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Ask Slashdot: Setting Up Wireless Voting For Students? 167

RabidRabbit23 writes "I volunteer for a non-profit that organizes Model UN conferences for high school students. We need a quick and low cost way to record votes done by the students in large committees. There will be two or three committees with about 200 students in each. We need to be able to record yes, no or abstention votes and must be able to identify each student's vote. We looked into radio response clickers, but it is very expensive to buy 400-600 of them. They cost about $40 at university bookstores, which is way out of our budget, but we don't know what kind of discount we could get by buying directly from the manufacturer. We do have wireless internet but we do not have enough bandwidth to support everyone using a laptop. Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions for a better way to record the students' votes?"
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Ask Slashdot: Setting Up Wireless Voting For Students?

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  • Vote by SMS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 404 Clue Not Found ( 763556 ) * on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:31PM (#35536502)

    1. Assuming most of the kids have cell phones, you can set up a free Google Voice account and receive votes by SMS that way.

    If you set up specific strings for YES and NO (like 123 for yes and 456 for no), you can then search for that string in the results. The number of results you get is the number of votes. And if the votes are sent within a small enough timeframe, Google Voice will cluster multiple messages from the same sender into a single conversation (so people can't vote twice). If that's not enough for you, you can screenscrape the results and do a more precise count or go with some other sort of SMS system.

    But basically, if it has to be electronic and real-time, you're more likely to find cell phones on them than anything else.

    2. If it doesn't have to be so fancy, what's wrong with just having them raise their hands and counting them?

    3. Or maybe handing out very simple scantrons and borrowing a scantron scanner for your sessions?

    4. Or you could buy cheap laser pointers for everyone and have them point at two different lux meters for yes or no.

    • #1, #2, and #3 seem to answer the request nicely, but #4 doesn't meet the "must be able to identify each student's vote" requirement.
    • #4) break out that portable C02 laser you've got and BAM! landslide victory! ...and no more meter.
    • SMS, my boss just came back from a technology conference and was talking about how during lectures some speakers had people vote from mobile devices by sending texts.

    • Re:Vote by SMS? (Score:4, Informative)

      by mr100percent ( 57156 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:57PM (#35536870) Homepage Journal

      There's a free setup you can use that does just that: SMS Poll [smspoll.net]

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      2. If it doesn't have to be so fancy, what's wrong with just having them raise their hands and counting them?

      Or, if you want a permanent identifiable record, take a photograph as people have their hands raised during each phase (yes, no, abstain). Use more than one camera from different angles to make sure you don't have occlusion problems. Have volunteers count hands live (each volunteer covering one Nth of the committee) to get real-time values that are approximate and sufficient for votes with more than, say 10 points difference; for close votes, use the photographic record.

      While the cell phone idea sounds go

    • Electronic voting could be worthwhile for the cool factor, but offers little improvement over well established methods. The standard is a hierarchy that trades time against obviousness of the result.

      1). Voice vote, good if result is very disproportionate. Instant
      2) Raised hands (usually combined with voice) instant, or at least quick, to 60-40 or so.
      3) a "division of the house" for those very close votes, or if someone really wants a record of who voted how.

      The division, if needed, can be accomplished b

      • We use a modified version of Roberts Rules in Model UN already. Currently what we do is every delegate in the committee has a card stock placard with their county's name printed on it. For procedural votes we just call for yes, no and abstention votes and count up the votes as best we can. Every delegate is required to vote on procedural matters, but there is no way to enforce this unless a very obvious large number of students don't vote. When someone calls for a roll call vote on substantive matters, lik
      • 3) a "division of the house" for those very close votes, or if someone really wants a record of who voted how.,

        You could tattoo - or brand if you're in a hurry - a barcode on the kids and scan it with a cheap scanner.

        Or you could get a surplus SkyNet Laserscan system to mark 'em.

    • I'm the original submitter. Suggestion 1 is excellent, thanks very much. I think I'll look into http://code.google.com/p/pygooglevoice/ [google.com] for counting the SMS messages. Also, just to clarify we have about $5,000 of budget so it would be no problem to get some cell phones or another solution for people who don't have them. As to your other suggestions, we must match the person to the vote so an anonymous system like counting hands or using a lux meter may not work. I think the scantron may be almost as slow a
      • Cool! Let us know how it turns out.

        One thing I'd definitely want to check out before you invest too much time into the system, though: What happens when 200 people in the same room sends text messages at the same time? Would some get delayed? Would some not get sent at all?

      • by pavon ( 30274 )

        The scantron idea could be quick if it was parallelized. The following are assuming a single scanner.

        At one extreme, each student is filling out their own form, which must then be passed down the row and then scanned, presumably one at a time. Everyone votes in parallel, but you have to scan 200 forms serially.

        At the other extreme, you have a single scantron which is passed around, where each student answered one "question" (always the same number to track who voted for what). You only have to scan 1 form b

      • >>Also, just to clarify we have about $5,000 of budget

        FYI, e-clicker software for smartphones exist.

        The last time I looked at it, it was something like $15 for the host, and free for the clients.

      • You say you don't have enough bandwidth for WiFi, but you do! Simply set up your WiFi network to only have a single destination. There is no rule that says "all WiFi access points must have full internet access." Students without a laptop could share another student's machine since even two or three people voting on one machine wouldn't take long.

    • Or even more universal, Twitter, they can simply use a hashtag per response (or @fictionalpositive / @fictionalnay / @fictionalabstain), submit it via whatever they have, text message (SMS), web page, mobile site, app or terminals in the room for those without mobiles. Twitter search provides 50 results per page, for easy tabulation.

      No need to setup anything beforehand (except test that your hashtags are unique and readily searchable).

      (Heck you could even live stream the results as they come in, or delayed

  • google around for arduino IR receiver. open source code to decode sony, philips rc5/6, nec codes. that's pretty much all of them.

    then the trick is to also enable ir-send (same library) and build small arduino senders with an ir-blaster (ir led) and give each a unique code for the 2 or 3 buttons you give them.

    consider IR instead of RF. very cheap and easy.

    • They need a unique code for each sender too, from the requirement "identify each student's vote". (Also necessary to detect multiple votes by same person.)
    • 1. Arduino-based IR senders are more than the $40 each the OP says is too expensive.

      2. If you used cheap TV remotes, how do you uniquely identify each student?

      3. 200+ students at once. That much IR on the TV remote wavelengths will interfere with each other so that nobody's signal gets through. Wireless vote-clickers are actually pretty complicated systems. Not only do they have to avoid interference, the system has to assure that every clicker sent a response (even if it was no-button-clicked).

      • they are mere dollars. or, they can be build for such. where do you get your prices from? I develop (actively) for arduino and build my own boards. rounded to the dollar:; chip is $5, ir led is $1, tactile buttons all total $1, resonator $1, filter cap, $1. does not need a case, not really. regulator $1 to bring 9v down to 5v. its not very much at single unit prices; at bulk made in china (being made for you) I'd be surprised if it was over $10. arduino chip would have to be real but all other parts

        • As I believe I mentioned, no, a fire-and-forget system is not good enough no matter how many bits you send... especially when dealing with a line-of-sight system like IR.

        • In 2003, I was in a class where 30 students attempted to use IR transceivers to send an ID and an answer.
          The system worked like shit for the reason spazmania said above in #3:

          If a moderate number of students attempt to press the buttons on their remote, they all collide and attempt to transmit again.
          If a fewer number of students are sitting too far back in the room, they're unable to get a reliable signal to the receiver.

          The solution rigged up helped a bit, but keep in mind, it barely worked for 30 students

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Trying to make IR work with 399-599 competing signals sounds like a nightmare, and the range is likely to be too short for a room large enough for that many students.
  • As a former MUN-er myself, I know that no matter what you try, someone is going to slow it down by either not paying attention or for some inexplicable reason not having access to the voting mechanism. Having a web app would be ideal, since these students (should) all have laptops, but not only did you rule that out, there's always one or two students who don't have a computer. I would just instruct the committee chairs to disallow roll-call votes except on major issues. Voting by raised hands is about as f
    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      This is why voting bodies specify quorum rules and time limits for voting. If someone doesn't want to participate actively, they can't slow it down or prevent it.

      Of course, even with a quorum rule there are exceptions [upi.com] (thank goodness).

      Honestly, I don't get why anyone in an educational setting isn't just counting raised hands...

    • I mean, in the real UN, they have pushbuttons, don't they?

      Don't we want to give the students the chance to feel like they must be important because they have all these high-tech solutions to make it easier for them to sound pompous?

      Feeling a litte cynical today, and I know the reasons for the pushbuttons in the real UN, but I think that we really don't want to encourage the next generation to de-personalize voting, nor do we want to risk teaching them that technological solutions for voting are valid.

  • Model UN (Score:5, Funny)

    by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:38PM (#35536594)

    A Model UN Club meeting is in progress at Springfield elementary.

    Ok, delegates, you leave tomorrow for the statewide Model U.N., so this is out last chance to bone up. And bone we will!

    All of the kids break into laughter, except Lisa.

    (to Lisa) Lighten up, Lis.

    (to Martin) Finland, let's see that naitve dance.

    Martin starts dancing Lappish style.

    Smile more. Work that pelvis. No, too much smile. Sit down. (to Milhouse) Poland! Tell us about your nation's achievements!

    Well, uh, I heard they sent a rocket to the sun once... at night... And there was that submarine, with the screen doors...

    No, no, no, no, no, young man, you need to do some SERIOUS boning!

    This time only Lisa laughs.

    Oh, grow up, Lis.

    (to Bart) OK, Libya... exports!

    Yes, sir, you American pig!

    (chuckles) Nice touch.

    Uh, ahem, let's see...

    Bart shuffles his blank papers, pretending to find something.

    The exports of Libya are numerous in amount. One thing they export is corn, or as the Indians call it, "maize". Another famous Indian was "Crazy Horse". In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrast. Thank you.

    A commotion interrupts Skinner before he can comment on Bart's performance. Nelson, the Japanese delegate, pinches Wendell's nose with chopsticks.

    Oww, I can't breath! Please stop him!

    I'd like to, but I'm afraid he has diplomatic immunity.

    Point of order, if we want to learn anything we must respec--

    Point of odor, Lisa stinks.

    All the kids laugh.

    (to Bart) Hey. Leave her alone!

    (to Sherri) You leave her alone!

    All the kids start fighting with each other, with one exception. Ralph, the Canadian delegate, stands.

    (singing) Oh, Canada!

    Skinner bangs his shoe on the table.

    Order, order! Do you kids wanna be like the real U.N., or do you just wanna squabble and waste time?

  • by Dishwasha ( 125561 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:39PM (#35536608)

    Make the students buy their votes. Soon after you should have enough money to by the clicker thingies.

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:39PM (#35536610) Homepage

    You want cheap and you want to be able to identify each vote with a specific person?

    Certainly doing something with computers is going to be expensive in some way. It is also going to take a long time because not everyone would have their own computer.

    I'd suggest colored pieces of paper that are preprinted with a number. Red for no, green for yes, blue for abstention. Something simple like that. The pieces of paper could also be tagged for "Question 1", "Question 2", etc. Counting them wouldn't be that hard and they would be traceable - names could be written on the slips but even without that you would have the preprinted numbers. This would fall apart for blind students but would work for multiple languages.

    Sure, you could have some fancy system but it is going to cost money. Potentially lots of money. Anything that would require queuing up would likely get unmanageable quickly with 200 students.

    • you don't want them voting on every crappy decision. there needs to be some personal disincentive to call a vote about stuff that doesn't matter. look at the mature democracies - they don't have crappy electronic votey things.

      if there is a vote, they have to get up out of their seats and go somewhere

      you could have a lobby that they have to go through a yes or no channel with a barcoded badge but better (and more geeky)- how about if they have an RFID badge each and then go and stand at the YES or NO
    • Red for no, green for yes, blue for abstention. Something simple like that. ... This would fall apart for blind students but would work for multiple languages.

      Don't forget about color blind students. There are better color choices than red/green/blue
      As for blind students, you could pre-punch some cards with a holepunch. 1 hole for yes, 2 holes for no, 3 holes for abstention.

      That said, IMHO, this is a bad idea.
      An important part of going to a Model UN event is learning and using the rules of order.
      Bypassing the process of voice/standing/roll-call voting deprives the students of a fundamental part of the parlimentary process.

      More importantly, having members call out

  • The problem with doing this with wireless is the same problem we had with a wireless Point-of-System: when asked to vote, several hundred people will press the button simultaneously. That results in a shit storm of collisions for IR and for most wireless networks.
    • by kriss ( 4837 )

      This is actually not the case with dedicated solutions for this sort of thing (yes, they exist. No, they're not cheap), commonly used for annual general meetings by large corporate entities. A normal wireless network will hold up rather nicely as long as a) the AP's cope with the # of connected clients and b) whatever service you're pushing data to isn't too chatty.

      • Yeah; you don't really need a lot of wireless bandwidth for a dinky little yes/no vote. Your users aren't doing anything serious like streaming video. You don't need to let them onto the Internet at large. So 54 Mbps can go a long way. You just need a couple of real enterprise-grade APs that won't fall over when they have more than ten people connected to them. If instantaneous bandwidth really is still an issue, perhaps you can write a JavaScript web UI that introduces random delays (0-N seconds) before s

        • by jdpars ( 1480913 )
          As bad as they say /. is getting lately, I find that most of us here won't intentionally say something unfair, whether it's a plug for our employers or a really stupid, unreasonable response. As little as that may seem to be, it's more than you usually get on the internet.
  • by ckthorp ( 1255134 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:43PM (#35536682)
    They could just use paper ballots like everyone else... You can count 200 ballots in a matter of minutes instead of training students on an electronic system that may or may not be flaky.
  • by Bamfarooni ( 147312 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:44PM (#35536686)

    You can set up an ODK form (http://code.google.com/p/opendatakit/), kids vote with their smartphone (or computer), and all the results go into a Google Fusion Table (http://www.google.com/fusiontables).

    • Not all kids have smartphones, plus, it might be hard to justify to an administrator why students should be taking their cell phones out during school time, even if it is probably the cheapest solution.
  • It depends entirely on how many polls you need to perform in what time span. The way we do it (non-profit NGO) is by a simple web form - there's a number of terminals available for people who doesn't bring their own laptop/phone, and those who do bring their own, can use it. Performing a poll with 100 people takes ~2 minutes - but it'd depend on the number of people with their own equipment and the number of terminals at hand, naturally.

    Avoid doing it by hand, if at all possible. Counting sucks and people a

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      And many of the kids will have smart phones that can do it without a laptop. The comment in the article that "We do have wireless internet but we do not have enough bandwidth to support everyone using a laptop" doesn't make much sense. If you have a Wi-Fi access point in the room—even an old one—then you have a minimum of 11 Mbps shared. That's plenty of bandwidth for everyone to vote using a laptop.

      Just grab a Wi-Fi hotspot, don't connect it to the "real" Internet, set it up to provide DHCP

  • Buy a large number of signs (laminated paper, plastic signs, small flags, paddles; may be single color or double faced, or similar). Have the vote taken by holding up the sign.Then have people count the votes in groups and report to a central person OR Take a picture with a digital camera. Load the picture into analysis software (I used to use a photoshop filter that counted the number of distinct dots in a color range in fluorescent microscopy, cant recall the name) and then you will have a definitive co
  • If you have a good enough camera, you might be able to have each student hold up a paper with the QR-code of their member-ID + vote (so each person gets 3 pieces of paper: one for yes, no, and abstention, make sure the paper are labeled textually with the vote and member ID/field for the member to write down his name), and get someone to take a picture making sure all QR-codes are captured perfectly. But since the chances of the camera seeing all QR codes will probably be low, you need to distribute the tas

    • by bragr ( 1612015 ) *
      This is actually not a terrible idea, and with a few decent point and shoots, plus a little software to process the images it could work nicely.

      I'd do it like this: a couple cameras (maybe 5? You'd need to do some experimentation) on tripods (aimed for good coverage) tethered to a computer (there are some good alternate firmwares for Canons that allow this on cheap cameras). When the vote comes up, a script tells each camera to snap 2 or 3 images (separated by a few seconds each). It would then process a
    • You're talking about pretty high resolution, there.

      • You didn't read past 3 lines of my comment did you?

        To repeat myself: for 200 students, divide them to 10 groups of 20 students each. Provide 10 desks as "voting stations". 20 students lay their vote (paper with text and QR code of the student's ID + his vote) on 1 desk, desk also has QR code with "Question no: 17" so we can identify which votes belong to which question. Find 10 students/assistants, one to man each "voting station", which involves taking a picture of the 21 QR codes (plus maybe 1 more QR cod

        • by reiisi ( 1211052 )

          If you're going to that much trouble, just take the camera to them.

          (Yeah, apologies for ruining a good reason t buy a telephoto lens.)

  • Not to be a Luddite, but what's so wrong with voting on paper or via visual ballot (raising placards)? Yes wireless is sexy, but it's always going to be glitchy or expensive (especially if you factor in the cost of the time to set it up).
  • Turning Point [turningtechnologies.com] is maybe your best choice. They may have been the one with the $40 clicker option, but they also have alternatives [turningtechnologies.com] like iPhone/Blackberry/Android/laptop apps so students can respond that way. Bingo, no need for expensive clickers and you get the individual vote tally.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Use 'SMS Enabler' program to receive SMS messages on a PC. It can write received messages to a text/CSV file in real-time or dispatch them to a web server.

  • We need a quick and low cost way to record votes done by the students in large committees. There will be two or three committees with about 200 students in each.

    Paper ballots have worked just fine years - why are they not suitable here?

  • i'm sure the support staff at voxeo.com/prophecy would be more than happy to provide a telephony solution for this; they live for this kind of thing. i would imagine you could even run it over a free developer account. worth checking out at least! they also run IMified.com which could make it people only need to text.
  • I like the texting idea. On the same note, would all the students have laptops? If so, maybe you could just have them email their votes to specific questions to a specified address. Then you could use a python script or something to sort out what response came from who for which question.
  • Point it at the assembled body, have them stand to vote "Yes" and write some software to recognize where each seat is located, whether there is a person in that location and whether that person is standing.
  • Put a 90-degree-angle half-periscope above each table. To vote, shine the red, green, or abstention-colored laser pointer into the tube.

    Rig the laser pointers so they are in a fixed position. Not only will this make voting easier but it will discourage abuse - with 200 kids you will have one smart-ass in the room.

    Rig the tubes so the output points to a wall forming a line.

    Count the dots of various colors after each vote.

    Be prepared to change out broken laser pointers and those whose batteries get exhauste

  • We had a full model UN in high school. Since all the seating was assigned ahead of time; the vote-keeping was done entirely on pre-printed ballot sheets. basically in the format:

    Sheet 1
    Name: Y N A ...
    Name: Y N A
    Total: [blank] [blank] [blank]

    And they were based on the seating at the university's lecture hall we used, they all listed countries in order as they were seated, starting with the centre.
    You pass out the sheets to the centre people, and then they pass it along to the end; they're forwarded up;

    At th

  • One high-res digital camera and
    A4 papers printed with a large QR code (2d barcode) - unique id and answer number printed in human readable form as well.
    Just pass out as many papers as there are answer options (2 , 3 ? ) to the students.
    Use a canon 5d mark III or something that can record video as well and ask them to wave the cards around for 5 seconds or something , so you get everyone (in case one card is behind someone else's head).
  • Give each student a poker chip, and have them write their name on it. When it comes time to vote, have each student place their chip in a pile for yes, no, or abstention. Weight each pile, and you will know how many people voted for each.
  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @07:32PM (#35537816)

    As someone who's used in-class polling systems quite a bit (I'm a college professor), there are only two solutions that will work. A dedicated "clicker" system (I recommend the ones by Turning Point [turningtechnologies.com]), or a non-technical solution. Paper ballots are obvious; the guy who suggested labeled poker chips had a good idea too.

    If you try to muck around with laptops and cell phones and polling websites and custom software and/or hardware, you're going to spend your whole time doing tech support rather than model UN'ing.

    Pick between low-tech or high-cost. If you try to go high-tech and low-cost, you will also get "doesn't work".

  • "We need" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18, 2011 @07:32PM (#35537824)

    No you don't. You want. I did Model UN in High School-- at some of the larger conferences too. We survived without electronic voting. Focus on the politics. If you have money (or time to search for a free one) to throw away hire a professional diplomat to come in and give a talk. I *still* remember and occasionally talk about such speeches that I heard in High School. That will be far far more valuable to your students than an electronic voting solution that is likely to break at some point, waste a lot of time while you're trying to fix it, then force you to go with paper anyway.

  • Using tech here might not be the best option but if you have a lot of items to vote over then it may be your only choice. However, if you do decide to use it for anything actually important then make sure it's secure. My university has been using clickers for years and they are so insecure it's not even funny. Twice now with different models (first ir then rf) myself and a friend have reverse engineered the protocol then created our own model that spits out as many votes by as many users as we wanted. We th

  • Even more if you are looking at a small number of votes... Why don't you go buy a couple blocks of paper? It is absolutely more secure than any e-voting scheme (yes, even if it is not for a big countrywide thingy). No need to set up an e-voting solution - unless you just want to impress the kids with shiny kewl toyz.

  • At the University of Michigan we have developed a "Mobile Participation System" that allows students to participate/interact in lectures (up to 1000 students or so). The instructor can setup multiple choice, math or word based questions, and subsequently, students respond using any of the following options:
    1. Text-messaging (SMS)
    2. An iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch App
    3. Android App
    4. A Laptop

    Best of all ... it's free!

    This system is about 2 semesters old at this point and will be presented this year's ASE
  • Ok, i am a geek. I understand you want to be fancy. But counting 500 votes manually takes 250 seconds if one person does it, and less if several persons do it. So unless you want a "real-time" result, i would think its ok to take paper ballots. Moreover it will be a record of the voting.

    On the other hand, i dont see why "the bandwidth is not enough" if you dont allow them surfing (or throttle it), then the BW should be fine, however consumer APs may have problems handling 500laptops. The problem is not to c

  • by crispytwo ( 1144275 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @12:12AM (#35539620)

    you can take a look at Election Buddy - it would probably do what you are asking for. http://electionbuddy.com/ [electionbuddy.com]
    I'm not sure what you mean by 'not enough bandwidth', but 200 web pages isn't that much.

  • But remotes for garage door openers are available online for anywhere from $1 to $10. You can also buy receivers or plain logic boards for receivers for less than $50. These systems typically have 256 or more codes.

    This is just an idea, but maybe you could look into whether you can interface a logic board with a computer, and report to the computer which code is being received, and OPEN or CLOSE as yes or no. An abstention would simply be no vote for that code.

    It might be worth at least looking into.
  • if you want to speed up the counting of a non-technical solution, using something that has heft to it, like a pokerchip or marble might be the way to go. 3 containers for votes, whichever is the heaviest wins.

  • Have a locked metal box with a slot in the top, everyone takes a ballot from the vote register at the box, checks off their choice, and puts it in the box. At the end of voting you open the box and count the ballots. One of the hazards of working in the high tech industry is the tendency to overthink everything, to use more tech than is actually required instead of the simplest solution practical.
  • from experience Its perfectly possible for a chair to do hand votes for 200/300 delegates and you could always have tellers count if its close or use card votes and count them. The debate is the important part. maybe you need to read Citrine and/or Robbert's on how parliamentary systems work and all talk to some people with actual experience.

Would you people stop playing these stupid games?!?!?!!!!