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10/10/2003 07:00:00

Internet Voting to Get a Closer Look

PASADENA, Calif. - It's election morning. In the old days you would track down your voter's pamphlet to find your precinct, open a map, figure out how to get there, and determine how you would fit voting into your work day--before work, after work, on your lunch hour, etc. But today, you shuffle to your computer in your pajamas, cast your vote, and go start the coffee.

How far in the future is this scenario? It's a little closer than it once was, thanks to a $643,085 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $273,200 from the Carnegie Corporation to the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, to explore the challenges and opportunities of Internet voting.

The Knight Foundation grant will fund the model of a more accessible voting system that would lower voter confusion, allow the visually impaired to vote without assistance, and improve the accuracy and usefulness of voter registration. It would also fund a study of electronic voting system security.

The Carnegie grant will fund multiple efforts as well: a conference on the sociological and technological issues surrounding electronic voting; an examination of the potential uses of the Internet to solve problems with the voter registration system; and an examination of the possibility that Internet voting may introduce a digital divide in elections.

In terms of Internet voting, the researchers will investigate the many security questions that arise--how do you ensure that voters vote only once and are free from coercion, and how can voters be certain that their votes are confidential. Additionally researchers will consider how voters who don't own computers will be able to gain computer access in order to vote.

According to Shuki Bruck, Moore Professor of Computational and Neural Systems and Electrical Engineering at Caltech, "Internet voting will happen, and will help in making our democratic decision process more robust. The key question is how long it will take our society to get it right. Solving the technological challenges is only one piece of the puzzle, addressing the social and political issues of this paradigm shift seems to be a more complex challenge." The researchers on both campuses include political scientists, engineers, sociologists, and individuals who study the interaction between humans and machines.

"Recent events in California, Maryland, and elsewhere have shown that election reform can be undermined when suspicions are raised by voting technologies. These two grants will help us shine a brighter light on the more troubling aspects of electronic voting, hopefully in ways that will support a robust voting technology industry while also assuring the public that their votes are being counted as cast," remarked Charles Stewart, associate dean of humanities, arts, and social sciences and professor of political science at MIT.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.

Carnegie Corporation of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." As a grantmaking foundation, the corporation seeks to carry out Carnegie's vision of philanthropy, which he said should aim "to do real and permanent good in the world." The corporation awards grants totaling approximately $80 million a year in the areas of education, international peace and security, international development, and strengthening U.S. democracy.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Jill Perry, Media Relations Director (626) 395-3226 jperry@caltech.edu

Visit the Caltech media relations web site: http://pr.caltech.edu/media

Written by Jill Perry