Saturday, March 29, 2008

Brookings Seminar on "Voting Technology: The Not-So-Simple Act of Casting a Ballot"

Voting usability issues ...

"A couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of publicity around the new book "Voting Technology: The Not-So-Simple Act of Casting a Ballot" by Paul Herrnson et al (Brookings Institution Press). Much of the publicity was focused on the critiques in the book of the need for computer security, including the authors claims that the needs for security are much less important than the need for usability.

... The biggest issues I have with this report are as follows:

(1) It states categorically that no elections have been corrupted due to intentional security breaches (i.e., no hacking), so therefore security isn't an issue. While I certainly don't know of any examples of successful security attacks on real elections, there are many cases where there have been accidental problems that have caused incorrect election results. The ironic thing is, of course, that we only know of the ones that did NOT take place on paperless DREs, since if there's no paper, there's nothing meaningful to recount. Although we can't prove incorrect election results on the DREs, I'd bet money that we've had them from accidental errors, if not intentional ones.

Besides, if anyone has successfully caused incorrect election results, one would hardly expect them to brag about it - just as old fashioned ballot box stuffing and switching was well known, but not advertised.

(2) Their primary focus is on whether voters get the votes selected correctly. This is important, but it misses the even more important factor of whether votes are recorded correctly. If the voting system (whether it's a computer, paper, punchcard, or something else) doesn't accurately record what the voter selected, it doesn't matter whether the voter was able to figure out how to use the system.

(3) Their secondary focus is on whether voters feel comfortable with the voting system, and are confident that it worked correctly. As was pointed out by Roy Saltman (author of "The History and Politics of Voting Technology: In Quest of Integrity and Public Confidence", an excellent book on voting systems), while it's important that the voter feel confident, it's less critical than whether the auditors can actually verify the results. He noted that we need to have systems that can be verified, even if that makes it slightly more difficult for voters to vote."    (Continued via VoteTrustUSA)    [Usability Resources]

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