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Are ballots in the cloud the first step to online voting?

In a society driven by technology, one aspect of American life has elected to stay in the past – voting.

DemocracyLive, an Issaquah, Wash.-based technology firm, is using cloud computing to change that by making ballots more accessible – especially for disabled and military voters.

DemocracyLive offers an online service called LiveBallot that gives voters access to an interactive ballot that allows them to hear directly from candidates. Users rolling over a candidate’s name on the online ballot will be able to see and hear messages, delivered by the candidates, and view other information about them.

“The content is typically drawn from the candidates themselves,” DemocracyLive CEO Bryan Finney said.  “The candidate is speaking directly to the voter about why they’re running and what they’ll do.”

Finney is quick to note that LiveBallot is just information, not tabulation. No voting is done online, but the ballot can be printed out and mailed in as an absentee in some states.

LiveBallot was recently used in the Florida primary, enabling 1,200 votes to come in from disabled, military and overseas populations. It is also being used in California and Virginia among others, and it is available to all states that choose to use it.

Two years ago, Finney led a migration of DemocracyLive into the cloud, choosing Windows Azure.

“The value of that has really been a combination of both technological and from a business development perspective,” Finney said. “The Microsoft cloud has the ability to scale and the proven stability and security that are so important in this environment of elections.”

Finney said scalability was critical in elections. He said his servers will often go months with no activity and then see an immediate spike around elections. He said he went with Microsoft over competitors because they are more proven in the government space and because they have representatives in every state capital.

He added that the move to the cloud saved DemocracyLive an estimated 50% on its IT budget, crucial because it is funded by taxpayer dollars through a grant with the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.

While he believes that America is not currently ready, “politically or technologically,” for online voting, Finney hopes that DemocracyLive will grow to fill that role over time.

“I think over time, the Facebook generation of voters will demand another paradigm when it comes to accessing their ballot,” he said.

— By Adam Riglian

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