Quest for Electoral Innovation Leads to Online Voting for Emmys

8/25/14Follow @bvbigelow

Lori Steele-Contorer says she was attending a United Nations conference on technology with the likes of Bill Gates and Carly Fiorina in October 2003, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was first elected as governor of California in a special recall election.

At that time, Steele-Contorer was at Solomon Smith Barney, managing a $200 million portfolio of technology companies. She says it was her job to evaluate transformative technologies, as well as the companies leading such change.

At the U.N. conference, “Everyone was talking about the election,” she wrote in April for the Strategic News Service technology newsletter. But all Steele-Contorer could think about was the backward state of U.S. election technology and the infamous presidential election of 2000. “Regardless of which side of that election one was on,” she wrote, “how was it possible that most of the world questioned the process that elected the president of the United States? Hanging chads? Butterfly ballots? Really? This was the ‘state-of-the-art’ technology relied upon to elect the leader of the free world?”

It was an “Aha!” moment for Steele-Contorer, the CEO of Everyone Counts, a San Diego software company she founded to bring innovation to the electoral process.

“It was also clear to me that some of the elements of voting were very similar to many other mission-critical business processes: banking, commerce, aerospace,” she wrote. They all require authentication, data integrity and protection, secure data transmission, data integration, transparency and auditability, and customer service.

As she set out to research the issue, Steele-Contorer says she found a $31 billion industry that was dominated by hidebound hardware manufacturers. Even after Congress provided $3.9 billion for states to invest in new voting technologies following the debacle of the Bush vs. Gore presidential election, she said the voting machines that most election officials ended up buying were based on decades-old technology “developed way prior to Windows XP.”

A key problem with conventional “black-box” voting machines that insist on keeping their vote-counting code secret was highlighted in mid-2003 by Walden W. O’Dell, a prominent Ohio Republican who also was the chairman and CEO of Diebold, an ATM maker that is also one of the biggest election machine manufacturers. Oblivious to any conflict-of-interest concerns, O’Dell declared in fundraising letters that he was committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for President Bush in 2004. (Diebold sold its voting machine business in 2009 to Election Systems & Software (ES&S) of Omaha, NE.)

It was a big problem, and Steele-Contorer decided to fix it herself. She acquired a company in Melbourne, Australia, with the kind of technology she needed to bring a state-of-the-art approach (already proven in other industries) to the voting process. She established Everyone Counts in San Diego in 2004 to provide secure, software-as-a-service (SaaS) voting systems that eliminate the need for antiquated, purpose-built voting machines and error-prone paper-based ballots.

The SaaS model allows Everyone Counts to continually update its … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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