Berkeley’s Philip Stark and David Wagner recently shared a paper they have submitted for publication entitled “Evidence-Based Elections“. While subject matter is highly technical, the authors do a nice job of making it accessible to the informed layperson – and tucked into the piece is an observation that could significantly revamp the approach to voting technology at every level of government nationwide. Stark and Wagner start with this assertion: “an election should ﬁnd out who won, but … should also produce convincing evidence that it found the real winners – or report that it cannot.” Working from that premise, the authors describe various recent elections where voting technology failures created controversy about the validity of the results.
Some of the blame, they suggest, can be laid at the continued reliance of the field on a testing and certification process aimed at identifying and screening for problems before a given technology can be used. Indeed, they note that “the trend over the past decade or two has been towards more sophisticated, complex technology and much greater reliance upon complex software–trends [to which] that the voting standards and the testing process have been slow to react.” Moreover, the continued consolidation of the voting equipment market and slow development of the federal testing process has resulted in a high cost of testing that serves as a barrier to entry and innovation in the field.