Computer technology has enabled humanity to make great advances in aircraft design, communications, and countless other fields. But when it comes to recording the results of elections, it’s often unclear to election officials in towns across the country whether the introduction of computers has been a help or a hindrance.
That’s where Douglas W. Jones, associate professor of computer science in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, comes in. In 2010, he was appointed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) as one of four new technical and scientific experts to its Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC). The TGDC is charged under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) with assisting the EAC in developing federal voluntary voting system guidelines that are used to test and certify voting systems.
Previously, Jones served on the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems for 10 years, where he helped examine and approve voting systems before they were sold to the state’s county governments. He testified at the U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearings in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 11, 2001, and was involved in reviewing the federal 2002 Voting System Standards.
Also, in August 2005, he was awarded a five-year, $800,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to investigate the use of electronic voting systems in U.S. elections. The grant is part of a $7.5 million NSF project called ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections).
Jones recently shared his thoughts with fyi on present and future voting technology.
What is the EAC?
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission maintains a clearinghouse of information on election administration, ranging from voting system testing and certification to data on how Americans voted in recent federal elections. The technical guidelines committee examines the rules governing voting systems used in the United States to ensure that the election choices of individual voters are accurately registered and tallied. This is important because the basis of democratic government is the ability to conduct fair and accurate elections.
To be viewed as fair, an election system must be transparent. To borrow a phrase from Dan Wallach, associate director of ACCURATE, the system must convince the losers that they lost. However, the losers and their supporters often have no required technical qualifications. This means that the entire election system must be open and comprehensible so that nontechnical observers can believe the results.