VTP summit — lots of new and excellent research

At yesterday’s VTP research summit, there was a lot of exciting research presented. It’s refreshing to see all of the research that is now being done just within the VTP group on such a wide variety of problems; not to mention that there is a lot of other really interesting and important research being done by other research groups and scholars now across the world!

We got a taste of the international dimension of research on voting technologies in our morning session, where we met electronically (via a three-way videoconference, Cambridge-Geneva-Florence). Our group traveled to the Swiss House in Cambridge, and we talked for nearly two hours with three top researchers and policymakers in Europe about the various pilot projects and technology-development efforts going on in Switzerland (mainly) but also in other European countries. The three Europeans participating were Michel Chevallier (Chancellery of Geneva), Alexandre Trechsel (University of Geneva) and Michel Warynski (Geneva Canton); on our end, participants were Ted Selker, Ron Rivest and myself.

Mr. Chevallier started by talking at length about the e-voting initiatives in Switzerland, their background and their progress since initiation. Professor Trechsel discussed his research on the social and political implications of e-voting (especially in Switzerland), in particular the results of their survey-based evaluations of the e-voting initiatives. Mr. Warynski concluded the European presentations by talking about the security features of the e-voting initiatives, and his argument was that the security features were well-developed and well-functional.

On our end, Ron, Ted and I focused on our current efforts to improve research and the electoral process. Interestingly, even though we made no prior effort to coordinate our presentations, in the end we ended up talking from three different perspectives about improving the research and adminstrative processes so as to achieve more openness, transparency and confidence in the American electoral process.

My presentation (pdfs of my slides are available) focused on better collection of election outcome and election adminstration data. Ron’s presentation focused on verification, and Ted’s (pdfs of his slides are available) was on monitoring. Again, it was interesting to see the convergence in our presentations, especially given that the three of us come at these problems from three quite different research backgrounds (Ron from crypto and computer security, Ted from usability, and I from social science).

A quite lively question and answer session also resulted from the discussion, also involving members of the audience who were participating from the Cambridge end. At some point we hope to have a recording of the proceedings, and if we do get that I’ll make that available here (it should also be available from the VTP website.)

Next week there will be information posted to the VTP website about the rest of research summit. We had (by my count) fourteen research presentations after we returned to the MIT campus from Swiss House, and unfortunately not nearly enough time to adequately understand nor discuss the amazing research being done on voting system reliability, election administration, ballot design, voting system security, and usability. But we knew that we would have little time going into the event, and our goal was to try to have a discussion of the broad array of work that we and our various research groups are doing on these issues. As additional information is posted to the VTP website, I’ll follow up and talk about some of the research projects, but all were really remarkable. We’re making steps toward building a real research literature in some of these areas!

But until that information is up, I’ll have to be content just leaving readers with a photo of the summit that Ted took early in the day of Jonathan Katz (Caltech) giving a presentation of work that he, Sarah Hill, and I have done regarding ballot recounting.