Microsoft Tablet Makes Election Debut

A Virginia city’s primary will mark a milestone for Surface Pro.

More than two and a quarter centuries after Charlottesville, Va. played a major role in the American Revolutionary War, the historic city of 44,000 will hold a primary election that itself is revolutionary.

Virginia Ballot on Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet

The Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, pictured with a sample ballot, will be used for election purposes for reportedly the first time in June by the city of Charlottesville, Va.

For the first time, a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet will be used to cast votes when citizens elect state and local candidates on June 11, according to municipal officials. The Intel-powered Surface Pro is planned to be used in two precincts. Up until this week, a special election in April was marked for the milestone, but the city has decided that the promise of a better turnout for a primary would provide officials with the proper amount of data and feedback if they are to move forward on a grand scale.

If everything works to the liking of Sheri Iachetta, Charlottesville’s general registrar, the Surface Pros will be on track for citywide deployment as early as the general election in November.

Full deployment doesn’t mean Charlottesville’s 30,000 registered voters across nine precincts will mark ballots exclusively on a Surface Pro, however. Two tablets per precinct is what she envisions starting in the fall, and in polling places they would be used alongside six to eight of the existing 11-year-old eSlate voting machines. The department owns 90 of these machines, or as Iachetta calls them, “50-pound anchors, which I do love.”

The eSlate units, from Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas, are what the voting industry calls Direct Record Electronic machines that can record, tabulate, consolidate and report results from stored voting data. The Surface Pros deployed for the primary election won’t have such capabilities; they will be used to access, mark and print ballots via touchscreen for tabulation by a separate machine. The units will run the LiveBallot Web app from Democracy Live, the Washington-based company that approached Charlottesville for the pilot. Democracy Live is supplying the Surface Pros through a partnership with Microsoft.

Tablets for Disabled Voters

Sip and puff device attached to eSlate electronic voting machine

Aiding voters who have no use of their hands is a sip-and-puff device that is attached to eSlate voting machine. Photo: Jonathan Van Dyke, Gazette Newspapers

People with disabilities will have more features at their disposal with the new devices, including built-in screen-reading functionality and a USB port for keyboards, mice, headphones and sip-and-puff devices for people who have no use of their hands.

Use of USB peripherals is critical as Bluetooth technology is banned in many jurisdictions as a security measure, according to Jackie Harris of Democracy Live.

“The ability to use a cord is beneficial to administrators. Wi-Fi is actually a disadvantage over good, old-fashioned USB,” said Harris, serving as the city’s voter outreach coordinator.

Bluetooth was how the sip-and-puff device was connected to iPads for a special election held in November 2011 in Oregon, the first state in the country to use the Apple tablets for disabled voters. The trial was deemed so successful by Kate Brown, Oregon’s secretary of state, that iPads were used for voters with disabilities in subsequent elections.

The software used by Oregon was developed by San Diego-based Everyone Counts, a competing platform to Democracy Live. Both systems are currently being considered for a mock test in June by the Marin County Elections Department north of San Francisco, according to Melvin Briones, assistant registrar of voters.For Charlottesville, having a second voting device that weighs about 2 pounds is expected to improve how the city implements a state law that benefits those with disabilities who prefer casting their ballot in person instead of by absentee.

“What’s unique to Virginia is the right to request that a ballot be brought curbside, to your car,” Harris said. “The Microsoft Surface Pro is very light and portable, and allows for flexibility. Before, a 50-pound unit would be lugged out.”

Sheri Iachetta Charlottesville Va general registrar with Surface Pro tablet

Sheri Iachetta, general registrar for Charlottesville, Va., tests out a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet that will be used in the June primary election.

This law, and the promise of an additional dynamic to evaluate, factored in the selection of one of the two pilot locations.

“We have a precinct with a large concentration of voters with differing abilities,” Iachetta said, noting that residents of group homes are among the boundary’s 4,188 registered voters in addition to those living near a non-profit operation that provides for people with disabilities. “We want to ensure that everyone has a fair and equal chance to access.”

Donna May, rehabilitation manager of WorkSource Enterprises, which provides job training and employment opportunities to people with disabilities, applauds the addition of a tablet as a voting device for clients who reside near the facility.

“We like to see people be as independent as possible and participate in as many activities as they can,” May said. “Voting is certainly an important one. It’s a privilege that can become a barrier for people in different ways.”

Bringing Charlottesville to the Surface

Removing technical and political barriers is what Democracy Live is hoping to achieve through its trial rollout of the Surface Pro in Charlottesville, a city with a history of voter innovation in addition to its claims of being home to three U.S. presidents and site of a prison during the American Revolution.

Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machine

The Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machine has been in use for over a decade in many jurisdictions across the United States. Photo: John Anderson, Austin Chronicle

Prior to implementing the new eSlate voting system in 2002, the city’s voter registration department was a beta tester for the Hart machines that would replace punch card balloting. The gentleman who sold Iachetta the system was Bryan Finney, now founder and president of Democracy Live.

“Bryan knows Charlottesville is very progressive and interested in new products,” said Iachetta, a Charlottesville native in her 14th year in the job. “I love beta testing. When you don’t beta test you remain stagnant.”

Said Finney: “Sheri is spearheading this whole national movement toward tablet-based balloting. We can always count on Sheri and Charlottesville to keep pushing progress forward for tools for our democracy.”

Iachetta’s confidence in the Surface’s performance this June stems from a successful beta trial conducted last November when the previous-generation Windows RT model was tested by election staff. The city and Democracy Live did not use the tablets for actual election use, however, as the software requires that devices run on Windows 8; Windows RT, running on an ARM processor, does not.

“We had a unit set up in the office with my ballot on it and asked people to go through the process,” Iachetta said. “It was completely stand-alone, not attached to anything, and it wasn’t even on election day. Oh my gosh, they loved it. And what’s really cool is these are the same Surface Pros you can buy off the shelf, so we can use the tablets for elections and other official business year-round and every few years sell them back to schools so we can have the latest models for our voters and the department.”

Because many balloting computers in the United States run on Intel 486-era processors, the release of the Surface Pro running on Windows 8 allows Democracy Live to cast a wider net for its LiveBallot app, which is hosted in the Microsoft cloud to deliver electronic ballots and balloting information “virtually anywhere, anytime on any platform,” according to Finney.

Before any new system is fully implemented in Charlottesville, approval must first be given by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlaws voting discrimination.

“I don’t see anything being a particular challenge,” said Harris, former general registrar of Albemarle County, which surrounds Charlottesville. “We will move cautiously to make sure we meet the requirements.”

Fingers are being crossed all the way to the commonwealth’s capitol in Richmond that they do.

“Not only are we excited about it, but so is the state for being one of the first in the country to use a tablet for elections,” Iachetta said. “The Virginia State Board of Elections wants to see this move forward.”

If all goes well for Iachetta and her team in the June primary, the top vote-getters won’t be the only winners on election night in Charlottesville.

Microsoft Tablet Makes Election Debut

A Virginia city’s primary will mark a milestone for Surface Pro.

More than two and a quarter centuries after Charlottesville, Va. played a major role in the American Revolutionary War, the historic city of 44,000 will hold a primary election that itself is revolutionary.

Virginia Ballot on Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet

The Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, pictured with a sample ballot, will be used for election purposes for reportedly the first time in June by the city of Charlottesville, Va.

For the first time, a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet will be used to cast votes when citizens elect state and local candidates on June 11, according to municipal officials. The Intel-powered Surface Pro is planned to be used in two precincts. Up until this week, a special election in April was marked for the milestone, but the city has decided that the promise of a better turnout for a primary would provide officials with the proper amount of data and feedback if they are to move forward on a grand scale.

If everything works to the liking of Sheri Iachetta, Charlottesville’s general registrar, the Surface Pros will be on track for citywide deployment as early as the general election in November.

Full deployment doesn’t mean Charlottesville’s 30,000 registered voters across nine precincts will mark ballots exclusively on a Surface Pro, however. Two tablets per precinct is what she envisions starting in the fall, and in polling places they would be used alongside six to eight of the existing 11-year-old eSlate voting machines. The department owns 90 of these machines, or as Iachetta calls them, “50-pound anchors, which I do love.”

The eSlate units, from Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas, are what the voting industry calls Direct Record Electronic machines that can record, tabulate, consolidate and report results from stored voting data. The Surface Pros deployed for the primary election won’t have such capabilities; they will be used to access, mark and print ballots via touchscreen for tabulation by a separate machine. The units will run the LiveBallot Web app from Democracy Live, the Washington-based company that approached Charlottesville for the pilot. Democracy Live is supplying the Surface Pros through a partnership with Microsoft.

Tablets for Disabled Voters

Sip and puff device attached to eSlate electronic voting machine

Aiding voters who have no use of their hands is a sip-and-puff device that is attached to eSlate voting machine. Photo: Jonathan Van Dyke, Gazette Newspapers

People with disabilities will have more features at their disposal with the new devices, including built-in screen-reading functionality and a USB port for keyboards, mice, headphones and sip-and-puff devices for people who have no use of their hands.

Use of USB peripherals is critical as Bluetooth technology is banned in many jurisdictions as a security measure, according to Jackie Harris of Democracy Live.

“The ability to use a cord is beneficial to administrators. Wi-Fi is actually a disadvantage over good, old-fashioned USB,” said Harris, serving as the city’s voter outreach coordinator.

Bluetooth was how the sip-and-puff device was connected to iPads for a special election held in November 2011 in Oregon, the first state in the country to use the Apple tablets for disabled voters. The trial was deemed so successful by Kate Brown, Oregon’s secretary of state, that iPads were used for voters with disabilities in subsequent elections.

The software used by Oregon was developed by San Diego-based Everyone Counts, a competing platform to Democracy Live. Both systems are currently being considered for a mock test in June by the Marin County Elections Department north of San Francisco, according to Melvin Briones, assistant registrar of voters.For Charlottesville, having a second voting device that weighs about 2 pounds is expected to improve how the city implements a state law that benefits those with disabilities who prefer casting their ballot in person instead of by absentee.

“What’s unique to Virginia is the right to request that a ballot be brought curbside, to your car,” Harris said. “The Microsoft Surface Pro is very light and portable, and allows for flexibility. Before, a 50-pound unit would be lugged out.”

Sheri Iachetta Charlottesville Va general registrar with Surface Pro tablet

Sheri Iachetta, general registrar for Charlottesville, Va., tests out a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet that will be used in the June primary election.

This law, and the promise of an additional dynamic to evaluate, factored in the selection of one of the two pilot locations.

“We have a precinct with a large concentration of voters with differing abilities,” Iachetta said, noting that residents of group homes are among the boundary’s 4,188 registered voters in addition to those living near a non-profit operation that provides for people with disabilities. “We want to ensure that everyone has a fair and equal chance to access.”

Donna May, rehabilitation manager of WorkSource Enterprises, which provides job training and employment opportunities to people with disabilities, applauds the addition of a tablet as a voting device for clients who reside near the facility.

“We like to see people be as independent as possible and participate in as many activities as they can,” May said. “Voting is certainly an important one. It’s a privilege that can become a barrier for people in different ways.”

Bringing Charlottesville to the Surface

Removing technical and political barriers is what Democracy Live is hoping to achieve through its trial rollout of the Surface Pro in Charlottesville, a city with a history of voter innovation in addition to its claims of being home to three U.S. presidents and site of a prison during the American Revolution.

Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machine

The Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machine has been in use for over a decade in many jurisdictions across the United States. Photo: John Anderson, Austin Chronicle

Prior to implementing the new eSlate voting system in 2002, the city’s voter registration department was a beta tester for the Hart machines that would replace punch card balloting. The gentleman who sold Iachetta the system was Bryan Finney, now founder and president of Democracy Live.

“Bryan knows Charlottesville is very progressive and interested in new products,” said Iachetta, a Charlottesville native in her 14th year in the job. “I love beta testing. When you don’t beta test you remain stagnant.”

Said Finney: “Sheri is spearheading this whole national movement toward tablet-based balloting. We can always count on Sheri and Charlottesville to keep pushing progress forward for tools for our democracy.”

Iachetta’s confidence in the Surface’s performance this June stems from a successful beta trial conducted last November when the previous-generation Windows RT model was tested by election staff. The city and Democracy Live did not use the tablets for actual election use, however, as the software requires that devices run on Windows 8; Windows RT, running on an ARM processor, does not.

“We had a unit set up in the office with my ballot on it and asked people to go through the process,” Iachetta said. “It was completely stand-alone, not attached to anything, and it wasn’t even on election day. Oh my gosh, they loved it. And what’s really cool is these are the same Surface Pros you can buy off the shelf, so we can use the tablets for elections and other official business year-round and every few years sell them back to schools so we can have the latest models for our voters and the department.”

Because many balloting computers in the United States run on Intel 486-era processors, the release of the Surface Pro running on Windows 8 allows Democracy Live to cast a wider net for its LiveBallot app, which is hosted in the Microsoft cloud to deliver electronic ballots and balloting information “virtually anywhere, anytime on any platform,” according to Finney.

Before any new system is fully implemented in Charlottesville, approval must first be given by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlaws voting discrimination.

“I don’t see anything being a particular challenge,” said Harris, former general registrar of Albemarle County, which surrounds Charlottesville. “We will move cautiously to make sure we meet the requirements.”

Fingers are being crossed all the way to the commonwealth’s capitol in Richmond that they do.

“Not only are we excited about it, but so is the state for being one of the first in the country to use a tablet for elections,” Iachetta said. “The Virginia State Board of Elections wants to see this move forward.”

If all goes well for Iachetta and her team in the June primary, the top vote-getters won’t be the only winners on election night in Charlottesville.