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."

Return to Voting by Phone home page