Twenty-five years ago, as election officials around the country were discovering wondrous new ways to tabulate votes, a group of computer scientists got together in Boston for an impressively titled “First National Symposium on Security and Reliability of Computers in the Electoral Process.”
The session aired concerns about the integrity of computer-based voting methods and machines. In addition to computer scientists, the participants included election administrators from around the country, academics and equipment vendors.
The subject remained fairly esoteric for several years until the 2000 presidential election, when voting machine irregularities and related incidents in Florida cast a bright light on the security of votes.
Less than two months after that election, the presidents of CalTech and MIT launched a collaboration to study the subject. Their Voting Technology Project, which is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, set out to develop better voting systems standards and testing practices, and to work on post-election auditing methods and related subjects.
On Oct. 1, in something of a retrospective of that first symposium 25 years ago, the CalTech-MIT Voting Technology Project will hold a big public discussion titled “Election Integrity — Past, Present and Future.”
The event will host a wide range of panelists from academia, systems and elections offices, and will have a relevance to all Americans with an interest in voting integrity where machines are involved — meaning practically everybody.
But Granite Staters will have a particular connection through a panel appearance by Bill Gardner, the secretary of state whose office oversees elections in New Hampshire. Gardner will be there largely because he was a presenter at the 1986 symposium, that by virtue of the state’s relatively far-sighted positions on voting — a position that continues to this day.
The state, for example, was the first in the computer age to require paper ballots. Votes in all but 100 or so communities of the state are tallied by optical scanners that have been outfitted against hacking (votes are counted by hand elsewhere), but there remains a paper documentation, which is not the case in much of the country.
To its credit, the state continues to try to stay on top of things, most recently through an exhaustive review by an Electronic Ballot Counting Device Advisory Committee that, among other things, spelled out training protocols, audit requirements and technical requirements for voting machines in the state.
In an era when attention to voting integrity is justified — indeed, when some people fear that democracy has been snatched away by technology — such continued attention to the risk of computer-based fraud or error is essential. Hence the merit of the Oct. 1 CalTech-MIT event, which is appropriately open to the public. Information: email@example.com