Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
CAMBRIDGE, MA--Experts in voting technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology say that four relatively simple and inexpensive steps can be taken to ensure that voting procedures in this fall's presidential election are as accurate and reliable as possible.
The recommendations are included in a new report prepared by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an independent bipartisan agency that serves as a national clearinghouse for information on the administration of federal elections. The report also includes several steps that the group believes are necessary for avoiding lost votes in November.
"Between four and six million voters were disenfranchised in the 2000 election," said Mike Alvarez, a professor of political science at Caltech. "Although some progress has been made these past four years, we are still concerned that millions of votes could be lost in November -- particularly if the popular vote is close."
Ted Selker, associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, says, "Procedural improvements can still be made this year to ensure that we have only a fraction of the errors that we had in 2000."
Recommendations from the MIT/Caltech team include:
--Collect the information that would be needed to audit the 2004 election. This is essential. Currently, 11 states do not report total ballots cast, making it nearly impossible to track the performance of equipment and election procedures in these states. The EAC should require a report of total ballots cast and votes cast for each federal office from each election jurisdiction. These reports should also include the number of registered voters and absentee ballots cast. The secretaries of state should include these figures in their statement of certified votes.
--Fix common ballot problems. This includes some very basic design issues that were problematic in the last election. For example, the EAC should recommend that all jurisdictions using optical scanning use the term "Someone Else (write name)" instead of the term "Write In." If the ballot has a backside, the front side of the ballot should clearly state so in large, plain letters.
--Produce provisional voting guidelines. Many people went to the wrong precinct in 2000, and were unable to vote. New provisional voting guidelines need to be developed by mid-August that give uniform procedures for allowing provisional ballots to be used when a person's registration is in question.
--Develop common complaint procedures and election monitoring processes.
The EAC needs to establish a procedure for managing complaints, and should be prepared to serve as an ombudsman to receive, investigate, and follow up on complaints.
The Caltech/MIT report also makes other recommendations that insure that every step in the voting process is checked and improved upon in multiple ways. Among these is the requirement that each stage of the election process have more than one person involved in all matters that can affect voting including equipment purchasing, ballot storage, and setting up polling places.
The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project was established shortly after the controversial 2000 presidential election. The goal of the partnership is to prevent disputed elections in the future by examining potential problems in the voting process and introducing technological improvements for voting procedures.
A copy of the report can be found at http://www.vote.caltech.edu/.