April 7, 2009

They'll Be Voting From Starbucks In New York City

IMAGINE VOTING from your neighborhood Starbucks during a run for your afternoon caffeine fix?

In New York City, some of the million school parents might do just that as yesterday marked the beginning of an American experiment in democracy. New York City's Department of Education is conducting what some election officials are calling the first "exclusively" online public election in the United States.

Starting April 6th and running through April 12th, NYC's, public school parents will be eligible to cast advisory votes for members of their community education councils. The unpaid council members play a role in various operational issues and help schools develop their budgets.

A private company, Election-America is providing the technical expertise that will allow parents to cast a vote on a secure web site in their pajamas from home or from anywhere there is a computer connected to the Internet. The election site, Power To The Parents, offers nine languages and the voting process involves entering a child's school identification number, a zip code and then clicking your way through the ballot.

The cost is of this election is estimated at around $500,000 which turns out to be less than half the cost of the most recent election in 2007.

One of the things that makes this election cheaper is that the entire election process is being handled online. While the rest of New York continues to use antiquated lever voting machines (which they love), this election is "online" from end to end. The candidate filing was done online, parents vote online and results will be distributed online.

The New York Times reports that in 1999, the last time there were regular direct elections for the old style school boards (abolished by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg), 95 percent of eligible parents did not vote.

Maybe giving parents the ability to vote from Starbucks will actually increase participation?

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