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The Costs of an Online Voting System

by Matt Metzner, published

A new online voting system in any state, and even more so nationally, could be prohibitively expensive if constructed poorly. There are several areas where municipalities have found an online voting system to be a sound investment as their costs decrease rapidly over the course of a few election cycles.

The initial costs of conducting an online election can be relatively high. Many online election developers will charge a fee to a contracting entity calculated by voters using the service. This practice could dissuade states and municipalities from hosting an online ballot or attempting to open it to all voters. Some voting blocs would be more likely to use an online ballot, including the disabled, current absentee voters, and young voters. Although paper ballots and physical polling places create large costs for the states, both in primary and general elections, the cost will be an initial point of contention for opponents.

Regardless of any arguments there is potential for savings by implementing online elections. In a municipal election, the city of Honolulu saved over $100,000 by allowing registered voters to participate online. One of their major cost-savers was the simplicity of counting ballots. When an election is held online, it takes minutes for results to be calculated instead of days. This election also increased voter turnout and provided local officials with a means for certifying votes and identifying voter fraud.

As stated previously in this series, an online voting system should be phased in over several elections. Aside from the implementation and increased usage arguments, a gradual phase-in allows election officials to evaluate the costs and make adjustments between elections.

Eventually, some states or municipalities could theoretically cut printing and counting costs largely out of their election budgets, saving them money and making the election process move quicker. The cost effective nature of online voting can also serve as an incentive for election holders to encourage more voters to participate.

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