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Voting and elections. When you first think of election “technology,” you probably picture curtained booths with mechanical levers, or paper ballots and pencils.
If that’s what first comes to mind, keep thinking because in this last U.S. Presidential election, 10 states demonstrated real technical modernization. Innovative election commissions in more than 10 states and counties used Windows Azure in the 2012 Presidential Election to support worldwide voter enablement, election administration, or reporting. Here’s a quick walk-through of these three solutions:
Voter Enablement The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Voting Information Project was one of the largest and most successful adopters of Windows Azure during the 2012 election cycle. A couple of years ago, Pew recognized that there was a surprisingly simple reason so many people weren’t voting: they didn’t know where their polling places were.
As a result, Pew established the Voting Information Project (VIP). Microsoft joined the project and contributed the Polling Place Locator tool, a Windows Azure application, with mapping technology powered by Bing Maps. A voter simply enters the address at which he or she is registered to vote and the tool returns the closest polling place and, where available, it also lists voter registration deadlines, names of candidates and initiatives, as well as contact details for state or local election officials. For the 2012 Presidential Election, the tool powered location widgets on Facebook, MSN, Bing, and hundreds of other websites. On the three days up to and including Election Day, the tool fielded 3.2 million page views and 21,000 concurrent views with 100% uptime.
Overseas Ballot Distribution and Tracking Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens—including many in military service—are outside of the United States on Election Day. They need more than just voter information, they need ballots and a way to return them to their local elections office and confirm their receipt. The traditional solution—reliance on sometimes unreliable worldwide postal services—too often returned overseas ballots too late to be counted. Democracy Live teamed with Microsoft and used Windows Azure to provide a better answer
The result is LiveBallot, which election agencies can use to provide information and ballot-related services to military personnel, overseas civilians, and local voters with disabilities that prevent them from physically visiting polling places. When voters log into their state election websites, their identities are verified, and qualified voters are routed to the LiveBallot service. LiveBallot provides information customized by each commission, and a specific ballot for each voter. LiveBallot can also provide ballot-filing and tracking services.
Democracy Live used Windows Azure for the platform’s ability to handle traffic spikes, and generally provide a secure and reliable processing environment. Last November, US voters in more than 80 countries on all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica!) received ballots through LiveBallot. These voters represented many counties in California, Florida, and Washington, plus all counties in Virginia.
Election Night Reporting Perhaps the most challenging election-related workload is election-night reporting. The demand is highly elastic—virtually zero for 364 days a year, then a massive spike on Election Day, when individuals and news media worldwide hit state websites for up-to-the-minute information.
Windows Azure was made for such a challenge—and BPro Inc., an IT consulting company, took full advantage of it for the company’s Central Election Night Reporting System (CENRS). BPro developed a hybrid solution, with its own, on-premise servers connecting to 1,500 instances of Windows Azure and Windows Azure SQL Database. CENRS served millions of pages on Election Day 2012, serving South Dakota, Vermont, Nebraska, Virginia, and counties in other states. In addition, Microsoft partner PCC Technology Group provided Azure-based election night reporting for Connecticut, and Microsoft worked directly with Florida and Louisiana to support their custom election night reporting solutions on Windows Azure.
There’s a technology evolution underway that’s strengthening the democratic process at the core of United States government. Together with our customers and partners, we’re proud to be part of it.
Bill Hilf General ManagerWindows Azure