Category Archives: Voting technology

Must-Read for Election Officials: "State of Alaska Election Security Project Reports"

I’ve been meaning for some time to post a link to these reports produced by the University of Alaska-Anchorage: “State of Alaska Election Security Project Phase 1 Report;” and the “State of Alaska Election Security Project Phase 2 Report.” The Phase 1 report was published in late December 2007, and I was a peer reviewer of that report. The Phase 2 report was published in May 2008.

The reason I say that this work is a must-read is that it is more than just the typical security review of voting technologies; the Alaska-Anchorage team took a broader perspective, and argued strongly for studying voting systems in their policy and procedural context. Here is a long quote from the Phase 1 report:

The report is an overview-level evaluation of recent studies and a determination of their relevance to Alaska’s systems, technologies, and procedures. It is the first part of a multi-phase project to evaluate the security of Alaska’s election system.(footnote deleted). The research includes a detailed study of the evaluation reports from California, Florida, Maryland, Ohio and Connecticut, a review of the response to the California study by equipment provider Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold) , and an overview of Alaska’s election laws and procedures. The team conducted interviews with members of the University of California and Florida State University evaluation teams, with officials from the State of Alaska Division of Elections, and with election officials from California, Florida and Connecticut. As a result of this Phase 1 work, the research team identified areas within the election system and equipment used that warrant further analysis necessary to develop more definitive conclusions.

California, Florida, Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio conducted their studies using equipment that is also used in Alaska. These evaluations found serious technical vulnerabilities in the systems studied. Most reports also point out that procedures have the potential to either mitigate or exacerbate vulnerabilities
reported at the equipment level. Many of these items have been proactively flagged by the officials in the Division of Elections. As appropriate, they have implemented measures and identified possible approaches to address some of these vulnerabilities.

Each state in the US can adopt processes and procedures to meet their unique requirements. They can also select from a range of vendors and equipment provided federal certification standards have been met. Given the wide range of implementations, it is critically important that all system and procedural issues be investigated carefully in the context of policies and procedures in place in the state in which they are evaluated. In Alaska, this approach is essential to determine what, if any, impacts these issues have on the security of elections in Alaska. The use of paper ballots as the primary record of votes, the procedures for hand recounts and the uniform practices across the state may reduce vulnerabilities in Alaska elections.

The Phase 2 report implements this approach, and issues a long list of recommendations that are well-worth reading.

Pac NW Elections 4: Design for Democracy

The clouds have rolled in over Portland but the sessions continue at the 2007 Pacific NW Elections Conference.

The second day consists of breakout sessions that provide professional training (required?) for elections officials. I attended an interesting talk by Marcia Lausen of the Design for Democracy project (affilated with the American Institute of Graphic Artists).

Marcia primarily focused on ballot design issues and work she has done with Cook County, IL. Examples of their work is available here, University of Chicago press is publishing a book in August, also called Design for Democracy, that looks not only like a very useful guide for elections officials, but an attractive “coffee table” gift for the elections geek in your family.

Overall the presentation was great, but I was a bit disappointed that Marcia didn’t seem familiar with other work being done on ballot design and usability issues, including some scholars affiliated with the Voting Technology Project which hosts this blog.

I mentioned during the Q&A that a quick google search on “ballot design research” comes up with these links:

EAC calls upon voting system testing labs and vendors to adopt conflict of interest and partisanship bias policies

The EAC released this statement last week, and here is one paragraph quoted from the statement:

Federally accredited test laboratories and certified voting machine systems play an important role in our nation’s elections and public confidence in those elections. In the interests of maintaining public trust in the integrity and fairness of the election process, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission strongly encourages testing laboratories and voting equipment manufacturers to adopt policies that prohibit the organization and its employees from engaging in activities that may create the appearance of a conflict of interest or partisan bias.

I wonder, if such policies had been adopted years ago, how might the debates about voting technology and election reform been different?

No doubt, these are good suggestions; vendors and testing labs should heed this advice.

Kent State conference: "The Future of Election and Ethics Reform in the States"

There is a conference next week at Kent State University, “The Future of Election and Ethics Reform in the States.” Here’s the overview provided of the event:

The critical theme of this Symposium is that the 2008 Presidential Election will be crucial for American democracy, especially in light of the apparently related phenomena of decreasing voter participation rates, alleged procedural irregularities in recent elections, and the undisputed lapses in ethical judgment by politicians and policymakers in the past decade. Closer examination of elections and ethics laws in a public forum will be enlightening for academics as well as for policymakers and politicians and, hopefully, will contribute to an informed dialogue that will lead to improvements in the American election system. This event will discuss trends in laws adopted in the American states, with a focus on understanding the effects of these rule changes. What do we know from the fifty states (and other nations) about how alternative election laws and ethical requirements affect policy, voter turnout and participation, election outcomes, legislatures, campaigns, representation, and more? Our speakers are recognized national experts in the field, drawn from the halls of academia and the corridors of political power. The Symposium is an opportunity for scholars, policy analysts and elected officials to discuss what needs to be done to update the system for the 21st century.

Since the State of Ohio has been a key battleground in recent Presidential elections and promises to be a “bell-weather” state in 2008, and has had at least its share of ethical issues in the public arena, as the capital of the state, the City of Columbus is a symbolic choice for this Symposium, and one that will maximize participation by state policymakers and students of state government.

They have lined up an impressive set of speakers, including our own Thad Hall. As Thad will be in attendance, we can hope to get a complete summary of the conference here next week!