The National Academies of Sciences released a report on electronic voting today, “Asking the Right Questions About Electronic Voting.” One of us (Alvarez) was on this panel, and we will comment more extensively on this report soon.
- The full report is available here.
- The “A Framework for Understanding Electronic Voting” website.
- A short summary of the report (from Herb Lin, Study Director).
- The press release for the report:
Electronic Voting Systems Show Promise, But Require Bigger Commitment by
Federal Government and States
WASHINGTON — While electronic voting systems have improved, federal and state governments have not made the commitment necessary for e-voting to be widely used in future elections, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council. To become viable, more funding, research, and public education on e-voting are required, said the report’s authoring committee, which was co-chaired by two former governors. And because electronic voting systems, like all complex computer systems, are fallible and may be compromised — either deliberately or by accident — backup systems will be needed in the event that allegations of fraud or malfunction arise.
“Electronic systems are expected to improve election administration, but this will happen only if more resources are dedicated to understanding how these systems work and to educating election officials and the public on their use, ” said committee co-chair Dick Thornburgh, former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. attorney general, and now counsel to
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP, Washington, D.C. “In an election environment with great variability in state electoral law and in the qualifications of local election officials and poll workers, such an effort will be critical to realizing the full potential of electronic systems.”
Election officials are concerned that the voting controversy in Florida during the 2000 presidential contest and other real or perceived voting mishaps have shaken the public’s confidence in the election process, and more locales are turning to e-voting as a presumably more-foolproof alternative. The report, however, emphasizes that decisions about using e-voting systems need to based on whether they will significantly improve the reliability and efficiency of elections, an obvious
consideration, but one that often is overlooked in the public debate. Decisions about the ultimate desirability of e-voting systems should not be limited to assessments of their performance to date, the committeewarned, noting that e-voting technologies are improving over time. Election officials should ensure that these systems are reliable, user-friendly, and comply with election laws. In the end, elections that are trusted by the public should be considered the gold standard of
election administration, the committee added.
To help election officials gauge the robustness of an e-voting system, the committee posed a series of questions on matters such ascomputersecurity and voter privacy, system usability, and the life cycle of software and availability of upgrades. The answers should be made widely and easily available to officials and the public, who will need them to make sound decisions about when and if to adopt e-voting.
Thornburgh’s co-chair on the committee was Richard F. Celeste, former governor of Ohio and U.S. ambassador to India, and current president of Colorado College, Colorado Springs. “The issues associated with electronic voting are not partisan issues,” Celeste said. “We’re asking questions that should be part of a rational and systematic investigation of the unresolved issues and ramifications of electronic voting. The public should be involved in asking these questions, and should pay heed
to the answers. Our democracy demands nothing less.”
The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.