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Feb 2004 Contents

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Trends in greater usability in voting technology

Josephine Scott

UPA's Voting and Usability project is tracking several important trends toward greater usability in voting technology across the globe. Among recent events:

  • Verified voting - Project members are continuing scrutiny of the Verified Voting issue. This difficult issue pits questions of reliability and security of a ballot against the apparent ease of use of newer technologies such as touch screen and online voting.
  • The NIST Voting Symposium - UPA President Whitney Quesenbery appeared as a featured speaker at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) symposium, “Trust and Confidence in Voting Systems” last December. The Usability and Accessibility Panel, organized by UPA member Dr. Sharon Laskowski, featured several internationally-known experts in the current review of US voting systems, including scientists, usability and accessibility experts, and election officials. For more information: http://vote.nist.gov/ .
  • NIST Report on Usability and Accessibility - Work on guidance for improving the usability and accessibility of voting systems at NIST will result in a report to Congress.
  • FEC Brochures - The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has issued a set of brochures on user-centered design and usable voting systems available for ordering or download. In the UK , where there have been many recent pilots of electronic, phone and Internet voting, the government recently ruled out any e-voting pilots in 2004
  • Voting Developments in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland - The United Kingdom Electoral Commission has decided to postpone e-voting pilots. UPA's Louise Ferguson is tracking these UK developments.

Verified Voting

Supporters of verified voting are sharpening their efforts to pass legislation in US Congress. Verified voting is a proposed technique to secure elections by requiring an audit trail of voted ballots or ballot receipts in voting systems. US Congress' HR 2239 and S 1980 (the House and Senate versions of the bill) aim to require that all voting systems provide a verifiable trail of voted ballots, which may be scrutinized much the same way that paper, optical scan and punch card ballots may be currently.

Many security experts warn that current electronic systems are vulnerable to hacking and manipulation in ways that were not possible with ballot- and machine-based systems. Verified Voting supporters want verifiable systems to provide the same safeguards that exist today for ballot-based systems, increasing voter trust.

Accessibility advocates express concern that the verifiable ballot requirement will extend the difficulty that physically disabled voters currently experience attempting to cast a secret ballot. Touch screen and online voting systems provide methods for the limited mobility disabled to cast a secret vote (in some cases) for the first time.

For usability and accessibility experts, these fundamental issues provide the backdrop for evaluating and designing usable future systems.

“UPA members are encouraged to research this important issue,” President Quesenbery said. “Issues of trust in elections speak directly to the perceived usability of a system. No system is usable if it cannot be trusted.” For more information: http://www.VerifiedVoting.org .

The NIST Voting Symposium

Congress tasked the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to assist the implementation of the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which was passed by the US legislature following the 2000 presidential election. HAVA is a response to growing concern about the usability and security of current voting systems.

To bring these issues into open debate, NIST organized the December's Trust and Confidence in Voting Systems Symposium. One of the five panels covering usability and accessibility, was chaired by Dr. Laskowski, manager of the Visualization and Usability Group at the Information Technology Laboratory at NIST,

National experts on voting systems reviewed the current state and proposed future of US voting, including several important aspects of US current and proposed voting systems, such as:

  • Testing and qualifying systems,
  • Securing voting systems, and
  • Making systems usable and accessible.

President Quesenbery spoke about the strong need for user-centered design of voting systems. Voters have been disenfranchised by poorly-designed systems, she said. She advocated that old and new systems be evaluated, designed and tested using UCD best practices. The text of her remarks is available on the Voting and Usability web site: http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_projects/voting_and_usability .

NIST Report on Usability and Accessibility

In addition to the symposium, NIST is preparing a report entitled "Improving the Usability and Accessibility of Voting Systems and Products" as mandated by the HAVA. The report, which is currently in draft form undergoing internal review, will be delivered to Congress and then released to the public.

The report, which is currently in draft form undergoing internal review, will be delivered to Congress and then released to the public. In the report, NIST describes the usability and accessibility issues that currently exist, possible approaches to address these issues, and recommendations. Bill Killam and Marguerite Autry of User-Centered Design, Inc., both members of the UPA, assisted Sharon Laskowski, the editor in the development of this report.

Killam believes that usability problems can be as important as security issues in creating an effective voting system.

“In one election, as many as 60,000 votes were not counted because someone disabled an interlock on the booth. It appears people just walked away thinking they had voted,” Killam said. “This report should help clarify the types of problems that currently exist and how best to detect and correct them.”

Election Assistance Commission Appointed

One of the provisions of HAVA created a new Election Assistance Commission. In December 2003, eleven months late, the Bush administration appointed the commissioners. For more information see http://www.fec.gov/hava/eac.htm or read the statements from the nominees at the Senate hearing: http://www.rules.senate.gov/hearings/2003/102803_hearing.htm

FEC Brochures

The Federal Election Commission has released several brochures on user-centered design and usability for voting systems. Michael Wiklund of the American Institutes for Research wrote these brochures, with contributions from John O'Hara and other advisors.

The three brochures, “Developing a User-Centered Voting System'”

“Usability Testing of Voting Systems,” and “Procuring a User-Centered Voting System” are available for ordering or download from the FEC site: http://www.fec.gov/elections.html (in the section on The Administrative Structure of U. S. Elections). The brochures define best practices for usable voting systems for system designers and manufacturers, and for procuring new systems for local election officials.

Voting Developments in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland

The UK Electoral Commission has recommended to the government that there should be no electronic voting pilots in 2004, and it appears the government has accepted the Commission's view. A pilot of all-postal voting, however, is likely.

A limited number of electronic voting pilots have take place in UK local government elections since 2000, using electronic technologies ranging from touch screen kiosks to remote Internet and digital television. The Commission previously mooted remote Internet and telephone voting as possible electronic channels for the 2004 elections.

In 2004, however, election officials and voters face a far more complex election landscape than in recent years, with both local and European Parliamentary elections (based on regions) in all areas, together with elections for regional assemblies, local parishes and community councils in some areas.

In its most recent report, the Commission expressed concern that the limited time available before elections, in June, is insufficient for all the development work that needs to take place for elections that are on a scale “presenting a higher level of complexity”.

The Commission said it is keen to see improvements on systems designed for 2003.

“The development of innovations in voting must be contingent on their ability to demonstrate high levels of public confidence,” the commission wrote. It has not, however, addressed concerns over the principle of remote Internet voting, voiced by similar bodies in other countries including France and Australia .

The Electoral Commission's reports, including “ Electoral Pilot Schemes at the Combined European Parliamentary and Local Elections June 2004: The Electoral Commission's Response to the Government Consultation Paper” and “Electoral Pilots at the June 2004 Elections”, can be found on the Commission's website: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk

In the Republic of Ireland , meanwhile, Margaret McGaley and other academics and IT professionals have launched Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Evoting (ICTE), which is pressing the Irish government to adopt voter-verified audit trails and other measures for Irish e-voting systems. McGaley has stated that e-voting has now become a party-political issue in Ireland, with the Labour Party pressing for a suspension of plans to extend electronic voting until the system has been changed to adopt ICTE's recommendations, while the government continues to push forward with plans to introduce the proposed system.

Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Evoting: http://evoting.cs.may.ie/

The Labour Party's press release: http://www.labour.ie/press/detail.tmpl?sku=20031103143251

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