Clear Ballot Out to Reinvent Voting Tech, One Oval at a Time

Here we are in 2016, a big U.S. election year, and yet voting technology is effectively still stuck in Bush v. Gore territory. In the early 2000s, there was a push to update decrepit systems used at the polls, but since then—basically nada.

A number of tech companies are trying to do something about that. Among them is an under-the-radar Boston startup called Clear Ballot. The company today is rolling out a new precinct voting system that it says addresses the “worldwide problem of building trust in electoral outcomes.”

In short, the company believes it can figure out voter intent—and document it—more accurately and efficiently than existing systems. That means when it comes time for recounts and analysis of hanging chads or partially filled ovals, Clear Ballot should have the data and capabilities to resolve any disputes in a fast and transparent way.

Clear Ballot's ClearCast voting product

The new product, called ClearCast (pictured), scans and tabulates results from paper ballots and stores the ballots in a detachable and collapsible box. The system makes use of off-the-shelf hardware components and Intel’s NUC mini-PC. (Again, this is for polling locations with paper ballots, not for online voting.)

A key bit of processing happens under the hood: Clear Ballot’s software takes the digital images of the ballots and consolidates them into a visual reporting tool for election officials. More specifically, the system stores every oval from every ballot—linking them together so ballots can be examined manually and checked for consistency of markings. The software shows how each oval was counted (see image of ambiguously marked ovals below), and the data is stored on a county-level secure network.

Vote Visualization (image: Clear Ballot)

Clear Ballot’s technologies—including reporting tools and ballot-design software—have been tested in counties in Colorado, Oregon, New York, California, Vermont, and Florida. The challenge now is signing up more counties in more states as paying customers.

The company was founded in 2009 and is led by CEO Larry Moore, a software veteran who helped lead Lotus Notes in a previous life. Moore is a three-time CEO who also worked at radio-frequency identification (RFID) companies ThingMagic and Tego.

Clear Ballot has grown to 30 employees. The company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors including Steve Papa, the former CEO of Endeca; Jonathan Bush, CEO of Athenahealth; Bob White, co-founder of Bain Capital; Bill Sahlman of Harvard Business School; and Silicon Valley Bank. Clear Ballot is currently fundraising, says Hillary Lincoln, the company’s marketing and legislative manager.

The company faces plenty of competition in voting technology. Bigger companies in the sector include Dominion, Hart, and Election Systems and Software. But if Clear Ballot’s products prove to be more reliable, lightweight, and cost-effective than existing systems, the company will be in demand as election campaigns heat up around the country.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Editor in chief. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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