Internet-Based Voting Programs Marketed to Schools

By Natasha N. Smith — March 24, 2004 5 min read
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Loren Newman knows all about student elections.

As the director of student activities at Beverly Hills High School in California, she conducts four every year: to nominate the candidates for student government; the student-government election itself; and the elections for the homecoming and prom courts.

After five years of supervising elections, Ms. Newman wanted something that could make the process more efficient and less expensive. After doing some research last summer, she came up with what she views as a solution: voting online.

Voting technology now allows students to vote for their student governments, homecoming kings and queens, or even their most favorite or least favorite teachers, using any personal computer.

Educators who have used the online methods say they offer advantages over Scantron technology, which reads data on bubble sheets filled in by students.

“Using Scantron could be so difficult,” Ms. Newman said. “You would give the students the list of names, and the students would fill out the Scantrons, but with the mixed classes, you could never be assured that the students were voting in the right elections for their grades.”

Ms. Newman used eduBallot, which was launched in January by Votenet Solutions Inc., a company that has offered its online-voting software, eBallot, to various organizations, schools, and businesses since 1999.

After fielding many inquiries from high schools about online-voting opportunities, the Web-based voting and election-management system was designed specifically for K-12 elections.

Yet eduBallot is not the only Web-based voting product. Services such as ballotbin.com and worldvotingbooth.com also offer the chance to hold elections online, although they were not specifically designed for schools.

In 1999, two Ohio social studies teachers launched another online election tool, Mockelection.com, to introduce students to the democratic process when choosing student government leaders.

The popularity of the site led the two, Jim Hull and Shawn Kaeser, to start a site in 2000 for less serious purposes called Voteforfun.com. Both sites shut down last year, however, after students used them for posting inappropriate comments and gossip. The sites also had a tendency to crash, with peaks of 20,000 page views per hour.

Anytime, Anywhere

The online technology allows students to vote electronically from a computer at school or from home—or anywhere they have access to a personal computer.

Voters can cast ballots for candidates, weigh in on particular issues, or participate in surveys. Schools can also conduct more than one election at a time.

The online system can be used for any type of election, including votes for student government, class officers, prom and homecoming courts, “senior superlatives,” and PTA offices.

The eduBallot system has been used at two schools so far: Beverly Hills High and Southern Nash High School in Bailey, N.C.

“We have heard from a lot of schools over the years that are eager to simplify their elections by leveraging e-voting,” said Michael Tuteur, the chief executive officer of Votenet Solutions. “EduBallot solves a major problem for schools—eliminating the endless hours spent counting ballots and the frustration and stress that arises from running traditional elections.”

The software also serves an educational purpose, company officials argue.

“It provides a valuable civic education experience to students and complements schools’ efforts to increase student exposure to technology,” said Raj Naik, the company’s director of elections software. “Voting is an important step towards creating citizen involvement in democracy and community.”

The annual basic fee for the service is $399, which includes a software license and 1,000 votes. Schools can purchase extra voting packages, based on the number of students voting in an election.

How It Works

Votenet Solutions, which is based in Washington, acts as the host for the clients who use eduBallot. Votenet provides encrypted servers and other tools to prevent election fraud. In addition, the company monitors its servers 24 hours a day.

School administrators get to control the screen displays that voters see and can post candidates’ biographies and photos. Students are assigned identification and passwords that keep them from voting twice in the same election.

The administrator also has the right to use the voting site for information that is not related to the election. Clients can post school events or any other information about the school.

The client can also determine the day and time when the students will be able to view the election results.

For the students, using eduBallot is a three-step process once they log in on a personal computer.

Details and instructions are listed on the election- information page. Students can then review the candidates’ biographies, which may include information on their backgrounds and platforms. Finally, students can make their choices, review them, and cast their votes.

Ms. Newman of Beverly Hills High used eduBallot to conduct this year’s student-government elections, which consisted of 60 candidates and 1,500 student voters, and she plans to use it in the future. More than half the school’s 2,100 students cast ballots, showing a new enthusiasm for voting, she said.

“It was very easy to use. Everybody was really excited. The students liked being able to vote anywhere. And it was our most accurate election,” Ms. Newman recalled of the February election.

The system is not without its flaws, however.

“With Internet software, it’s like owning a trucking company,” said Mr. Naik of Votenet Solutions. “I can say I can get your goods there in time, but there’s always the chance of a traffic jam.”

Though Votenet has not had any problems with the software, Mr. Naik said, problems with schools’ servers could interfere with the performance of the system.

Jan Torrey, a librarian and election officer at Southern Nash High School in Bailey, N.C., signed on with eduBallot after using the now-defunct Mockelection.com for two years. She wasn’t ready to go back to a life of typing up and counting ballots. Nor was she willing to go back to using a Scantron.

Ms. Torrey began a Web search for a similar product for the homecoming election held last September. She decided on eduBallot, and between 500 and 600 of the 1,100 students at the school cast ballots.

“It was really simple. Anyone could vote on it,” said Ms. Torrey. “And the security and price was right.”

Coverage of technology is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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