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News from the National Academies
Date: Sept. 13, 2005
Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Michelle Strikowsky, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Electronic Voting Systems Show Promise, But Require
Bigger Commitment by Federal Government and States

WASHINGTON -- While electronic voting systems have improved, federal and state governments have not made the commitment necessary for e-voting to be widely used in future elections, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. More funding, research, and public education are required if e-voting is to become viable, said the report's authoring committee, which was co-chaired by two former governors. And because electronic voting systems, like all complex computer systems, are fallible and may be compromised -- whether deliberately or by accident -- backup systems will be needed in the event of malfunctions or allegations of fraud.

"Electronic systems are expected to supplant traditional voting techniques, but this will happen only if more resources are dedicated to understanding how these systems work and to training election officials and the public on their use," said committee co-chair Dick Thornburgh, former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. attorney general, and now counsel to Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP, Washington, D.C. "In an election environment with great variability in state electoral laws and in the qualifications of local election officials and poll workers, such an effort will be critical to realizing the full potential of electronic systems."

Election officials are concerned that the voting controversy in Florida during the 2000 presidential contest and other real or perceived voting mishaps have shaken the public's confidence in the election process, and more locales are turning to e-voting in their search for a more-foolproof alternative. The report, however, emphasizes that decisions about using electronic systems need to be based on whether they will significantly improve the reliability and efficiency of elections -- an obvious consideration but one often overlooked in the public debate. Decisions about the ultimate desirability of e-voting systems should not be limited to assessments of their performance to date, the committee warned, noting that e-voting technologies are continually improving. Election officials should ensure that these systems are reliable, user-friendly, and in compliance with election laws. In the end, elections that are trusted by the public should be considered the gold standard of election administration, the committee added.

To help election officials gauge the robustness of an e-voting system, the committee posed a series of questions on matters such as computer security and voter privacy, system usability, and the life cycle of software and availability of upgrades. The answers should be made widely and easily available to officials and the public, who will need them to make sound decisions about when and if to adopt e-voting.

Thornburgh's co-chair on the committee was Richard F. Celeste, former governor of Ohio and U.S. ambassador to India, and current president of Colorado College, Colorado Springs. "The issues associated with electronic voting are not partisan issues," Celeste said. "We're asking questions that should be part of a rational and systematic investigation of the unresolved issues and ramifications of electronic voting. The public should be involved in asking these questions, and should pay heed to the answers. Our democracy demands nothing less."

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Asking the Right Questions About Electronic Voting will be available in the fall from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Science
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board

Committee to Study a Framework for Understanding Electronic Voting

Richard F. Celeste (co-chair)
President
Colorado College
Colorado Springs

Richard L. Thornburgh (co-chair)
Counsel
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP
Washington, D.C.

R. Michael Alvarez
Professor of Political Science
Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
California Institute of Technology, and
Co-Director
Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project
Pasadena

Thomas B. Sheridan*
Ford Professor of Engineering and Applied Psychology, Emeritus
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (retired)
Newton

Joseph Smialowski
Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology
Freddie Mac
McLean, Va.

Anthony Stevens
Assistant Secretary of State
State of New Hampshire
Concord

Peter J. Weinberger
Google Inc.
Soyosst, N.Y.


RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Herbert S. Lin
Study Director


* Member, National Academy of Engineering