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

I want to participate, not just spectate. Sign me up! 
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MT&T’s televote system worked ‘flawlessly’ in B.C

British Columbia’s Liberals let their fingers do the voting — and elected a new leader this weekend with the help of Nova Scotia telephone technology.

Maritime Tel & Tel’s televoting system performed well, processing 6,540 votes ‘flawlessly,’ said Don Farmer, MT&T’s vice president of operations. Former Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell took the first-ballot victory in the leadership race with 4,141 of those votes.

Televoting has “only been done (in two places) in the world, in Nova Scotia and once in British Columbia,” he said.

He added future prospects for the voting system are exciting.

Televoting was first introduced to Nova Scotians in June 1992 when the province’s Liberals were choosing a new leader. That first attempt to vote by telephone ended in a highly-publicized failure, but a second vote, held two weeks later, went off without any problems.

Since that first system was developed, the telephone company has partnered itself with IBM and has developed a “totally new system,” he said. This weekend’s vote in British Columbia was the first application of that system.

While the mechanics of the system did work well, there were some problems with voters who did not understand how the system works, said Mr. Farmer.

Some callers to a special problems’ hotline said they were unable to get through to cast their votes, but it was discovered that they were not using touch-tone phones required by the system. [Technology exists to permit voting with dial phones as well. This was used in the 1974 Televote trials -editor]

As a result, Mr. Farmer said the Liberal Party asked that the members be allowed more time to get to other telephones to cast their votes, so the first-ballot results were tabulated later than originally expected.

Mr. Farmer said both the telephone company and IBM are discussing the televoting service with organizations around the world.

Monday 9/13/93 pg. A12
(Halifax, Nova Scotia)
by Kelly Shiers

Jack Abramoff

There’s lots of data showing that buying (or renting) Congress is the world’s best investment, often paying off at 1000 to 1 or better. Jack Abramoff, famed lobbyist convicted of bribery, boasts in this Washington Post story (in the 3rd paragraph) that he can get tax breaks worth billions for mere millions.

Labeling of genetically modified foods

The following poll was conducted by Gallup in September, 1999. As with many polls, there is a clear pro-corporate bias to the manner in which the question is phrased. The emphasis is clearly placed on the food costing more if they are to be labled as being genetically modified. Depite this obvious tactic to bring the numbers down, a full 68% still supported the right to know.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,039 adults, 18 years and older, conducted September 23-26, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Some people say that all food should be labeled by the manufacturer to indicate whether the food contains products which have been produced using biotechnology. However, such labeling would require special handling that would raise the price of food. Would you, personally, be willing to pay more for your food in order to have new labels that would indicate the presence of foods produced using biotechnology?

       Yes                68%
       No                 29%
       DEPENDS (vol.)      1%
       No opinion          2%

The Gay Nineties

Westword 11/25/1999 (a Denver weekly)

“I often say at fundraisers and different events, ‘Can we have a big round of applause and thanks to Colorado for Family Values!'” says Sue Anderson, who recently left the state after directing the gay-rights organization Equality Colorado for six years. “The silver lining to the whole Amendment 2 cloud is that there’s a queer organizational infrastructure in this state.” Anderson remembers the days of Amendment 2 as “an amazing time — having gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues in the news for 94 days nonstop. We don’t get that kind of coverage, or hadn’t until that time. The American public didn’t want to talk about those things — that was brought on by Amendment 2. It changed history in many ways.”

The Internet Vox Populi – PoliticsUSA, April 20-21, 1996

As Election Day turnouts dwindle, many activists and lawmakers are turning to electronic networks to make voting easier and thus more appealing to busy Americans. Skeptics worry about the potential for abuse
By Graeme Browning, National Journal

BOULDER, COLO. — Voters here encountered several referenda issues on the local ballot in November 1993 but none more striking than question D. It would have made future elections dramatically different; people could use their telephones or computers to cast ballots.
Boulder’s voters rejected the idea, 59-41 percent. But two and a half years later this issue has resurfaced because computers have become a fixture in many households. Boulder, a college town nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, now has one of the highest rates of Internet usage in the country. And some local officials are suggesting putting the electronic-voting proposition back on the ballot.
“I wasn’t in favor of the idea in 1993 because of security concerns, but I’ve gotten to the point where that issue doesn’t seem to be a big deal anymore,” Stephen M. Pomerance, a private investor and consultant who’s a city council member, said in a recent interview. “I’d rather people have more access to their government.”
Such talk makes Boulder Mayor Leslie L. Durgin nervous. “This idea would work well for those people who are already involved in technology,” Durgin said one morning as she sipped coffee in the refurbished dining room of the century-old Boulderado Hotel. “But I find that people who say, `Oh, everybody has a computer, everybody’s on the Internet,’ are overlooking a huge portion of our population that is not.”
As voter turnouts dwindle and cynicism about government continues to bubble across the country, many activists and lawmakers alike are turning to computer networks in efforts to make the traditional duties of citizenship — voting chief among them — easier to accomplish and thus more appealing to busy Americans.
Electronic-voting proposals get the most attention because they are the most controversial, but experiments with on- line voter registration, targeted electronic polling and “town hall” meetings conducted on the Internet are also under way.
Some of these experiments reflect the conviction of many Internet enthusiasts that computer-aided “direct” democracy — which relies on frequent referenda and voter initiatives — may be better suited to governance in the Information Age than traditional representative democracy is.
Back in Washington, even Congress appears to be warming to the concept of giving voters a virtual seat at the table during its deliberations. The recently formed congressional Internet Caucus has established a site on the World Wide Web, the Net’s multimedia corner, where people may one day be able to participate, via computer, in caucus meetings. “One of the things our Web page will allow us to do eventually is provide a funnel directly into Congress,” Rep. Rick A. White, R-Wash., a caucus co-founder, said at a late-March press conference.
Opponents worry, however, that fraud, abuse and breaches of security will be as much a problem on computer networks as they have been in the past at the ballot box. Conservative political analysts also fear that when people don’t have an opportunity to engage in or witness face-to-face deliberations, they will lose that sense of personal involvement in government that helps keeps a democracy alive.
“When you vote, you come to the same place as other people, you wait in line with other people, you see candidates standing outside the polling area. That has a lot to do with how people perceive the process of governing,” said David E. Mason, director of congressional studies for the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. “The problems of people feeling alienated could be exacerbated by relying entirely on the computer or the phone, simply because the distance between what the voters do and the final action of the government is that much greater.”
That distance already seems too much for many Americans. Nationally, voter turnout has declined by almost 25 percent in the past three decades, RAND, the California think tank, reported recently. At the same time, the ranks of volunteers for such civic groups as parent-teacher organizations and the Red Cross have shrunk dramatically, while the number of people who say they have attended a public meeting in the past year dropped from 22 percent in 1973 to 13 percent in 1993.
“Electronic networks can facilitate citizen participation in the political process. Some individuals now use E-mail [electronic mail] to contact government representatives, for instance,” the RAND report noted. The report recommended that the federal government make E-mail available to everyone. “Broad access to computers and electronic networks. . . might help reduce if not reverse the trends toward disengagement in civic and political affairs,” the report concluded.
Declining interest in politics is evident in Boulder, where only 38.6 percent of the city’s 68,000-plus registered voters made it to the polls for last November’s municipal elections. In 1989, a mere 18.3 percent cast ballots in the city council race.
Officials here try to put a brave face on the statistics. The November election “was a good turnout, considering that many people in Boulder register just to establish residency, so they can go to school here” at the University of Colorado, city clerk Alisa D. Lewis said in an interview.
But local activists argue that the citizens of Boulder and many other communities are staying away from the voting booth because they’re convinced that lawmakers pay little attention to their views anyway. “Americans are deeply disturbed by how unrepresentative their government is,” Evan Ravitz, director of the Government by the People Foundation, a Boulder-based advocacy group that is a prime supporter of electronic voting, said in an interview. “People are looking for alternatives, and one of those alternatives is direct democracy.”

Ballot-Box Connections

Ravitz’s group — formerly called the Voting by Phone Foundation — designed the electronic-voting system that voters here rejected in 1993.
The system would work much like automated voice mail. A voter taps a password of his or her own choosing into a computer database and is, in turn, assigned a random identification number that is too long for anybody else to guess. At the same time the computer checks off the voter’s name on the rolls so that he or she can’t cast an additional ballot.
On Election Day, the voter calls a toll-free number and punches in the ID number on the telephone number pad. The computer then presents the ballot choices. If the system had been in use in the 1994 presidential election, for example, a digitalized voice would have greeted voters with a message something like this:

“For President and Vice President, to vote for Bush and Quayle, Republicans, press 1. For Clinton and Gore, Democrats, press 2. For other `write-in’ candidates, press 3. To skip this race, press 0.”

A voter who wanted to write in candidates would be asked to say, and spell, the candidates’ names.
To confirm votes, the digitalized voice would announce,

“You voted for [the candidates’ names]. Press 1 if this is correct, or 2 to change your vote.”

At the end of the procedure the computer would give the voter a confirmation number that could be checked against a listing of votes in the local newspaper.
The system presented to Boulder voters was geared toward the telephone, but all of these procedures could easily be carried out on a computer, over the Internet, said Vincent N. Campbell, a former Washington-based management consultant who has helped refine the system.
“This is not cutting-edge technology. It’s easy stuff,” said Campbell, who joined Ravitz’s group after he retired and moved to Boulder three years ago.
Two other systems now available expand electronic-voting technology even further. California computer programmer Marilyn Davis has developed “eVote,” a computer program that makes possible the casting of a variety of votes, from “yes/no” types to grouped votes that direct the user to “pick one of the following five” or “vote for 10 out of the next 20 items.” Davis’s system can also be programmed to let voters see how others voted, change votes until the balloting closes and watch the vote tally develop.
Lorrie Faith Cranor, a graduate student in engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has developed a more complex system called “Sensus.” Her system uses electronic cryptography and “blind” digital signatures to assure the privacy of votes. Cranor’s program automatically encodes each ballot, marks it with a signature that doesn’t reveal its contents, verifies that a voter is registered and has voted only once, and submits it to another computer program that decodes it and adds it to the vote tally.
Cranor’s system also gives people the opportunity to cast what she calls a “contingency” vote. Many backers of Texas billionaire Ross Perot didn’t vote for him in the 1994 presidential election because “they felt that [he] didn’t have a very good chance of winning,” Cranor said in a recent interview with Off the Record, an electronic magazine. “We have no idea how many people actually would have voted for Perot if they felt he was a viable candidate. And it would be nice to be able to somehow capture that [number] to determine whether the winner has a strong mandate or not.”

Democratechs Lead The Way?

Electronic voting, or “E-voting,” systems offer many of the benefits that voting by mail does, supporters say. Not only does E-voting relieve citizens of the burden of having to vote in person, on a specified day, within a limited time period, but it also dramatically lowers costs.
Election Day 1995 cost Boulder approximately $2 a vote, Lewis, the city clerk, said. Campbell estimates that a vote-by- phone system would have cost 25-75 cents a vote the first time it was used, and proportionately less each subsequent time as installation costs were amortized. By comparison, Oregon’s recent vote-by-mail election for the U.S. Senate cost about $1 per vote.
Mail-in voting offers ease and convenience, but E-voting could theoretically give citizens a direct say in their government, supporters say.
In November 1994, Canadian authorities approved the accreditation of the Democratech Party of British Columbia. The party advocates turning all governmental decisions over to the public, to be resolved through electronic referenda.
“Representative government assumes that the people need to elect someone to represent them in a faraway legislative assembly,” the organization announced at its site on the World Wide Web. “But with modern, instantaneous communications, the people can directly make their own decisions, relegating politicians to the scrap heap of history.”
Motivated by the same reasoning, Marc Strassman, a free- lance television producer in Los Angeles, recently launched a “Campaign for Digital Democracy” whose goal was gathering signatures to put an electronic-voting initiative on California’s ballot in November. The initiative would have allowed “any otherwise eligible Californian” to register to vote, sign official petitions and vote through computers, telephones, personal digital assistants, interactive television “and any other device capable of originating and transmitting a secure digital signal.”
In April 1995, in an election that cost the city about $13 per voter, barely 20 percent of Los Angeles’s registered voters turned out for the city’s municipal elections, Strassman said in an interview. Voters all over California cast their ballots on IBM punch cards, “so it’s not like computers aren’t used in voting now,” he said. “I figured, `Let’s just take the power of this technology and move it into the political arena.”‘
Strassman got few signatures for his petition, and the initiative died. He continues to maintain the Web site he established for the campaign, however, in the hope that computer enthusiasts will rally to the cause when E-voting becomes more widely understood. “I still believe it’s a good idea,” he said. “I just don’t think it will happen right now.”

Thanks But No Thanks

Because of the 1993 referendum, Boulder Mayor Durgin, city clerk Lewis and city council member Pomerance have probably done more thinking about electronic voting than almost any other public officials in the United States. And they’re not sure it’s such a good idea.
Lewis fears that computer-based democracy would triple public officials’ workloads, encourage voting abuses and fraud and frustrate the very citizens they’re trying to help. “Where does your priority lie?” she asked. “Do you respond first to the person you’re talking to on the phone, or the person who is standing in your office or to the person who is sending you a request through E-mail?”
Durgin is reluctant to discard any of the strictures of representative democracy for what she calls “this quick, taking- the-pulse-of-the-community kind of thing.”
“There’s this notion that you can simply put out as a quick poll, `Do you favor X, yes or no?’ without understanding all of the complexities and the legal ramifications of whatever X is,” she said. “And then you have the assumption that the decision has to be legally binding. That worries me.”
Pomerance, on the other hand, says that E-voting would be terrific for referenda, where the only decision facing voters is whether they agree with actions the city council plans to take. He also says he feels strongly that “more participation in the political process is a good thing.”
He worries, however, that electronic voting will become an easy out for citizens who don’t want to resolve important issues face-to-face. For example, people here have been warring recently over whether to allow dog owners to take unleashed pets on jogging trails. “I could just see somebody turning that into an initiative and demanding a vote on it, instead of hashing it out at a city council meeting, where it belongs,” he said.
That’s a valid fear, conservative analysts say. “We’re going to have real trouble if we make voting as easy as going to the bathroom,” said Curtis B. Gans, director of the Washington- based Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. “There is something called the communal act of voting that shouldn’t be sacrificed lightly.”
Making voting easier doesn’t automatically lead to increased turnouts, Mason of the Heritage Foundation added. “In the days when people had to walk on foot and ride on horseback to vote, we had a higher turnout than today,” he said.
He also cautions against abandoning the filtering process that traditional government provides. “By electing representatives rather than having direct democracy, you have some level that proposals have to move through,” he said. “And there’s compromise. By discussing issues, and trying to balance competing interests, most of the time you come up with a better solution than if you’d gone to a straight yes/no vote.”
Many of these concerns pale, however — at least in the eyes of some voters — in the face of the immediate consensus electronic voting can generate.
Last December, Princeton University conducted campus-wide student government elections through an electronic-voting system as well as through traditional paper ballots. Eighty percent of the students who were eligible to vote did so, compared with approximately 40 percent in previous elections. Strict verification procedures kept incidents of fraud to zero, said Jared P. Schutz, president of Boulder-based Stardot Consulting, who administered the elections.
“The philosophy of the Internet is that government is not as relevant as it was in the past,” said Schutz, a recent college graduate himself. “In the past you could only talk about direct democracy in a theoretical sense. But now, due to this new technology, people can effectively legislate for themselves.”
A major reworking of the Constitution would have to take place before such self-legislation could become a reality, and that’s not likely to happen any time soon. But as voters become more accustomed to voicing their opinions via computer, the process of seeking public consensus may never be the same.

Related Links On The Internet
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April 20-21, 1996


by Evan Ravitz, director, Voting by Phone Foundation

The October 1994 MacWorld Magazine’s big survey showed the number one capability both citizens and readers want from the ‘Information Highway’ is to “Vote in elections”! These folks need to know that no highway, computer or modem is needed with phone voting! “Televote” technology was developed and used for polling in 1974 for the National Science Foundation by our associate Dr. Vincent Campbell.

State Government News featured us in their October, 1994 issue. Sandia Labs continues to lumber along developing a multi-million-dollar phone voting system for the state of New Mexico. These are the people who developed nuclear weapons for the Pentagon. $600 hammers, anyone? Systems from our friends Omni Software are available for $1000 and up, about $13,000 for a city the size of Boulder (100,000 people). This is in line with the NSF study. A single Boulder election now costs $60,000!

The September 26, 1994 TIME excerpts famed Republican analyst (and Nixon speechwriter) Kevin Phillips’ “Arrogant Capital: Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustration of American Politics”. He supports more `direct democracy’. When leading Republicans advocate what our opponents in the ’93 campaign called “true democracy”, can Democrats be far behind? The people are way ahead: polls for years show 80% of us want true democracy.

CU Law Professor K.K. DuVivier is publishing her paper: “By Going Wrong All Things Come Right: Using Alternative Initiatives To Improve Citizen Lawmaking” in which the Dr. writes: “The major benefit of the alternate initi ative is that it wrests this agenda control away from a single interest group.” How to get more alternatives? Lower initiative petition requirements, we think! Increased use of the initiative can be accommodated inexpensively by quarterly or monthly phone voting.