The city is looking to let some people vote through the Internet in the next election as it replaces the voting system that’s served since the 1997 municipal election. The existing machines, made by Diebold, were built to last 15 years, according to tender documents the city posted this week, and since 15 years are up, it’s time to buy or rent new ones. The city has published a “request for qualifications,” aiming to make a shortlist of bidders who will then fight it out in a second competition for city business. The new gear is supposed to be ready for 2014 and the city anticipates using it in any subsequent byelections and probably again in 2018.
The city wants to maintain that basic system with updated technology, and also to add the potential for Internet voting, in limited circumstances: “If used, an Internet voting solution would be used for an early advance vote process,” the tender documents say. The counting machines should also be able to deal with mail-in ballots, and the city is interested in machines that can send in their tallies not just through physical network cables, as the old machines can, but also through digital and analog phone lines and over secure wireless connections. It takes about 350 tabulation machines to do the counting in all the city’s polling places, according to the city’s documents, though it wants to have 400 available in 2014.
One basic requirement is that the voting machines have to work with paper ballots, like the existing machines. In other jurisdictions, particularly in the United States, elections officials have (controversially) chosen machines that only work electronically, with voters making their choices on screens and the count happening completely invisibly. If there’s no paper trail, it’s impossible to have a recount, but the city seems keen to avoid that problem.