
Choate: Most states don’t have the whole Social Security number. Most states only have the last four digits of the Social Security number.
Benson: It’s a privacy issue of whether or not the voters want—
Audience: I’ll give up privacy. I just want to vote.
[ Laughter ]
Benson: Well, that’s the fascinating—
Choate: That is a generational thing.
Benson: That’s the fascinating conflict. That’s the fascinating conflict with the sort of technology advancements, and I mean, sort of traditionally it’s this question of access versus security, but whether it’s in the case of military voting or just this example, this question of whether someone is going to be able to give up some sort of privacy that is integral to voting and casting a ballot in order to do it in a more convenient manner. And I generally have come down on the side of—particularly for military voting, if it’s going to increase the convenience, give the voter the choice, and—but it’s a very, very controversial question right now that is, thankfully, being examined by experts around the country but is, in my view, one of the reasons why technological advancements in elections has been so slow, because of the privacy and security concerns.
Audience: Imagine the terms and conditions that apply to that app.
Audience: We all hit “accept” anyway.
Hysen: I do think there are—
Audience: The integrity side. I have an experience with this. Right after 2000, we were building security technology. We had a great opportunity to spend an entire afternoon with the State of California Elections, Head of Commission or whatever, and we got an education on the details. And so, the problem are, you notice that they didn’t say you get a receipt because I, as your boss, could say I’m only going to pay you this week if you show up and produce a receipt that you voted for X. And so, once I produce an app, then the question is, who was surveying you when you voted?
So, you’re thinking in a context where you’re a free individual, and the problem is, is that over time, people have attempted to buy elections and they’ve used very powerful capabilities to accomplish that, affecting people’s personal, economic belief, etc. And so, everybody has to come to church and vote at church, and we’re going to watch you vote or we’re not letting you come to church. And the problem is, in history, unfortunately, that’s happened. And so, the idea that you can have, you dropping off a ballot, which assures that I wasn’t influenced when I dropped it off—
Audience: How does it assure that? You could have been influenced around the corner on your way.
Audience: Yeah, but you at least have a reasonably good shot at it. This is—and so to me, it was just a fascinating introduction to a whole line of thinking that is just totally nonobvious to the general consumer of the vote. We want it to be quick, convenient, and simple, and some of the reasons why it’s not quick, convenient, and simple are to fundamentally protect the core of the democracy. And so, I walked away from that afternoon going, this is way more complicated and way more difficult than I think I want to get my arms up into. And we went away from being a technology company and we became—we got educated.
Grainger: Jocelyn, and also Tammy, can you address that?
Benson: I just really want to emphasize here, though, as someone—I just want to emphasize that there’s a real void and a real role that the technology industry can play here in helping to promote these advancements in a way that protects security, or at least assures those who are concerned about security or privacy, and comes up with those solutions, because we have to move forward somehow.
Our elections are antiquated. They are expensive, they are costly, and they are rife with problems. With technology, we can solve a lot of those problems. However, it comes with additional problems and concerns. The technology industry can and must, I think, be at the forefront of helping to address and solve those problems because—and I think, in my view, those partnerships between technology, the technology industry, and the election administrators are going to be critical to ensure our democracy is able to engage this new sector, again, this new generation of younger voters in the years to come.
So, I would just sort of put it on or really emphasize that we need more voices from the technology industry in this conversation to sort through these problems. You guys are the experts on how to create secure systems. Help election administrators and the democracy experts figure out how to do that because our voters, I think, ultimately will need that convenience in order for our democracy to survive.
Patrick: And I think you bring up a very important point is that a lot of times it seems like such an easy fix. Why—you know. And then you get into the complexities of it, but there are certain countries who have taken some steps forward. So, there are—there is online voting in Norway and Estonia, and the way that those two countries have addressed the vote buying and intimidation has been in two different ways.
So, one of them—and I always flip the two around—one of them, you can vote as many times as you want. The last one you cast will be the one that’s counted. So, if I am trying to persuade Judd to the vote for me, and I give him money and he votes for me and I leave, and five minutes later, he goes in and votes for someone else. So, that’s one way of mitigating it, and in the other, you can always appear on Election Day and cast a paper ballot.
So, there are ways that can take care of that problem, but there are still a lot of challenges. And when it comes to having some sort of receipt to verify that there wasn’t some sort of security breach or some sort of an attack on the cast ballot coming back electronically, there is some very exciting work done by Josh Benaloh at Microsoft on end-to-end encryption and things that I think will be probably one thing that’s going to be very exciting in the next couple of years. I don’t completely understand it, but it seems to me those who do understand it can see how it can help to revolutionize the way that things are being done.
Audience: So, we build the tools, as a company that’s participated in that same axis of what Microsoft’s done. A billion PCs have been shipped that are capable of doing secure vote. A billion. We have used it. And it’s part of that exploration. There’s not even a demonstration for attempting to use it. 100% of the federal systems issued to the U.S. government have this capability in the box today. You could use it today.
Choate: So, we actually do. The—so, for UOCAVA voters—
Krontiris: What is UOCAVA?
Choate: UOCAVA is military and overseas voters.
Krontiris: Thank you.
Choate: For—and in Colorado, that’s about 20,000 people, about 4500 of which are military voters and about 16,000, a little less than that, are overseas voters.
In the state of Colorado, every single jurisdiction, so all 64 counties, offer a way for you to access your ballot online. You can vote it on the screen. So, check, check, check, check, check. And then, in our state, you have to print it out or scan it. So, you could scan it directly. So, you could electronically scan it and attach it to an email and send it in with a document that has your signature. So, the signature part is the part that—the wet signature—is the part that you can’t really do online. That can be done in any jurisdiction in the entire state of Colorado now. We were the first state to do it completely statewide.
In 2012, our UOCAVA vote percentage was higher than our state vote percentage. So, our—the people that lived outside of our country voted at 77% and the people that lived in our state voted at 74%. And we have one jurisdiction, Denver, Denver County, so a city in the county of Denver, which because they did a municipal election and a municipal election falls outside of the state law, they were able to set up the same system, which is done by a vendor, which is called Everyone Counts. They were able to use this same system to distribute the ballot electronically, vote the ballot electronically, and cast the ballot electronically. So, it was effectively Internet voting.
The reason why we couldn’t do that at the state level was because state law does not allow us. And that’s where the big rub is. So, there’s your big rub. Your big rub is that virtually no jurisdiction in the United States of America will allow Internet voting, not because people don’t want to do it or because the technology doesn’t exist or because it’s not safe enough, it’s because the jurisdiction won’t allow it because the law says you can’t do it. So, if you all believe that that’s what should be happening, then you should be talking to lawmakers. I mean, we’re—we could do it for you.
Grainger: Yeah, and I, actually, I’m glad that you brought that up because I think we’ve been dancing around this quite a bit. Which is what everybody on this panel is discussing and wants, and probably everybody in this room, is to make elections more accessible and easier. That’s not necessarily, though, the structures that are in place. And the election process—and Tammy’s talked about it, Jocelyn as well—in terms of how you vote and who votes is largely political, and you’ve got a whole machine of people in each jurisdiction, each state, each county is making voting laws and making those determinations, and those folks are political players that want to make sure that their parties stay in office.
So, your point is also very important, and then there’s the civil rights aspect to all of this, which is we have a history in this country where we’ve been trying to keep people from voting, and that still very much exists. So, I think it would be interesting for you all to talk a little bit about the legal process, how you’ve been trying to navigate it. And then maybe, Eric, talk about how that’s impacted the work that you’re trying to do or that you’re trying to do in terms of actually making it easier for people to vote, because it is not happening in a bubble.
Audience: Stay on one point, though, and I want to go back to your point about verification, only because—
Grainger: I’m going to stop you for a second. Everybody needs to speak into the microphone. Can you just—thanks.
Audience: I just want to go back for a minute to verification in terms of how important it is or not, but I assume it is from all the points of view that you’ve mentioned, and there has been shenanigans in the past from both parties, it seems to me that when, you know—for example, two years ago, the IRS, you probably read this, gave out $4 billion of your tax money to people who filed tax returns with Social Security numbers from Lithuania, Estonia, and I forgot the third country—Ireland, actually, I believe it was. So, we have so many holes in our existing systems that it’s hard for any of us to imagine that the IT situation in this country is secure.
So, whether it’s an app or anything else that we want to create, the level of confidence that the American public has in the government, whether it’s a local government or the federal government, in doing it right is at one of the lowest points, I think, in the history of this country. So, I’m not sure—all of what you said, absolutely. We want people to vote. We don’t want any political parties stopping one from the other from having that, but when it comes to the electronic side of it, there are issues and I’m not sure how we’re going to resolve those to have the confidence of the voter. I’d love to hear more.
Benson: I don’t know what we’re—
Grainger: Why don’t we start with—we’ll start with this, we’ll finish this one out, and then we’ll move to the next. We do have that, too, and we have the electoral college question from two back. Why don’t we do this. Let’s talk specifically—because this also goes to your question about the app. So, let’s talk about the technology piece and then we can talk about the laws.
Hysen: I think one point I’ve raised here is there are—these points—there are a lot of challenges in government technology, but I don’t really think the biggest problems with elections are the government’s technology. I think it’s the way in which American voters and nonvoters who need to become voters get informed and make their decisions. I think we couldn’t—I think it’s also an easier problem to solve, thankfully, or a different problem to solve, that if—in my mind, the fact that turnout in local elections is so low and that the number of people who actually can easily find information about how to decipher that local ballot measure that—we were talking over dinner last night about a ballot measure in a Colorado town that literally determined the fate of a county, and these things are worded in incredibly oblique legal terms.
There are all these local officials that have a huge impact on people’s day-to-day lives, and even people who do vote—myself included sometimes—will skim to the end of the ballot and mark their party preferences without thinking about—without really thinking about or learning or taking the time to learn about what those choices mean and what the issues are. And that’s a problem we can solve through technology, or help solve through technology, that doesn’t require fixing the many things that are wrong with government IT.
It’s where the more we can help make this type of information more accessible, help better collect and better bring local candidates online, because there are still, shockingly—when you compare it to, say, the Obama campaign—there are local candidates whose entirety of their campaign is flyers around their districts. Maybe they’ll have a very basic website, certainly not going to give you the information you need. And these are a different class of problems that I think are just as important to solve, if not more important, to getting a much more engaged electorate.
Grainger: Scott, do you want to talk about that quickly?
Audience: It’s also ironic those are the people—like, who my local judge is, is going to affect my day-to-day way more (inaudible) but I can’t find out anything—
Audience: And you don’t even know what (inaudible). I work for a big media company and we worked with the Secretary of State and everybody last year to do what Scott’s doing, in other words, inform. And we could not find anywhere a list where to help people, particularly vote down the ballot where you got president, you got all this. There are all these things that affect so much more. There was not any instruction: This is what this office does and this is why you might care about this office.
We called League of Women Voters, every congressman, senator. Our government affairs people were all over it for probably almost a two-month period and it didn’t exist. And how can I vote in an informed way if I’m uninformed as a voter? Not even on who the candidate is, but what role are they going to play and what decisions are they responsible for and why I would care?
Duncombe: This is a really good question. I mean, how many people here know their state representative? There we go. You guys are champions of democracy.
Krontiris: Keep knowing.
Duncombe: Yeah, keep knowing, because that might change because of redistricting. Yeah, the point being that, like, you know, voting by mail, for those of you who haven’t tried it, is great. I would say it’s almost app-worthy because you can sit down in front of your computer and look stuff up. There’s this company that helps you search things—I can’t remember the name.
[ Laughter ]
And so, you know, there are definitely bigger challenges around information, around voter registration, which they were talking about, you know, making sure that people, with this constantly being mobile society. One thing that you mentioned about the app is not needing an address, but unfortunately, your address really, really matters because that determines what state senator and what ballot initiative and what—so, there is this, like, you’re very connected to that place and solving the question of getting information specific to you about that place is actually almost a lot harder and a bigger challenge to democracy than just, you know, making it as easy as ordering shoes or something.
Audience: Can I ask, like, an IRL question, like an in real life—
Grainger: We got to do this. So, they’re recording, so I want to keep the conversation going, but we need mics. So, why don’t you—is this going along the same frame? All right, and then we’ll go to —
Audience: So, I’m in college still, and so during election time, it’s a little bit different, and I go to school in a place that’s not where I’m originally from, so I’m also voting by mail, right? And I’m curious to know, then, from the perspective of a Google or a larger tech company, how you think we can—like, what is Google doing with this elections group? Like, what do you guys do for all this? What is a way for young people to get engaged? Is it by—should it be a Microsoft or should it be Google coming in helping spread that information or what is the deal with that?
Hysen: Yeah, so we’re trying to reach voters wherever they already are and getting information when they’re looking for it. So, the bulk of the work that we’ve been doing with many others so far is just getting the basics: Who’s actually on the ballot? Where do you go to vote? What’s the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is a more complicated question than you’d think because certain—it might be written in law as the last Sunday before three weeks before Election Day, and people can interpret that in different ways.
We had a team try to collect that, even that basic information, for every state and found three different answers in certain states, but—so, we’ve been trying to get through a lot of that, that basic work so far, but then where I think we’re trying to go is helping you when you’re looking for candidates. Let’s say you’re voting by mail and you search “what does my circuit court clerk do?” We should be able to tell you that, say, you live in a certain state, this is what this position actually does, and these are the candidates for it, and then actually give you more information there.
And that’s the direction we want to move in is if—we launched a project last year called the Knowledge Graph, which shows up on the side of Google Search if you search for a person or a thing or you want to be able to really reach into that, be a part of that with really local information.
Choate: I really like that. That’s a really cool thing. You know, if you search for somebody’s name, the little box comes up. I really like that. Good job.
Krontiris: So, and it would be good to go to the question that Katherine asked. I would just add one thing to this, which is, so for example, you can go through Google. There are all kinds of different ways of getting information.
There’s this organization TurboVote that I was talking about earlier today, and they’ve done something really interesting, which is that they’ve basically launched a new standard in voter registration at colleges and universities across this country. And so, the idea is, why can’t college students organize an initiative to ask their universities to help them en masse register to vote?
And that’s actually something that you could do to sort of spearhead that. I don’t know if this is something that you care passionately about or, you know, I want you to care passionately about?
Audience: I’m wondering why Google does that and is there similar value for other companies to do what they’re doing?
Hysen: We do this because our users are looking for the information. Around elections, this type of query becomes one of, and in some cases, the single top query in Google. So, we feel like it’s just part of our job.
Krontiris: So, back to Katherine. What was your question?
Grainger: Well, let’s—go ahead, because this is on topic, I think.
Audience: My name’s Nadira Vira. I’m a writer, but I’m particularly interested in millennials. So, the point is well taken that colleges can be a big sort of locus of registration, but it strikes me that we’re talking about voting as a very individual activity when, in fact, the reason you vote is because you’re a part of this community. You feel this obligation on a larger level. And so, while ease is paramount, particularly for specific populations that whether it’s deployed service members or other folks, when we look at why millennials and future generations will vote in the long-term, it can’t just be ease, right? It’s got to be that there’s a worth or a value to that activity.
So, how do we infuse all of the things that we’re talking about right now with this sense of overarching sort of value and civic engagement, like Americanness, right? Because that’s what you feel when you go to the poll and you’re around other people who are engaged in this amazing activity. That’s probably one of the few times you really feel like you’re a part of this country.
Hysen: I think the—can we talk about this?
Hysen: I think—yeah. So, one of the things that Scott’s group is doing with—around the ballot that is—he can talk more about—that I think is really in this direction is making online interaction about elections more social. So, being able—I may have absolutely no idea who to vote for, for School Board, but I know my neighbor is in the PTA and is going to—really cares about this. And that type of interaction can happen offline, but it hasn’t been able to happen online.
And being able to pull together those social connections that are already out there, already being used by—in many other industries, even in the campaigning side of elections, less so in the nonpartisan side, can make a big difference. And then there are more things like that we can do to replicate that offline experience of doing—making—replicating the “I voted” sticker across all your social networks has been tried by a couple times, and we’re going to see more things like that that can help there.
Choate: But please don’t take a picture of your ballot and put it on Facebook. Please don’t do that.
Krontiris: Explain why. I don’t know that everybody knows.
Choate: So, there’s a number of reasons. One, it opens you up to potentially being used for fraud, but let me give you the sort of real reason. Each one of those ballots has a code on it and that code is specifically identified to you. You are linked to that code. So, if you put that there and then show your ballot and then somebody goes and asks for all of the ballots that were voted in that jurisdiction, they’ll be able to pull up your ballot and identify who you are, but not just you. They would be able to, if they had the list, go back and alphabetically go through it and figure out who the voters were, and they could figure out who everybody else voted for, if they were talented and they had the right list and their list was correct and they knew who voted.
Krontiris: They had a lot of free time.
Choate: Yeah, they had a lot of free time.
[ Inaudible audience member comment.]
Well, we do. What we did is zeroed out the numbers. So, we’re a jurisdiction where you could actually get away with that, but not everybody else.
Patrick: And not all states have a unique identifier on the ballot itself. In some cases, they have a unique identifier on the affidavit or the envelope that the ballot goes into. So, once those are separated, then all of the ballots potentially in your jurisdiction look exactly the same. So, it just depends on the state.
Grainger: I want to give Jocelyn a chance because we’re several questions beyond, but why don’t you talk a little bit about how the real world works. And, Tammy, you have some, I think, opinions on this as well in terms of making these changes, legally, and just generally how the changes we’re talking about could actually be implemented.
Benson: That’s the fascinating thing that I’ve sort of studied for the past 10, 15 years is this question of who and how. So, whether it’s the electoral college, you know, a failure of the—a perceived failure of the electoral college or a perceived failure of election administration, who is the impetus? What changes? And the Colorado story is really fascinating because more oftentimes than not it’s the secretary of state in a state that is really charged with, if they are in a state where they administer elections, championing those reforms. But in Colorado, a lot of the reforms came from the legislature, whereas oftentimes legislators are not in a—are approaching things in a more piecemeal way.
But whether it’s a legislator, a governor, the federal government or state government, secretary of state, or a local official, one, a lot of this is done piecemeal, and so you have a lot of conflicting laws and conflicting rules and policies, but two, and more importantly, you’re ultimately relying on individuals who have been elected through a particular system to change the system through which they won their power. And that, to me is the really fascinating thing. What would cause someone to essentially, in a position of power, arguably act against their own self-interests to change the game through which they were elected? And the electoral college is a great example of that. What impetus does Congress or the President who won through the electoral college have to change that?
It’s the same in campaign finance law, but it’s a fascinating thing to me about the law of democracy because you’re actually asking the players and the—who benefit from the current game—to change the game that they figured out how to play. And, of course, the answer to me is that the voters should be really driving the process, right? We should be making decisions and policies based on what’s best for the voter, but the way the system is set up, that interest is not necessarily protected. And it’s only been, historically, when there’s been such a groundswell of demand from voters that we’ve actually seen the types of reforms and changes.
And so, to answer the first question about the electoral college, we didn’t see that type of groundswell of demands for change, and so Congress didn’t have to do anything about it. And you see it similarly in campaign finance law and even the reaction to Citizens United. Oftentimes it takes a big scandal like Watergate to lead to a change in campaign finance law, for example, but it’s always got to come from the citizens.
Audience: Yeah, sort of like the issue of privacy, right? I mean, people don’t object to having their privacy invaded. Maybe it’s because they don’t really fully realize how it’s being invaded. And in the same instance here, we’re talking about using technology to address the technical aspects of mounting our elections, but actually, I don’t really think that’s where the problem is. I mean, I think it’s true. We have all of these capabilities in terms of carrying out the elections. I think the real problem is the communication, the lack of truthfulness that exists in the communication, and I think the solution—I think where technology can have a major impact on American democracy is by providing the tools and the platforms to the voters so that they can truly understand what is going on and not listen to the nonsense that gets blasted through the television, newspapers in these campaign ads. It’s just unbelievably disgraceful, the lies.
I mean, I come from New York and I watched Governor Christie’s campaign ads literally put almost everything else off the air, and half of what he said was not true, and no one ever—there’s not a source, not a place, where anyone could go and look to see if the things he said about what he had accomplished were true. And I don’t actually understand why no one has picked up on that.
Audience: Because they don’t pick up on it with anybody.
Benson: Well, no, there are a lot of organizations that try to do that.
Audience: I’d be interested in Scott’s point on this. I don’t think it’s just truthfulness. I said that, you know, we’re businesses here, a lot are—where are like good, smart business practices of how you interface and talk with—and I’m going to call them consumers, because they’re consuming this information and that’s going to drive participation or not. But, again, your thing is, all right, you have these ads where people can put any message you want. Then you get this communication from government agencies that I could barely understand, and I don’t know whether it’s purposeful to keep me from understanding or it’s just, hell, we don’t have a good copywriter and that’s not in the process.
But, you know, I’ll give you my personal experience in New York. Again, I had worked on this project for 18 months, probably, as far as barriers to keep you from voting. So, when I switched my address and I got this card, I read it literally for three days straight saying, am I misunderstanding this? Because it made it sound like, even though this was April, that I was not eligible for this election. And most other people would have said—of course, I’m calling people, I’m getting—but I said, was that purposeful or not?
But there’s—we all have lawyers in our business and they say, well, here’s what you need to say, and then that’s a guider for then what we write in our consumer interface. And then they look and say, yes, the integrity of that message is still there, and that’s what we put out. But I think there’s a lot of practices that we know work in business that are really effective for giving people understanding and information and driving participation engagement that just fall out of the process, and I don’t know why.
Patrick: So, a couple of points on what we’ve been discussing is that—one is that a lot of the formatting and the content, rather, of what has to go out or what does go out to voters is in statute. And in some states, it’s down to it has to all be in caps, which anybody who reads any usability knows that’s the worst possible way. So, the next time you look at your ballot, a lot of the way that’s formatted is actually in statute, which is a nightmare to ever get changed. Many states, it’s that way. So, that can be very problematic. Mailings that go out, in many cases, have to allow the voter to do a long litany of things, which can be very hard to format. But the whole notion of usability and enabling the content to be voter-empowering is something that many jurisdictions are taking into consideration and trying to get funding and resources to be able to do that because it’s not necessarily in their wheelhouse, and many county governments maybe don’t have a usability type expert.
But one of the things that I wanted to mention also is your comment about what you hear out there. So, we’ve talked a little bit about I.D. and verification of having photo I.D., nonphoto I.D., what exactly that means. And we talk about empowering the voter, but I think we need to make sure that what we do is voter-centric, not necessarily that we always do what the voter would want, necessarily. And the reason I say that is that here in Arizona, we had a voter initiative a few years ago to prove citizenship when you register to vote and prove your identity when you go to the polls. So, that has been implemented now, and since that was been implemented, we’ve had, in my county alone, about 10,000 people who showed up to vote, did not have their I.D. on them, and we have a very expansive list that can be used. So, their ballots were not counted.
Now, we’ve never had any instances of in-person voter fraud, but yet, in this time period, our voters wanted that to happen. And part of what’s problematic is that I look at the demographics of, who are those voters? They are not all one party. They are equally represented and reflective of our voter registration. So, they’re Democrats, they’re Republicans, they’re Independents. It is not what one party will say is that it’s all the other party doing voter fraud, and it’s not the other party that it’s all going to affect their voters. So, it’s very problematic because that’s a very visceral, emotional topic, and it raises the donations, because when you get those emails, it has that message. It creates that fear and you click “donate now.” And then we see its implementation in the individual who wrote the law in Texas is having—had issues last week voting because of the way their I.D. was, because no one thinks it’s going to affect them and it’s very problematic.
Audience: Can I ask a really quick question about—
Krontiris: So sorry, just pause—and I’m so excited that this is a participatory and democratic conversation, but we’re getting to just five minutes. So—well, actually, we’ll let you ask your last question and then after your question, we’re going to let the panelists have some final thoughts and then close up.
Audience: Sorry, I was just wondering why—so, it seems like a lot of the issues stem from there’s too much or too little standardization based on where you are in the state, right? And why doesn’t the state itself get involved in making sure that local districts are giving the information to the voters that they need?
Choate: I do, every day.
Patrick: Judd does a great job of it.
Choate: Every day. In fact, I took a tour of 12 counties—which is, you know, one-fifth of my counties—prior to the election when early voting was happening in this last election and sat there and watched them, watched them do it. And, you know, almost across the board they did it right, but it’s—that’s what you have to do.
And a great example—to go back to some of the verification and security issues—while I was sitting there, a woman walked in. She had two ballots. She had—everybody got their ballots by mail, so she had gotten her ballots by mail—her ballot by mail—and then she had two ballots. One was hers, one was her husband’s. She was turning them both in, and when she—she put in her husband’s and then she said, “I’d like to spoil mine,” which is the technical term for “I would like a new ballot.” So, we started going through the process of giving her a new ballot, and she just sort of matter-of-factly said, “My husband wanted me to vote one way, so I voted that way, but I just want a new ballot so I can vote the other way.”
So, there is not a way. I mean, there’s—you can try. There is not a way to sort of undo that influence. There’s always a way that you can have that influence.
Patrick: And part of the issue also is that in many states, the local person running the elections is an elected position as well. So, you have an elected position —
Choate: Almost all states.
Patrick: In almost all states.
Choate: Yeah, almost all.
Patrick: In other places, they might be, if it’s a municipality, they may be appointed by the city council. So, it may be a political appointment.
Krontiris: So, maybe starting at your end, Scott, if there’s something each of you want to say in a minute or less, maybe 30 seconds or less, some final closing thoughts.
Duncombe: 180 seconds? That would be too long. So, yeah, I guess, we talked about a little bit, the sort of the challenges around sort of the mechanics of voting, and then we touched a little bit on the sort of the exciting, the participatory side of democracy. I feel like democracy is best when it’s something that we all do. And it’s funny when you talk to people and you tell them no one’s voting, they don’t want to go vote, actually. You want to be part of a party. You want to be—you want to go where—you know, everyone’s buying those jeans, I’m going to buy those jeans.
And so, I would just say, like, there’s going to be a lot of attempts in 2016 to kind of, you know, we talked about like sort of the political graph you could call it. So, putting your preferences out there on social media and getting other people excited and being like, hey, come with me, come be a voter. And so, I guess I’d want to just end and say, like, folks should—who feel like people get left out, feel like there’s really complex, valid issues—go solve that problem and then tell people about it and get them involved in the process, because that does a ton, almost as much as trying to figure out, you know, make sure they all register and all that stuff, is getting people excited and getting people bought in to particular candidates or particular valid issues and stuff like that. That’s how that process happens. You know, it’s the “I voted” sticker that you can do that on Twitter and Facebook and whatever.
Benson: I just think in the question of who and who’s going to lead the change in democracy or improvements in our democracy, it’s really got to come from the public, and this is sort of to emphasize what I said earlier but to clarify it a little bit more. You know, the projects like TurboVote, the stuff that Google’s doing, the stuff that Scott’s doing, those new nonprofit sort of social entrepreneurs engaging and improving civic engagement and getting us to this point where we’re moving towards an informed and engaged electorate, which we need both of. That’s really what, in my view, is going to be required to improve our democracy and make it sort of live up to the ideals of our founders.
So, I would just encourage all of you here to continue to be involved in this discussion, because a lot of times it is just sort of government folks and vendors who are involved in the discussions, and that’s good, but where the most innovative things, in my view, are really coming from, with the exception of a few administrators, is in the technology industry and in the nonprofit world. So, that I think gives me hope and is exciting and, you know, I think we’re moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.
Hysen: I will echo both of those and say that there’s more that business and the private sector can do. We don’t—we talk a lot about issues within government and it’s important to fix those, but at the same time, we can and need to do more of viewing government as a platform that we can build on top of.
Elections are so public. They touch the entire country. We have an opportunity to do a lot more. And one of the very few times that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter all got in the same room last year was to brainstorm this and say, how can we stop competing for a second? Let’s leverage all of our common platforms to do something that really needs to get done. And we can do more of that in tech, but across every industry.
Choate: A couple of things. One, earlier we were talking about registration at colleges. It’s my interpretation, it’s the state of Colorado’s interpretation, that the NVRA requires that. So, the National Voter Registration Act, which is motor voter, requires that any service provider that receives money from the federal government offer an opportunity to register to vote. I’m not the only state that believes that, but I think we’re one of the few, and if the DOJ had their act together, they would come after those other states that don’t do it.
I’m going to go off script for the last little bit and, hopefully, David and Simone will ask me back in the future. There is nothing wrong with American elections. You don’t need to fix American elections. American elections are fantastic. We run the best elections in the world. The state of Colorado, I would argue, runs the best elections in the United States. So, where does that put us? Well, that puts us really high on the list. And why do we do so well? We do so well because we have a lot of very good people. My staff is fantastic. I have a big staff. That’s what you need, and we have tremendous resources.
You all make choices every day about whether your local or state government will have those resources. You do it in your votes. You do it in your attention to the news that’s happening in your state. You do it in your interactions with others and your interactions with those policymakers. If you care about elections in your state, then care about the elections in your state. Make sure that they have a good elections office. Make sure that they pay their elections officials something, you know? Then you’ll have good people in those positions. You know, make sure they have the resources to do things in technology. Because if you value it and you give it money, then chances are you’re going to get a better product.
And generally speaking, though, in the United States, we run fantastic elections. So, we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is do everything we can incrementally to get better every single day, and over time, we’ll have stuff like Internet voting. We’ll have apps that will allow you to vote. We will. We’re going to get there. It’s just that we have to couple this idea of money, resources with security, and we have to put those things together. And, frankly, for something like voting, it just hasn’t gotten there yet.
Patrick: So, I would just say that if you’re a decision-maker in any realm, allow and encourage people you know to work the polls. We desperately need savvy, smart people to work the polls, which is not to say that our veterans that are working the polls currently are not those things, they are, but we need an influx of new people. So, allow your employees the day off without having to use their vacation time to go and work the polls.
I was great to hear that you worked with your local secretary of state’s office. Call your local elections office and say, this is my skill set, you know, is there something I can help you with? You know, I looked at your website and it’s not very good. Is there something I can help you with? You know, there are—I know that we would welcome corporate partnerships. Our secretary of state here in Arizona has done a lot of corporate partnerships in order to try and get some additional insight into this arena. Of course, all pro bono, of course.
And the last thing I would say is that, you know, the Voter Information Project was mentioned. If you have a website, whether it’s only used by your employees or your constituents or your customers, embed one of the Voter Information Project icons on there so that every person that hits your website sees, oh, you know what, I probably should check my registration. Just allowing that kind of prominence shows that you’re engaged in your community as well as interested in them participating in our process.
Krontiris: Well, on that note, I would like to thank my co-moderator, Katherine Grainger, and a big round of applause for our panelists. Thank you.
[ Applause ]
And thanks to you, too, all of you, for being engaged in this conversation.