Future of Voting Systems

Exploring trends in voting system technology

A two and a half days Symposium on the Future of Voting Systems is taking place in Maryland (USA). The event is webcast live and related conversation can be followed on twitter at #FOV13. The conference is organized by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to explore emerging trends in voting system technology. The use of technology in elections is at the heart of discussions.

Main technology-related trends and challenges were introduced and discussed in the first day meeting. These range from security to end-to-end verifiability, auditing, transparency, standards and interoperability and the voting systems’ business model. In the opening keynote CalTech’s Michael Alvarez provided an overview of the election technology landscape. Here is a keyword-style overview of some of the thoughts echoed in the first day of the conference:

  • End-to-end verifiability implies verification of every step of elections and is a paradigm shift for voting.
  • Auditing of elections is evolving towards covering the whole process and towards more stringent forms.
  • The role of certification is discussed. Does certification of a voting system free the election officials from some responsibility? Certification needs to be seen as the “floor”, an important place to start, but not the only necessary process. Certification is part of a move towards evidence-based elections.
  • Transparency is increased when auditing results are published -that’s considered a positive trend.
  • Standardization efforts are faced with a variety of questions such as federal v. local standards, voluntary v. stringent ones, the cost for introducing standards, their evaluation through the certification process and their importance for achieving modularity and interoperability of voting solutions. Establishing standards on security of the voting systems is becoming an issue, the alternative being to rely only on auditing.
  • More innovation is needed on the private sector industry side. The business model for voting solutions is being discussed and the question is what’s the right model: private solutions, public-private partnerships or only public solutions?
  • Other technology-related issues are emerging such as those related to registration of voters, accessibility of voting systems, voter authentication, metrics for evaluating elections outcomes, contingency plans (keyword hurricane Sandy) and the (US presidential elections’ more specific) question of long lines before polling stations.
  • Election Officials need help with technology.

Security of internet voting, web-based election solutions as a response to budgetary restrictions, voter education on how to avoid being phished when using internet based solutions, a comparison of security of voting by fax v. voting via internet and the related question of large-scale attacks were some of the issues discussed at the “Web-Based Technologies Supporting Elections” session.

Today’s meeting day will focus on standards, testing and certification of voting systems. I am looking forward to interesting discussions on present solutions and future developments.



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