Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Touch Screen Voting a Hit; Critics Miss Mark on Security

25.01.2008
Electronic voting technology, especially touch screen systems, easily pass the tests of voter confidence and satisfaction, but users still make too many mistakes and ask too often for help, says a major new study led by the University of Maryland and conducted with the University of Rochester and the University of Michigan.

The study finds that these usability concerns cannot be addressed by adding paper trails to e-voting systems, and concludes that most critics have focused on the wrong issues.

"Recent history is clear: the election problem most likely to tilt a close race is not security, but the inability of voters to cast their ballots the way they intended," says Paul Herrnson, principal investigator and a University of Maryland political scientist who directs the school's Center for American Politics and Citizenship. "The hazards of poor ballot design didn't end with Florida's hanging, pregnant and dimpled chads in 2000. But tremendous improvement in voters' abilities to cast their votes accurately and without assistance can be accomplished simply by improving the way ballots are laid out on touch screen and paper-based systems."

The five-year study is the most comprehensive of its kind, focusing exclusively on usability issues and relying on data from field tests with more than 1,500 subjects, laboratory tests and expert reviews. The results and recommendations are reported in the new book, Voting Technology: The Not-So-Simple Act of Casting a Ballot, published by the Brookings Press.

Summary of Findings and Recommendations

Voter Errors: The report describes the findings as both reassuring and sobering. While voters expressed confidence in the systems, all proved vulnerable to various types of voter error, such as unintentionally failing to cast a vote in some races, or worse, actually voting for the wrong candidate.

Recommendations: The study recommends a series of needed improvements to make e-voting more user-friendly, adding that that manufacturers and election officials can readily implement these steps. Also, it calls for educational campaigns to ensure voters and poll workers know what they're doing.

"One of the things we've learned in this study is that training may be even more important than which voting system is used," says Richard Niemi, a report co-author and University of Rochester political scientist. "People don't automatically know how to vote on these or any unfamiliar machines. We saw this with incorrectly marked paper ballots, problems with straight-party voting and the number of subjects that needed assistance."

Voter Satisfaction and Confidence: All six electronic voting systems tested were judged favorably, though subjects identified strengths and weaknesses in each system. Voters responded positively to displays with a high degree of computerization, and prefer systems that give them greater navigation control. Also, voters expressed the most confidence in the paperless touch screen systems to accurately record their votes.

"Most touch screen systems were found to be easy to use, support large and clear type, and the ability to readily change a vote," says Benjamin Bederson, a report co-author and computer scientist at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. "This added up to an overall positive response by voters. But there are still glitches, and these must be fixed."

Voter Verification Systems: In separate tests of voter verification systems, the report concludes that these devices "appear to produce modest improvements in voter accuracy," though little additional voter confidence, and warns that adding paper trails to Diebold and some other electronic systems may be more problematic than helpful, in part because of their printers' tendency to jam and break down.

Switching to Paper: Policy makers considering a switch to paper ballot/optical scan voting systems should consider special security problems connected with paper. "The history of the paper ballot in the United States is checkered with ballot theft and ballot box stuffing," the report says. Tampering with touch screen systems requires greater technical skill.

Specific Accuracy Findings

The study found an overall voter accuracy rate of 97 percent. "A three percent error rate sounds good until you consider that in the 2000 presidential race the percentage of uncounted ballots was only two percent," Herrnson says. "Voters did pretty well with these new machines - probably better than they would with older technology - but it's still enough to affect the outcome of a close election."

The accuracy rate dropped to the 80 to 90 percent range as the task got more complicated, such as voting for more than a single candidate in a race, voting a straight-party ticket or making corrections before casting the ballot.

"The most common type of error made by voters was registering a vote for the wrong candidate," says Michael Hanmer, a co-author and assistant professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland and a research fellow at the Center for American Politics and Citizenship. "This is the worst kind of error because not only does a voter's preferred candidate lose a vote, but it may go to the main opponent."

Frederick Conrad, a co-author and associate research professor in the Joint Program in Survey Methodology at the University of Maryland and the Institute for Social Research at Michigan, adds: "We observed that voters can get quite lost in the voting process, and when they do, the chances are greater they will not recover, ultimately voting for no one or a candidate other than they intended."

Assistance and Voter Inequality Findings

Gender: "Women may be more likely to ask for help, but voting error rates suggest that it is men who really need it," the report says.
Certain types of voters need more help in using the machines: those with little computer experience, senior citizens, lower income and African American voters.

Voter Verification System Findings

There was no significant difference in the performance of the four verification systems tested.
Paper records received greater approval ratings than the other systems tested.
The systems tested were all prototypes under development and newer versions may prove superior.

The report concludes that voter verification systems represent a trade-off and are unlikely to meet the expectations of their advocates. While they offer some hedge against massive fraud, they will add complexity and delays as well. Also, these systems could lead to higher levels of inaccurate votes, to the extent that users have technical difficulty changing their votes.

Recommendations for Election Officials and Policymakers

Voting systems should be purchased only after election officials have tested their usability, preferably in comparison to other systems under consideration. Small field studies with only a few dozen voters may be sufficient.
Program ballots should be as simple and straightforward as possible.
Review use of straight-party devices, as they are not well understood by voters.
Allocate poll workers to reflect the number of citizens expected to vote in each polling place and with regard to the number of voters likely to be more challenged, such as precincts with a large number of senior citizens.

Offer voters training to ease the transition to new systems or ballots through the mass media and mail, as well as hands-on demonstrations at shopping malls, county fairs, and other public venues.

Recommendations and Guidelines for Manufacturers

"First and foremost, voting system designers and manufacturers should emphasize usability engineering in the development of their products," the report says.
Systems should not provide too much information at once. The "full-faced" system showing the entire ballot in a single display overwhelmed voters.
Voters need clear feedback on where they are in the voting process.
Special care should be taken to make it clear when voting is complete.
Review screens should display full information on a single screen, if possible, including races that the voter has skipped.

Machines Tested

The researchers conducted expert reviews, laboratory tests and field studies comparing five current electronic voting systems and one prototype: 1) paper ballot/optical scan (Election Systems and Software); 2) manual advance touch screen (Diebold AccuVote-TS); 3) auto advance touch screen with paper trail (Avante Voting Systems); 4) zoomable touch screen (research proto-type, designed by Benjamin Bederson, UM); 5) dial and buttons (Hart InterCivic); 6) full-face ballot with membrane buttons (Nedap Election Systems). The companies and developers provided the machines for these tests.

Subsequently the researchers compared four vote verification/election audit systems: the Diebold AccuVote-TSx with AccuView Printer Module; VoteHere Sentinel; the Scytl Pnyx, VM; the MIT Audio System. The Diebold AccuVote-TS had no verification system and served as the statistical control.

Funders

Funding for the studies was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Research Team

Paul Herrnson, principal investigator, University of Maryland Center for American Politics and Citizenship;
Richard Niemi, University of Rochester, dept. of political science;
Michael Hanmer, University of Maryland dept. of government and politics and Center for American Politics and Citizenship;
Benjamin Bederson, University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab, Institute for Advanced Computer Studies;
Frederick Conrad, University of Maryland, Joint Program in Survey Methodology, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research;

Michael Traugott, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.

Neil Tickner | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umd.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

nachricht Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nagoya physicists resolve long-standing mystery of structure-less transition

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Chronic stress induces fatal organ dysfunctions via a new neural circuit

21.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Scientists from the MSU studied new liquid-crystalline photochrom

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>