When the people of Oregon needed to replace Congressional Representativethis week, the state Board of Elections used the opportunity to develop means to get ballots to older citizens in nursing homes. The traditional means to do so were to send absentee ballots out, but such ballots waste a great deal of payer, any way – and many do not get returned anyway. As we have noted on this blog, the iPad is a for retired Americans to access information. And now it is being used as a way for retired Boomers and those of the GI Generation to cast their votes.
The iPad was used to present the ballot to the seniors, who could use the touch screen to enlarge sections if necessary and to mark their votes with a touch. When done, the iPad printed the ballot for the senior citizen to mail in or to stuff into a ballot box.
The idea came from local activists, and we see a rare moment of Apple contributing to a nonprofit’s efforts: Apple donated five iPads to the Congressional district, and $75,000 to help develop the software that presented and recorded the ballots.
As of now, the feedback on this small-scale election is largely positive. According to a report on CBS News, election officials stressed the fact that the iPad is not recording the vote, simply offering access to the ballot and assisting the elder Americans’ abilities to mark it appropriately. The question remains, nevertheless, as to how scalable the pilot program is. Oregon officials seem convinced it will work statewide, and they are investing in more iPads and printers: “At $500 each, the state could buy the iPads for about $36,000. Portable printers cost about $50 each, Trout said, or counties can use existing printers from their offices. The cost of software is still unknown. In the last two-year budget cycle, Oregon spent more than $325,000 to maintain accessible voting tools.”
The portability and touch-screen simplicity of the iPad makes it an idea technology to assist citizens cast votes. Perhaps as the technology rolls out to other districts and states, it will inspire greater electoral turnout among the rest of us.