Information is lighter and travels better than people, cars, voting machines, ballot boxes, ballots, judges, ledgers, and the card-counters and computers that now count most of our votes. The phone system that carries information is free for local calls.

Every years millions of trees become ballots to be counted and tossed or recycled. Millions of gallons of gas are burnt to get to the polls.

Phone voting is as efficient as the Internet and World Wide Web, but lets you vote from any phone in the world- in case you don’t have your laptop, modem and local access.


No more driving, parking and waiting in line. Vote from any phone in the world: It could easily be made a free call using an 800 number.

Currently, people don’t know how long voting will take them: they might only wait minutes, or they could wait 2 hours in line, as happened in many New Mexican precincts in November, 1992. Even here in well-funded Boulder, the then-Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Dennis Nock timed his 1992 wait at 51 minutes, and saw people give up and leave. Some Colorado counties ran out of ballots.

People will be mailed a sample ballot to prepare so that when they get on the phone, they just key in all their prepared votes at once. No need to wait for the ballot to be read to them over the phone. Sample ballots were used in both the 1974 National Science Foundation-funded Televote trials and the State of New Mexico’s 1992 Mock Election, conducted by telephone.


by Evan Ravitz, director, Voting by Phone Foundation

First, it must be understood that presently, most votes in the U.S. are counted by computers using programs which are proprietary secrets, so that none of us, including election officials, can verify that the programs do what they should and nothing else. Testing of the program is of course allowed, but there are many ways these secret programs could be devised to test out perfectly, but cheat in the actual votecounting. Our proposal for confirming everyone’s vote makes such cheating much more difficult. See below. The programs (“source code”) should also be publicly owned and open to inspection by anyone.

This is not a complete technical discussion of phone voting, but it’s easy to understand and use if you use ATM machines, which have buttons just like a phone. Instead of the ATM card you punch in a Personal Identification Number (PIN). We suggest giving you three tries to enter the right numbers, so the likelihood of “hackers” guessing your PIN is three in about 100,000. If they keep trying with computers, to tie up the lines if nothing else, we can shut them out.

There is more to it, obviously, but consider that people have been using much less sophisticated banking by phone and shopping by phone systems for decades. They’re not perfect, (they’re run and used by people, after all) but they work. Ours will be better:

Here’s the bottom line about security: everyone who votes by phone can be given the order in which they voted (“You were the 5790th to vote”) and the complete results of the election can be published in order of those numbers, like running races are, in a few pages of newsprint. Everyone gets their vote confirmed, but only you know which is yours. Further, these results can be published on computer diskette or the Internet so that anyone with access to a personal computer can check to see that the votes add up to the announced totals. No other voting system can offer this protection!

Worried that people will claim incorrect confirmations to try to disrupt elections? Easy. Have a group of respected nonpartisan citizens whose job is to publicly agree that their votes were published correctly. If they and the vast majority agree, disrupters will be ignored.

The present system not only cannot confirm that each vote was counted correctly, but in Colorado no ID is required and signatures are only compared if someone challenges a voter. Nobody has been challenged for impersonation in Boulder for at least 20 years! (Source: Boulder County Elections Office Manager Nancy Wurl) The system used to work because the election judges knew everyone in their precinct. Now in Boulder they often don’t even preside in their own precincts!

In 1988 CBS newswoman Barbara Nevins registered under 5 false names around New York City, and was subsequently admitted to vote 5 times. (Source: New York Times 4/23/88)

This May (1995) Denver’s KUSA reporter Paula Woodwood easily registered a dog, a cat, “Bill Clinton”, a dead person, and 11 other ineligibles. The point is: There are no perfect voting systems. They are all run by people. But phone voting is more secure than any present system.

If (rarely) someone did steal another’s ID numbers, and voted your vote before you did, the computer wouldn’t let you vote “again” and you would have to show an election official some ID and they would let you vote individually, just as would now happen if someone impersonated you before you got to the polls.


Here’s the bottom line about privacy: Now, every absentee ballot is returned to the government in an envelope with the voter’s name and signature! We can make it much harder for elections officials to peek at your vote than that, but, as now, you must trust them to some extent. Besides, most people are proud of how they vote and tell everyone. A government that can read your license plate from outer space can also laser fingerprint your ballot or watch you vote with a camera in a crack above the booth, if it cares what you think.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that electronic voting would be as safe as electronic banking and at least as safe as the voting system we now use.” – Dr. Joseph Pelton, Director of Interdisciplinary Telecommunications, University of Colorado.

I don’t see any problem with trying it.” – Roy Saltman, National Institute for Science and Technology’s election systems expert.


Internet voting will be fine for those who use the net. The systems we are aware of:

Boulder’s own Votelink

Marilyn Davis’ eVote

Lorrie Faith Cranor’s Sensus

Voting by phone has been ready for 21 years for the other 150 million or so registered US voters. And, if you’re off traveling at election time and don’t have your laptop, modem, and access, you can pick up any phone in the world and vote.

Not having a graphical interface with the phone is no problem. A paper “ballot worksheet”, mailed to voters or published in the news, and a pencil help you prepare your votes so they can be quickly entered by phone. This was successfully demonstrated both in the 1974 Televote trials and in the State of New Mexico’s 1992 Mock Election, successfully conducted by telephone.

No More Secondhand God

Here’s some of what Buckminster Fuller wrote in his book NO MORE SECONDHAND GOD, pages 10-17, in 1940:

“In the great quasi “democracies,” so far as the general scheming of things is concerned the individual no longer exists…as citizen man is expressed only as a party machine in the “body” politic, and his government expresses a mean low average statistic “man.” Any social action, if at all, is weeks, months, and years laggard to the thinking frontier of the individual…”

“Many people believe Democracy obsolete. They are wrong… I will explain. That is, I will if it’s Democracy you really wish to save, and not some trick you have been getting away with behind its kindly broad young back…”

“Democracy has potential within it the satisfaction of every individual’s need. But Democracy must be structurally modernized, must be mechanically implemented, to give it a one-individual-to-another speed and spontaneity of reaction commensurate with the speed and scope of broadcast news…”

“Devise a mechanical means for nation-wide voting daily and secretly by each adult citizen of Uncle Sam’s family: Then – I assure you- will Democracy “be saved,” indeed exist, for the first time in history…”

“Electrified voting…promises a household efficiency superior to any government of record because it incorporates not only the speed of decision which is the greatest strength of the dictator, but additional advantages which can never be his.”

“Additional advantages of electrified voting first coming to mind:

  1. Provides an instantaneous contour map of the workable frontier of the people’s wisdom, for purposes of legislation, administration, future exploration, and debate, so that neither over nor under estimate may occur, of their will and ability.
  2. Certifies spontaneous popular co-operation in the carrying out of each decision.
  3. No foreign power in the world can stand up against the unified might thus invoked through the thrilling mystical awareness of multimillions of individuals that they personally have taken responsibility for the course…
  4. It cuts right across all red-tape…
  5. As direct evolution it cancels the possibility of revolution…”

“BUT if direct Democracy is not tried now, future generations will again champion it, and there will be world civil wars until it receives adequate trial.”

Voters in Mexico

The Mayan Indian rebels in Chiapas Mexico have conducted all their affairs by “la consulta” or vote of the people. Juan Ojeda, 25-yr assistant to the Nobel-nominated Bishop Ruiz, visited Denver in July. He told us that some 500,000 participate regularly in the consultas, deciding local affairs and each step of the negotiations with the government. He says that everyone including children participate! Now the idea is spreading:

(from La Jornada, april 16, 1996)

Political Parties Agree on Electoral Reforms

After four and a half months of negotiations, political parties agreed on a “first stage” of electoral reform on April 15. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Workers Party (PT) announced that they had reached agreement on 79 reforms, which will entail 28 constitutional amendments. Eleven of the reforms refer to the Federal District’s electoral process.

The most important reforms include: the re-composition of the Federal Electoral Institute, without representatives from the Executive or Legislative branches; the principle of equity in campaign financing and access to electronic media; barring anonymous campaign or party contributions; legally establishing the use of referendums as a means of popular consultation; and a law that would allow citizens the opportunity to propose laws themselves. [Initiatives]

The parties will request a special session of Congress to address the reform issues. The National Action Party (PAN) withdrew from the negotiations several weeks ago, and thus did not participate in the announcement.

Your Ontario, Your Choice

The Premier (like a Governor) of Ontario, Mike Harris, in August 1996 issued his paper “Your Ontario, Your Choice”, which he describes as “the first step in an extensive public dialogue on the best way to incorporate the referendum -direct democracy- into our decision-making process.” Government by the People is the most prominently referenced organization in the paper. There are 4 links to our site. We’re a footnote (number 32) in Canadian history!


by Evan Ravitz

[Our city of Boulder, Colorado, with 96,000 residents, makes a good example for determining the costs of telephone voting]

On May 18, 1993 the Boulder City Council amended the Voting by Phone proposal in two ways that drastically reduce the cost of phone voting:

  1. Phone voting will take place during the “early voting” period of at least 20 days, and likely Colorado’s standard 24 days. If people voted evenly, this would reduce the phone lines and hardware necessary by 24 times! During Colorado’s first trial of early voting in ’92, on the last few days, voting bunched up to about triple the average level, so actually about 8 times less lines and hardware will be needed.
  2. The City will mail a sample ballot to all those who register to vote by phone. While this will cost about $.15 per household, it means that people can prepare all their votes and enter them on the phone all at once. As demonstrated at the 5/18/93 City Council meeting, this takes only 1 minute compared to the City Clerk’s timings of reading the entire ballots for the last few years: from 7 minutes 20 seconds to 11 minutes 10 seconds. If 80% use sample ballots then the average time per vote is 2.8 minutes. This means another 3 or 4 times less lines and hardware than if everyone needed 11 minutes.

Last year 10,968 voted early, 9,642 mailed in `absentee’ ballots, and 26,789 voted on election day. If 20,000 register to vote by phone, then an average of 1000/day would vote in the 20 days. In Nova Scotia’s Liberal Party caucus 6/20/92, 7000 voted by phone in two hours.

Most people will vote in the hours 7AM-11PM. There are 960 minutes in those 16 hours. If an average vote takes 2.8 minutes, then 342 people could vote per day per phone line. so 3 lines could handle the 1000 per day mentioned above. Since as many as triple the average voted in the last days in ’92 we need at least 9 phone lines. However, phone voting will be much easier and quicker than early voting so the load might well be more level. Gerald Mitchell of CU’s Te lecom department, who formerly did such studies for US West, says we need 15 lines to prevent waits of more than 1 minute on the worst hour of the worst day. These are easily handled by a `486′ personal computer, which can accommodate up to 48 phone lines.

The cost estimates of 2 Denver companies are attached. The recurring costs for a system as described above are $4500 for an election run by a service bureau (such as Interactive Information Systems) or $2125 for phone lines if the City runs the election itself on a PC. For 20,000 voters this means $.23 or $.11 per vote. We then add the mailing costs of $.15 per household and other costs and are still saving an immense amount compared to what Boulder elections now cost: $2 per vote.

Since phone lines cost more to install than to rent for a month, if the City bought its own system (hardware and software for $12,940), and used it year- round for it’s own public research (or even rented it to market researchers), then the one month (roughly) of phone service used for the election would cost $925 or $.046 per vote!

Remember too that computers and communications costs are dropping. And these figures don’t reflect the enormous savings to the people who vote: gas, time and often, baby-sitters.

Why is phone voting so inexpensive? Because moving information is far more efficient than moving voters, cars, voting machines, ballots and election officials. One computer can do the work of hundreds of officials, with far less errors. No competitive business could afford to use the obsolete technology now used in elections.

These figures quite consistent with those from the National Science Foundation-funded Televote project of 1974

7/22/93 For more information, email me:

[Bid letter from Omni Software Inc. follows. -editor]

Voting By Phone Foundation

Attn Evan Ravitz URGENT

July 28 1993

Dear Mr Ravitz,

In response to your request for a breakdown of costs on a 15 line computerized election system, I have put together the following outline of costs and have summarized related features afterwards:

Hardware requirements

One 486DX-33 ISA IBM compatible computer system featuring:

a) dual hardware mirrored SCSI fixed disks

b) 15 line analog telephone interface

c) 15 line caller id signal interception interface

d) floppy disk data backup system

The total price for this hardware is currently $7940

Software requirements:

A self contained DOS executable capable of processing callers’ requests to vote and collating results into a meaningful format to allow system operators to obtain election results at any time without downing the system.

The total price for this software is currently $5000

US West requirements:

15 analog telephone lines installed at the location of the computerized election system with the following accessories:

  1. Caller ID service
  2. Call Forwarding Service.
  3. automatic line rolldown services
  4. one voice mail line for overflow handling

The total cost of these 15 lines for one month of operation charges is currently $925

The total cost of installation of these 15 lines is currently $1200

Total initial charges are $12,940 but are only incurred one time

Total election costs are $925 for one month of line usage or $2125 if the line installation cost is required each election.

Please note that this system will retain state of the art security features that will not allow compromise of voter privacy and will repel hacking via use of caller ID services. One of the most important security features that this PC platform can provide that NO OTHER platform can furnish is this system’s dedicated operation. No other hardware option available to the city can guarantee that the operational hardware is used only by the city of Boulder on site at a secure location in the city’s own secured property. Service bureaus can sign all of the affidavits that you can send to them attesting to their systems dedication or security, but the bottom line is that their system will not be set up and operated on site in the city’s secured location allowing the city to monitor the security firsthand.

This system will utilize caller ID services to require that the caller not block the inbound calling number in order that the computerized voting system ~Nbe capable of reading the caller’s telephone number so that a record of repetitive failures to provide correct passwords can be acquired. Thus when a calling phone number is found to have a predetermined number of failed passwords, that number will be blocked from accessing the system for a predetermined time.

The call forwarding and voice mail features will allow the system operator to redirect calls temporarily to a voice mail box that will inform the caller that the system is down for a minute to perform data backup to floppy disk. The voice mail will additionally be used as a sixteenth rolldown line so that if all 15 election lines are currently in use, any and all additional callers will be transferred into this voice mail box and will hear the voice mail message asking the caller to call back momentarily and will allow the caller the option of leaving a message for the system operator.

Note that this system will have two avenues of voting procedures in English and Spanish that will allow a voter to cast a high speed precalculated ballot or cast a traditional issue by issue `user-friendly’ ballot one question at a time in response to separate prompts for each issue on the ballot.

I hope that these figures are of some assistance to you Evan and look forwarded to working with you and the City of Boulder in the future.

Jim Sanders, President

[Bid letter from Interactive Information Systems, Inc. follows -editor]

July 29, 1993

Mr. Evan Ravitz

Voting By Phone Foundation

Dear Evan,

What follows are the one time, and reoccurring costs to implement the Voting By Phone program. The pricing assumes that IIS will receive the voter database in dbaseIII compatible format. The program would be bi-lingual, and would have capacity to answer and process 15 calls (voters) at once. If US West can provide the necessary interface (caller ID), abuse blocking could be added. Finally, if the voters had some sort of sample ballot form, the system could support this option as well.

  1. One time fees:
    1. Line installation fees: $750.00
  2. Programming: $8000.00
    1. 123 man hours @$65.00 per hour
    2. Total: $8750.00
  3. Reoccurring fees:
    1. 1–31 days of use for 15 lines:
    2. Total: $4500
  4. Total: 4500.00

To begin the program, we would require the: programming, installation, and first 30 days program use upon execution of an agreement, or $13,250.00. If you have any additional questions, I can be reached in our offices at (303) XXX-XXXX.

Paul Kulas
Vice President IIS

Expanding Phone Lines To Increase Your Bottom Line.”

Summary of the 1974 Televote trials in San Jose, CA funded by the National Science Foundation


A televote system to aid rapid two-way communication between public officials and large numbers of constituents was developed and demonstrated in the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD). The objectives of the system are:

  1. to provide citizens and public officials the most relevant information bearing on important community problems;
  2. to provide civic planners accurate knowledge of the current views of citizens so that their decisions will be more responsive to these views;
  3. to offer citizens effective roles in civic and school planning suited to different levels of interest in a given issue.

In a typical televote, statements of opposing views are sent to registered televoters, who then have a week to feed back their own preferences by dialing certain numbers on the telephone. Results showing the number of people preferring each view can be in the hands of planners within two days after the televote ends. Use of the system can help a public agency serve its functions better by bringing the many people affected by agency decisions into the planning process at very low cost in time and money.

After initial development and a pilot study to test equipment and procedures, a district-wide public demonstration of the televote system was conducted seven months during the 1973-74 school year. A committee representing students, school staff, parents a nd other citizens met weekly to decide on which issues communication was most needed. When the committee was satisfied that all sides of the issue were stated well and fairly, the issues were mailed to all televoters and published in the SUN newspapers.

In order to become televoters, citizens were required to register by phone or mail and were sent a unique televoter number as a way of insuring that only one vote from each person was counted. Registrations were solicited mainly through school newsletters and occasional public service announcements on radio and TV.

Nine televotes were conducted during the demonstration, including 30 specific questions. A three-digit number was printed beside each alternative answer, plan or policy. A televoter studied the alternatives, then indicated his preference by calling the te levote line, dialing his own televoter number, and dialing the numbers of the answers he preferred. Televotes were processed by computer and all information from any individual was kept confidential. Televote counts broken down by demographic variables we re published and distributed to all interested individuals and groups, and to the media.

Evaluation Results

Televote results had a significant impact on four educational decisions. The one of greatest consequence was the choice of new courses for a $3 million program addition to the Regional Vocational Center. The courses chosen corresponded closely to the pref erences of televoters. The televote issues which had tangible impact were in most cases those issues initiated and defined by the same school officials who used the results in their planning.

Over 5,500 persons (about 4% of the eligible population) voluntarily registered as televoters, and most of these participated in one or more televotes. An average of about 700 persons voted on a given issue. This rate of participation represents substantially greater input than school authorities usually receive on specific issues, exce pt in public elections. Participation was higher in suburban areas than in the central city areas where the less affluent residents live. The largest minority group in the area is Mexican-American and they participated at a lower rate than Anglo Whites. I nformation was provided in both English and Spanish to this group.

Measures of basic attitudes and habits of communication with schools were administered before and after the demonstration in a design which permitted comparison of changes in SJUSD to changes in a comparable control district nearby. In the suburban areas of SJUSD there was a marked increase in perceived interest of the school in citizen opinions, an increase not found in comparable suburbs of the control district. Also, over 85% of both students and adults felt the school district should ask for their opi nions before making policy decisions. Televoters and other citizens in SJUSD showed a greater increase in awareness of school issues during the demonstration year that did citizens in the control district. From these results it appears that participation in the televote system led to greater awareness of school issues and better relations between citizens and the school district.

All groups questioned about the value of televoting, including selected staff members, student and adult televoters, and a random sample of non-participating adult citizens, evaluated the system favorably on the whole. Each group also offered many specifi c criticisms. Asked how much they would be willing to pay per year to have a televote system continue in San Jose, a random sample of San Jose citizens (none had participated in televotes) said they would be willing to pay on average 62 cents per year, wh ich was more than the estimated tax or subsidy needed to operate a televote system in 1974 dollars. Televoters responded with a mean value of $1.07. Apparently most residents who are told even briefly how televoting works think it has potential value for the community and are willing to pay the small cost of operation.

Postscript (1995)

The project summarized here was conducted in 1973-74 with National Science Foundation support (Grant No. GI-37183) while I was at the American Institutes for Research in Palo Alto, CA. More detailed information on the study is available on microfiche at many libraries as ERIC documents ED095896 (report of the San Jose research), ED095897 (appendices to report) and ED107300 (implementation guidelines).

In the 20 years since then, the technology has evolved so that a highly efficient and reliable system which accommodates a large community can be introduced for less than $20,000 and operated at an annual cost of $5,000 to $10,000, including costs of main tenance, analysis and reporting results to the community. For large cities this cost assumes information on each issue will be disseminated largely by newspapers, with mailing only to special groups, such as a scientifically drawn representative sample of the community.

Vincent Campbell, President
Decision Systems Inc.
8073 Kincross Way
Boulder, CO 80301

Phone (303) 530-9691
Fax (303) 530-9692


You should be voting by phone!

“What I want is to get done what the People would have me do. The problem for me is to find out what that is exactly.” – Abe Lincoln

No Problem! Voting by Phone makes “government of the people, by the people and for the people” practical!



“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that electronic voting would be as safe as electronic banking and at least as safe as the voting system we now use. Phone voting could aid thousands who are now disenfranchised to vote and bring Colorado national recognition.” – Joe Pelton, Director of Interdisciplinary Telecommunications, University of Colorado; faculty, International Space University; author, Future Talk and Global Talk.

I don’t see any problem with trying it. I think it’s worth looking into.” – Roy Saltman, National institute of Standards and Technology election systems expert.

I think they’re on the right track. One of these days we’ll all be voting by telephone.” – Donetta Davidson, State of Colorado elections officer

“On most major issues we’ve dealt with in the past 50 years, the public was more likely to be right – based on the judgment of history – than the legislatures or Congress.” – George Gallup Sr., America’s leading pollster

“The voters should have a direct say on some issues.” – 76% of Americans in a 1987 Gallup Poll


“I support Voting by Phone.” – Eugene McCarthy, former Minnesota Senator and Presidential candidate (Democrat)

It is exciting – and important – to contemplate how new technology might revitalize democracy by permitting convenient, fraud – proof voting by telephone.” – Terry Considine, former Colorado State Senator (Republican)

“If we believe in Democracy, this [phone voting, used in Liberal Party primaries in ’92 and ’93] is the only way we can go.” – Guy Brown, Nova Scotia Legislative Assemblyman (Liberal)


“We can all begin to despair at the lack of citizen involvement in crucial public policy issues. Voting by phone may well be one of those stimulating and innovative concepts that helps restore vitality and substance to our political life.” – Kay Howe, Western State College President

“It’s embarrassing that one of the showcase democracies in the world has so little voter turnout…Phone voting would scare the hell out of politicians. – Tom Cronin, Colorado College political science professor and author

“I am for your effort.” – Walter Orr Roberts, Founder, National Center for Atmospheric Research


“I like this.” – Naomi Tutu, director of the Tutu Foundation and daughter of Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“Voting by Phone is brilliant.” – Jack Groverland, minister, Unity of Boulder

“I love this idea. With it we can finally have real democracy.” – Judith Mohling, Psychotherapist and Colorado (Nuclear) Freeze Voter Lobby Coordinator.

“I proposed…voting by telephone on all prominent questions before Congress. That was back in 1940. It allows for continuous correction of the course…without political scapegoating. Today democracy is not working…Particularly among the young there is a feeling of absolute futility.” – Buckminster Fuller, to the U.S. Senate, 1975


“The punishment suffered by the wise who refuse to take part in the government is to live under the government of bad men” – Plato

“What government is the best? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.” – Goethe

“I know no safe depository for the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough…the remedy is to inform [them]…We must put it out of the power of the few to riot on the labors of the many.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Freedom exists only where people take care of the government.” – George Bernard Shaw

“If there is a problem with democracy, the solution is more democracy.” – Alexander Hamilton


Boulder Chapter of the ACLU Boulder Green Alliance Center for People with Disabilities Colorado Common Cause Colorado Freeze Voter Colorado Green Alliance Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG) Committee for persons with Disabilities of the City Human Relations Commission Sierra Club Indian Peaks Group United Government of Graduate Students, University of Colorado UCSU Environmental Center Board Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Boulder Chapter, and CU Regents Guy Kelley and Jim Martin.


“Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many.” – Eric Hoffer

Power corrupts our representatives. Even Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder admitted: “We have seen Washington DC become a coin – operated legislative machine instead of the representative government we once knew.”

Weakness corrupts American Citizens. Voting dropped to 50% in the ’88 election – Bush was elected by 53% of that, or 26.5% of the citizenry. 36% voted in the ’90 election, and an all – time low of 18.3% voted in the ’89 Boulder City Council race.

The weakest majority in the world: the American party of non-voters.


Share the power of the few with the many. With representative democracy on the decline, let’s dust off the other kind – participatory. We vote on important issues as they come up. Taking more of the making of law (and spending of taxes) into our own hands will break the government monopoly on power. The competition might even bring better behavior from all levels of government!

24 states already allow Citizen Initiative. Here people petition to put their own propositions on the ballot. But the large number of signatures required keeps the average citizen or group from trying:

Only 3 of 20 who tried in Colorado in ’90 made it to the ballot. All those that do resort to paying petitioners. Money talks, just like at the Capitol!

It’s still half baked: In some states initiative has become another political business, costing hundreds of thousands to get one issue to the ballot. Voters faced forty issues in California in ’90 and a 142-page booklet explaining them!

Let’s reduce petition requirements to get citizen initiatives on the ballot and put these initiatives to monthly votes to make the process more timely. (This also solves California’s problem.) Voting by Phone makes it easy and economic, even ecological:


Voting by Phone. What easier way is there? Telephone service bureaus, which have thousands of lines to answer toll-free (800) numbers, are ready. They charge 10 cents per user per minute for local calls, plenty of time to key in the choices you’ve already worked out on a ballot worksheet. This compares to $2.00 apiece for Boulder elections now, not counting gasoline and time wasted. We can afford to vote more often.

These service bureaus are everywhere, having exploded from a handful 5 years ago to about 300 today. Some have enough lines for millions to vote in a day, perhaps enough total capacity for the 91.6 million voters of ’88!

Counties can easily implement their own phone voting with 1 “486” personal computer for each 100,000 voters (200,000 population). We sell systems and service.

After all, most polls are taken by phone, and most votes (more than 55%) are now counted by computer. Let’s put the two together.


There are no technical obstacles, only political. Politicians want only their supporters to vote and don’t want lots more voters. Nearly all are against giving citizens more power to legislate.

Bill Kimberling, deputy director of the Federal Election Commission, said: “We looked into it and concluded that, even if it were technologically feasible, the cost of the technology would far exceed whatever benefit might accrue.” We asked him how he determined that and he said he called a few County Clerks. We asked if any were trained in telecommunications or computers. No. Was he? No. What was he trained in? Political Science! The NSF’s Televote trials and MT&T’s Canadian primaries prove him wrong!

Congress rejected proposals for a National initiative or referendum in 1907, m???]1917, 1937 and 1977. The increasing times between attempts shows Americans are getting tired of begging their representatives to share the power. Politicians should remember the words of President Kennedy:

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make a violent revolution inevitable.” Fortunately, in sates with initiative we can implement this ourselves. Other states and the nation will need constitutional amendments.


Registration: If you want to vote by phone:

  • You get a random ID number from the registration computer. The number is too long to guess.
  • You enter a password of your choosing into the voting computer.
  • You’re checked off on the voter rolls so you can’t vote the usual way as well – much as is now done if you want to vote absentee.
  • You get instructions, a warning not to reveal your ID number or commit other fraud, and a ballot worksheet. Worksheets could also be mailed, or broadcast on TV, or even made available for voting by personal computer.

Voting on election day:

  • Call the toll-free number from any phone.
  • Computer voice asks which language you speak – you press (or dial) 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, etc.
  • Computer asks for your ID number and password – you get 3 tries.
  • Computer asks if you want full explanations, press 1, or if you have a prepared ballot worksheet ready, press 2.

Votes are requested like: (full explanation): “for President and Vice-President, to vote for Bush and Quayle, Republicans, press 1, for Dukakis and Bensen, Democrats, press 2, for other ‘write-in’ candidates, press 3, to skip this race, press 0.” (For write-ins, you are asked to speak and spell the names.)

(with prepared ballot): “Please enter your choices from the bottom of your ballot worksheet.”

Votes are confirmed like: “you voted for [candidate names]. Press 1 if correct, 2 to change your vote.”

When you are finished, the computer says, for example, “You were the 5,280th to vote. Please write 5,280 down and confirm your votes on line 5,280 in the morning newspaper.”

Publishing results:

Everyone’s votes can be printed in the morning paper in all but the largest cities. Better yet to have the results available at voter registration sites, libraries, by phone or Internet, or on diskette. This way you can also check that the votes add up correctly to the announced totals.

There are other ways the system could work. This is the simplest.


  • Accuracy: Seeing your own vote in the newspaper is a guarantee of accuracy no present voting system can match.
  • Identification: Voting is now on the honor system. No ID is required to vote or register in most places. Identification is based on the obsolete idea that the election judges know each voter by sight, unlikely in our mobile society. Still it usually works. The problem isn’t keeping folks from voting twice, but getting them to vote once!
  • Openness: We want all procedures watched by election judges and the media.


What about “hackers”violating security?

This system accepts only touch-tones, pulses, or dialing, not computer language. The 12 tones can’t be used to break into the system, any more than the 12 buttons on a ATM can breach a bank system. With a 15-digit ID the odds of a person (or computer) gue ssing one would be about 1 in 100,000. After a caller tries 3 times the system hangs up and won’t accept a call from the same phone for an hour, say, to avoid tying up the system. Police could even be automatically dispatched.

Won’t people try to buy ID numbers and thus votes?

It’s illegal and government should offer a large reward for turning in people who try.

Won’t people voting outside polling places be subject to pressure?

This is now the situation with absentee and all-mail balloting and has not been a problem.

What about privacy? Even though the ID numbers are anonymous, a wiretapper using Caller ID could tell whose phone was calling.

True – the immediate solution is to use any other phone. In a few years, new phones can be sold for $10 or so extra with a computer chip to encode the votes so that only the individually matched decoding program in the voting computer could interpret the votes. A survey by AT&T shows that 61% of people don’t care if others know how they vote.

This will also prevent a devious government from ‘voting’ for those who don’t vote, a scam made famous in Chicago. Reassigning the ID numbers of dead voters and publishing all phone votes (see Publishing Results, above) will make this less of a problem than now, even with present phones. Not perfect, but better than the current system.

If people lose their ID numbers how will they get them back if no record is kept on who has which?

A record is needed for this and to reassign an ID number when its owner dies. It should be kept in a separate computer under lock and key, with access restricted to such circumstances.

What about people without phones?

They can vote from any phone, and the number will be a free call from pay phones, like 911 or 411. Dial, pulse or touch-tone phones can be used.

Won’t this just encourage the ignorant to vote?

If you want children to mature, you give them responsibility. Same with the nation. Jefferson said: “if we think them not enlightened enough…the remedy is to inform them.”


  • Copy this brochure and distribute it to people who think. Write letters to newspapers and your representatives.
  • Volunteer to collect signatures to get this on the Boulder and Colorado ballots. If you live out of state, start your own Voting by Phone initiative. Grant-writing and other help also needed.
  • Send us news and opinion clippings relating to voting, democracy or initiatives.
  • Endorse us or have your organization do so.

Join us! Please use the membership form. Buy a T-shirt!

600 people tried our demonstration during the November ’90 election. Using a Boulder voter registration database to identify callers, nobody voted twice.


Board of Directors: John Collins, President of Boulder Grey Panthers; Earl Hauserman, President, Sunshine Systems, Howard Higman, Founder and Chairman of the University of Colorado World Affairs Conference; Don Koplen, President, Sax Publishing; Maggie Markey, former Boulder County Commissioner and Roger Olson, former Boulder City Councilman.

Founder and Director: Evan Ravitz

Technical Advisor: Joseph Pelton, Director of Telecommunications, University of Colorado

Legal Advisor: Barry Satlow

And hundreds more!

Voting by Phone Foundation
1130 11th St. #3
Boulder CO 80302 tel/fax: (303)440-6838

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