Voting and Usability: An Update


Voting and Usability: An Update
By Whitney Quesenbery

In early 2001, the UPA started an informational project on the usability of voting systems (reported in the Voice) Although the initial outrage at the chaos of the 2000 American presidential election may have faded from public view, work has continued behind the scenes.

Last November, the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Voting Research Team held a workshop on Internet Voting, which I attended and where I presented an overview of usability issues in voting systems. One of the GTRI areas of research is the digital divide. This is not only a social, but a legal issue. In many states, laws prevent the creation of any voting system that will provide advantages to one group of citizens over another. This might include physical access, accessibility, or use of technology. One of the most interesting presentations of the workshop was by Thad Hall of the Century Foundation on the History and Politics of Internet Voting. There was also a report on a pilot project through which the first legal votes were cast across the Internet during the 2000 election in the Federal Voting Assistance Project (http://www.fvap.ncr.gov/voireport.pdf). Although this pilot was largely focused on technical feasibility, the presenters faced many issues as they looked at the entire human system. All of the presentations are available online at the GTRI web site - http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~mh249/ivote/

The group at GTRI will be holding a second workshop this spring in early May or June. If you are interested in attending or presenting, information is available at their website or by contacting Marlit Hayslett-Keck, marlit.hayslett-keck@gtri.gatech.edu. The format is similar to a UPA conference workshop, with lots of opportunity for interaction. The topics covered will include:

  • Usability
  • XML or RDF Markup for Election Data exchange
  • Civic divide
  • Secrecy versus Privacy in an Internet election
  • Building a public-private Internet voting alliance/consortium
  • International awareness and reports from UK, Australia, Sweden
  • Election Process Policies in an Internet Voting Environment

One positive outcome is that the Federal Election Commission is revising its Voting System Standards, including a section that outlines voluntary guidelines for human interface and usability. In addition, the IEEE has a standards committee on Voting Equipment Standards (http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/scc38/) One of their projects - P1583 (http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/scc38/1583/index.htm) - is charged with the development of a standard of requirements and evaluation methods for election voting equipment. The standard will provide technical specifications for electronic, mechanical, and human factors that can be used by manufacturers of voting machines or by those purchasing such machines. For more information, contact Stephen Berger, Chair, stephen.berger@ieee.org

Closer to home, one of the Invited Speakers at this year's UPA conference will be Dr. Rebecca Mercuri. She received considerable notoriety after the November 2000 election, as one of the expert witnesses for the Florida recount concerned about a lack of safety and security in computerized elections. She will speak on her concerns that computerized voting solutions may be less user-friendly than those being replaced, and about the need for good design principles in voting system displays. Her website (http://www.notablesoftware.com/evote.html) contains an extensive offering of papers and comments on this subject. Her views are somewhat controversial and her presentation should be stimulating.