If the words “hanging chad” still send a shiver down your spine — particularly as Florida remains a make-or-break state in this presidential election — Larry Moore is hoping his system of scanning oval ballot bubbles will remove any ambiguity from the vote-counting on Tuesday.
Moore is chief executive of Boston-based Clear Ballot, whose technology promises greater accuracy — along with tabulated vote totals that can be shared more quickly with officials, candidates, and voters. It will be used in Florida and several other states Tuesday.
Moore was a senior vice president at Lotus before turning his attention to elections in 2009. “These election officials are living in a technological backwater,” he said. “They’re using antiquated systems that were purchased more than 12 years ago based on 10-year-old designs.”
Most paper ballots cast in this country are placed in electronic scanners to be counted. But the scanning can be problematic when people fail to correctly fill out the small oval bubble indicating who they want to vote for. In a close race, election officials examine each paper ballot by hand to ensure they have the correct vote count.
Clear Ballot’s software works with the commonly used ballot scanning systems, adding a digital layer that uses optical scanners and Clear Ballot’s software to capture an image of each oval bubble that’s been filled in. Within those images, the company can help find votes that have been improperly marked — if the voter checked the bubble, perhaps, instead of completely filling it in.
Thus, the Clear Ballot system can help determine the intent of the voter, avoiding the frustrating and time-consuming manual examinations that followed the 2000 Florida election.
Any problem ovals are arranged so they can be easily found. “That’s where all the fighting is done in a recount,” Moore said. “We’ve applied modern imaging technology to the problem of delivering transparency in elections.”
On Election Day, the system will be used in several states to both tally and audit results.
In Oregon, where all residents cast their votes by mail, Clear Ballot designed the mail-in ballots, which will be scanned to tabulate the results in more than half of the state, including two of its largest counties.
And in Florida, Vermont, New York, and Maryland, election officials will be using Clear Ballot to selectively audit votes a few days after they’ve been cast, creating a digital snapshot of the vote count to check against the actual Election Day tallies
“Our office has been using Clear Ballot for the past three years, and we are pleased with the product,” said Tonya Edwards, the voter education coordinator for Broward County in Florida. Election officials in Maryland and several counties in Florida are planning to post election result databases generated by Clear Ballot online for public review.
Moore said his system offers a level of accountability that has not been seen in voting technology, and he hopes the company will be able to expand into other states next year.
“Precision is what you really need to resolve the closest of elections, and our system is as precise as it gets,” he said. “We’ve had two counties and two elections bring in the losing candidate and show them that they fairly lost. And though they could command a recount none of them did.”