The University of Connecticut’s Center for Voting Technology Research (VoTeR Center) is working to keep state elections fair and fraud free, a topic recently brought to light by Secretary of State Denise Merrill in a statement released Friday.
“(On Oct. 26th), along with representatives from the state’s information technology and public safety departments, I met with regional officials from the United States Department of Homeland Security to discuss how we can work together to ensure that Connecticut elections are safe from outside interference or manipulation,” Merrill said.
The center aids this mission by advising state agencies in the use of electronic voting equipment and investigating voting solutions, according to its website.
“We’ve been in existence since 2006 and we’ve been working with the Secretary of the State’s Office since then,” said Dr. Alexander Schwarzmann, professor and head of the UConn computer science and engineering department. “Our work was motivated by the nationwide change in the way that elections are conducted with the help of technology.”
The center was developed as a result of the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) according to Schwarzmann. The act was a response to the inaccuracies in voting technology found in the 2000 election, specifically regarding events in the state of Florida.
“Political issues aside, there was a problem in Florida, and it had to do with imperfect and outright bad technology used in the elections, in particular the use of punch cards,” Schwarzmann said. “After the first recount, it was pointless to do recounts because the ballots were tampered with because of mishandling.”
Schwarzmann said that while the incident built public distrust for the paper system, states were too eager to implement newer electronic voting technology.
“The federal government threw something like six billion dollars at the states encouraging them to buy newer technology and better technology,” Schwarzmann said. “Unfortunately both the states and the vendors rushed to this spot of money and this deployed immature technologies.”
Schwarzmann said going fully electronic is not a viable option for having an accurate election, rather having a hybrid system of electronic and paper is better.
“(With a fully paperless system) there is no recourse. If the computer breaks, how do we know what the results are? If the computer is tampered with the votes are meaningless,” Schwarzmann said. “With paperless technology we completely delegate the decisions and the correctness of the electoral process to a machine that or may not be perfect.”
Many states including Connecticut, which was encouraged by the UConn group, have adopted the optical scan system that uses a scanner to read marked paper ballots, Schwarzmann said. The VoTeR Center investigates these systems both before and after state elections through audits, according to Schwarzmann.
Audits perform various tasks such as checking if the voting programs are safe and whether or not they change through the voting period, according to the VoTeR website.
“We check the machines for vulnerability both from a security and liability standpoint,” Schwarzmann said. “While we don’t claim that the voting machines are perfect or can ever be perfect, we use them provided there are sufficient safeguards to make sure that we have a recourse or an alternative way of determining the result.”
With audits dating six elections back, the center hopes to continue analyzing election results in the future and keeping them free from intervention and inaccuracy, Schwarzmann said.
“We have a computer assisted system that we developed with the help of the United States Election Assistance Commission,” Schwarzmann said. “We piloted it in the last election and we will be using it again in this election.”
Collin Sitz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.