Solving US electronic voting issues

Open Source Voting

© Lead Image © Tithi Luadthong,

© Lead Image © Tithi Luadthong,

Article from Issue 221/2019

In a quest for better voting machines, open source hardware may hold the answers.

Attempts by Russia to interfere with US elections have been headline news in the last year. But the problems with the election process in the United States goes deeper than the public generally realizes and includes obsolete, proprietary systems, a lack of funds for upgrades, and near monopolies on voting machines. As the 2020 US elections near, academics are working to provide solutions to these issues – and open source software and hardware are at the core of these solutions, together with modern interface design. One of the most promising solutions is Prime III, being developed by Juan E. Gilbert (Figure 1), a computer scientist who heads the Human Experience Research Lab at the University of Florida [1].

The problems being addressed by academics such as Gilbert go back to the 2000 presidential elections. In Florida, poor ballot design combined with difficult-to-use punch card voting machines resulted in an usually high number of voters choosing either too few or too many candidates, with ambiguous results [2]. In the ensuing debate, electronic voting became the leading solution, and in 2002, the Help America Vote Act was enacted to reform the voting process [3]. Unfortunately, the machines used in the 2004 election themselves caused problems; since then, federal funds for updating voting machines have not been available. In practice, American voters often use hardware that is obsolete by three or four generations.

Today, Neal McBurnett notes that the problems continue. In the 2016 elections, recounts in three states were done on the same machines that had produced questionable results, and auditing results were complicated by the fact that the four main vote-handling formats used throughout the United States are proprietary and do not easily communicate with one another [4].


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