Voting systems must be accurate, usable, accessible and secure to be successful, according to a new paper from a voting behavior expert at Rice University. “Improving Voting Systems’ User-Friendliness, Reliability and Security” will appear in Behavioral Science and Policy and summarizes voting systems in the United States used throughout the past decade and outlines lessons about how to improve them. In the paper, author Mike Byrne, a professor of psychology and computer science at Rice, summarizes previous voting research that supports his argument that the following four factors are critical to the success of voting systems. In his previous research on voting accuracy, Byrne found that voting machines fail to capture voter intent up to 4 percent of the time. He found a 1-2 percent error rate for paper ballots, a 1.5 percent error rate for direct recording electronic – DRE – machines and a 3-4 percent error rate for punch cards and lever machines. He said this is clear evidence that this issue must be addressed. Voting error rates were measured by comparing each voter’s intent with the actual vote that was cast.
“The most critical measure of a voting system’s usability is the system’s ability to accurately capture voter intent,” Byrne said. “In several elections throughout history – including the 2016 presidential election – a few percentage points made all the difference. And there have been situations – such as the 2000 presidential election – where individuals thought they were casting a vote for their desired candidate, when it fact a confusing ballot made it harder to cast the right vote.”
Byrne noted that studies from other voting researchers revealed even more troubling findings about voting accuracy, which he said further underscores the importance of voting accuracy.
“The scariest thing about these numbers is that we know from other research that the DRE we measured is almost certainly better than most of the ones out there in real polling places,” he said.