Here’s an interesting milestone for Microsoft Surface: One of the tablets is being tested in Virginia this week as a balloting device for state and national elections there.

The test is being conducted by Democracy Live, a company based in Issaquah, Wash., that works with Virginia and other states to deliver electronic ballots and voter information. Democracy Live uses Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud-based platform, and the Surface is running the company’s “LiveBallot” application through the browser.

The web app lets the voter use the Surface to access, mark, and print a ballot for tabulation by a separate machine.

For now it’s just one Surface in one precinct in Charlottesville, Va. However, Democracy Live CEO Bryan Finney says the company plans to work with Microsoft on a broader rollout of Surfaces following the upcoming release Surface for Windows 8 Pro, which will run legacy Windows applications on traditional Intel processors. (The current Surface for Windows RT runs on an ARM processor, so it doesn’t support legacy apps.)

The idea with the Virginia test is to get feedback in advance of that broader rollout. Many balloting computers are older machines running Intel 486-era processors, so the Surface has been in high demand in the precinct so far, Finney says.

Advantages include Windows 8’s built-in screen-reading functionality, plus USB support to enable sip-and-puff input devices for people with disabilities.

Update, Tuesday: Just to clarify, the key word here is that the Surface is being tested as a balloting device. It will still need to go through approvals for actual voting. Here’s a follow-up statement from Democracy Live …

“The LiveBallot deployment on the Microsoft Surface tablet is an exciting pilot test and an opportunity for voters to experience the next generation of voting technologies firsthand. The Surface is not being used for actual voting in Charlottesville. We will continue with another round of testing when the Surface Windows 8 Pro is released and we can fully deploy our LiveBallot technology. We look forward to continuing our work with Microsoft and deploying technologies that make voting more accessible for all Americans.”

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  • Guest

    Very cool! Six hundred dollars might seem like a lot for a voting machine, but most of the machines being bought (from companies that Willard Mitt Romney owns!) cost many times as much. We should be able to vote with anything that can run a web browser, not a specialized bit of hardware that only a few companies can make.

  • Jason Gerard Clauss

    In other news, Bill Gates has somehow received 13 electoral votes already.

  • SimVooo

    I think that whole Surface thing is silly dude.

  • mikeschr

    iPads are also used for some voting here in Oregon. This is a really good option for disabled/homebound people, although we have vote-by-mail here too.

    • rongraves

      We have postal voting here in the UK too, but it’s utterly useless for people, like me, who are housebound.

      It’s high time we had online voting – if secure shopping and banking are possible, why is voting apparently too difficult?

      It is, as I explain here

      perfectly feasible and less fraud-prone than postal voting.

      • Christopher Budd

        Shopping and banking aren’t secure. Not really. It’s just that the rate of fraud and loss is judged generally acceptable to tolerate.

        If you took the rates of successful fraud and tampering in online banking and commerce and transfered it to elections you’d have a system that you can’t beging to imagine in terms of fraud and its impact on government.

        Trust me when I say you don’t want to see the security problems I see everyday in online banking and commerce in elections. I barely trust the internet to buy books off of it, I don’t want it to underpin how people with the power of life and death over us are chosen.

        • mikeschr

          The iPads used here aren’t connected to the internet, The ballots are still printed in the end. It’s just to help disabled people who have trouble marking the ballot.

  • Mike_Acker

    using computer for voting should be ILLEGAL

    they are too easy to hack

  • Christopher Budd

    As someone with a security background (and yes, worked at Microsoft) let me go on record as saying I am absolutely, categorically opposed to all electronic (and mechanical) voting.

    The complexity of electronic systems and their inherently closed nature (even when using open source software) makes them ideal for sophisticated (and unsophisticated) tampering and fraud.

    You have to assume that any voting system is going to be subject to fraud and tampering, so the voting system should be as open for review and verification as possible. A system of paper ballots with broad oversight and checks fits that bill far better than any electronic (or mechanical) system.

    • MarianGB

      I totally agree with Christopher. No internet voting, period, if the People still want to have any semblance of a democracy. The “administrator” of a computer system has the power to change the software, thus to determine the outcome of the election. And since internet communications is tracked by the identity of the sender, the privacy of the votes is totally lost. (Don’t try the old “encrypted” line – can that be decrypted?)
      I don’t have quite the credentials that Christopher does, but I have been writing computer programs since about 1966, including in “machine language” and Assembler.
      My own county (encouraged by a citizens’ voting integrity group) uses VBM, with the paper ballots read and tallied by a central OpScan system , and random-samples hand-counted on the fly, to be watchful over the accuracy of the scanner-machine tally.

      • Christopher Budd

        Exactly. All modern commercial operating systems have (of necessity) some user account with total access that enables you to alter the system AND the logging and verification on it.

        The trust model that underpins computer operating systems is inherently too lax and permissive for something as critical as elections. The genius of the American system is that’s its built on distrust and so has checks and balances in place. You don’t have that with operating systems.

  • HalFonts

    Paper-based, we are successfully using the Internet to DELIVER ballot images for printing in remote locations (Military, Govt, ExPats over-seas). The locally printed “ballot” is then filled out and the oath signed by the Voter. It may be FAXED (or scanned and emailed) back to the US Elections Office — where it is printed AND MUST still pass normal mailed or deposited-ballot signature/ID manual checks.

    Using normal “Duplication Procedures” the votes are transferred (and verified) onto a regular machine-readable ballot, and processed normally. It is NOT Internet Electronic Voting, simply electronic delivery from remote sites. I remain “adamantly opposed to” any direct Internet voting — given the abominable respect for truth and accountability in the political arena.

    All that said, direct Internet Voting is coming and we must be prepared to do it right or NOT AT ALL.

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