Digital decision making
POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2009
On a recent day at Honolulu Hale, walk-in voters for neighborhood board elections were scarce, but that wasn't necessarily a bad sign.
Votes in neighborhood board elections may be cast online and by telephone through Friday.
Only voters living in a neighborhood board subdistrict with a contested race may vote, and those residents should already have received a PIN number in the mail that is required to cast a vote.
Candidate profiles and instructions on how to vote were included with that mailing.
Profiles also are available at www.honolulu.gov/nco/2009canpro.htm.
Results are to be released May 26.
"I'm hoping that it's because they're using their own computers at home or getting to the library," said Joan Manke, executive secretary of the Neighborhood Commission Office.
Whether you are at home or at the mall, typing at a computer terminal in the library or keying into your Blackberry or iPhone, anywhere you can access the Internet is a polling place to vote in this year's neighborhood board races.
Officials are hoping the all-digital election will increase the historically low voter turnout in neighborhood board races, Manke said. She noted turnout in 2007 was about 28 percent.
Aside from online voting, the system also allows votes to be cast securely over the telephone.
"It's an interesting experiment," said Ira Rohter, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Online voting has been used in elections all over the world, but usually in concert with some form of paper ballot.
"We're making history here," said Manke. "It's a first in Hawaii, in the nation and the world, actually, to go all digital voting."
Even in Honolulu, votes have been cast online before. Two years ago the Neighborhood Commission Office used online voting along with the standard paper ballots. Of the 44,000 votes cast in the Neighborhood Board elections that year, 10 percent—or 4,000 votes—were cast online.
The shift is due partly to technology but also because of money.
Bryan Mick, a commission spokesman, said the office was allotted $180,000 to carry out the election, a cut of about $70,000 from two years ago.
San Diego-based Everyone Counts won the contract. The company ran its first online vote in 1996 and has since helped elections around the world.
Among the more recent was a parliamentary vote in Australia, where online voting was used for military members overseas, said Lori Steele, the company's chief executive officer.
While the technology aims to make voting more accessible to the public, a chief concern is security, Rohter said.
Voting requires a nine-digit PIN number that is matched with a voter's Social Security number. The PIN numbers were mailed to 115,000 voters earlier this month.
From there, Steele said her company uses "military grade" encryption to ensure security and integrity of votes.
"The same kind of encryption used to protect the launch of missiles is used with our system in electronic voting," she said.
Steele said election officials across the country are keeping an eye on how the all-digital vote goes in Honolulu.
State officials are watching, too.
"We're watching the neighborhood board elections on the Internet to get a sense of how it works, how the public responds to it," said state Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin. "When it all settles out we'll take a closer look and see what potential it may hold for the voters of Hawaii."
Manke added that officials realize not everyone has a computer, so the city has set up computers at Honolulu Hale, Kapolei Hale and Windward City Satellite City Hall for those who are unable to access a computer or telephone elsewhere.
Rohter also noted that some older voters might not be fond of going to the new system.
Count Kaneohe resident Fred Wong among them. He went to Honolulu Hale last week to vote but said he didn't like the system.
Said Wong, "I'm already beyond the stage where I don't care for computers."