Much as I admire everybody at the New York Times, I have to disagree with Nick Bilton on his piece Disruptions: Casting a Ballot by Smartphone. I have to say I don’t blame him though, especially given the broad range of coverage of the many many kinds election dysfunction that occured and are still occuring now during state canvassing. Just to take a few examples:

But even leaving aside the plethora of discouraging news on election technology, I can also see why Bilton would find it ironic to look at all those long lines of people waiting to vote, and in the meantime using their smart phones to do an enormous range of important things – you’ve just got think

Can’t those smart phones do something useful with all this election mess?

My answer is a resounding “YES!!!” — but not for Internet voting. I won’t bore longtime readers with the details of why Bilton’s comparison with Estonian i-voting is not apt (you can read it in back issues here, or in comments posted on Bilton’s blog). But something else that works right now — and which we helped build — really would work to cut down those long lines a bit, at least in Virginia, plus other states that can freely adopt the open source system. (If you want details on how that works, just ask!)

Here is the situation … Think about all those voters who waited in line for a long time, only to find out that they were in the wrong polling place, or were listed (sometimes incorrectly) as an absentee voter not eligible to vote in person, or … any number of reasons why people had to vote provisionally this year in unusually large numbers. Part of that phenom was (I guess) just that after waiting hours in line, people just said, dang it, I am going to vote here and now, even provisionally, rather than spend more time trying figure out what’s going on.

Who can blame them? Now, I hear some of the experts saying that fancy new e-pollbooks could help, with poll workers working the line before people get to the front, in order to look them up and identify any issues earlier. Good idea! And indeed, low-cost tablet-based e-pollbooks are part of TrustTheVote’s plan for election tech build-out. But with an 8 hour long line, and maybe a couple poll workers not needed inside to polling place, that’s not going to go far. We can go one better.

Here how it works … If you arrived at polling place to find a long line, and a stream of people coming out complaining that they were weren’t on the voting rolls, you could have whipped out your smart phone, gone to https://www.vote.virginia.gov/search (powered by OSDV!), entered your voter ID info, and determined whether you were in the right place, and whether your were eligible to vote. Heck, you could have done that days before the election, and maybe found out that you did have a voter records issue, and how to deal with it, even before getting in any line. When you’ve got a handful of poll-workers and many hundreds of people waiting, do-it-yourself voter lookup works a lot better.

Of course, the new Virginia Voter Services Portal is just getting started, with more features going live for the January elections, and we hope even more after that — including mobile-centric features. If you have a idea for that, please share it with us!

— EJS