Voting Project gets over $900K in grants


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Sarah H. Wright
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The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, the leading nonpartisan expert body on voting technologies and election administration, has been awarded major grants from two prestigious foundations to explore the challenges and opportunities of Internet voting.

The joint Voting Technology Project (VTP) received $643,085 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $273,200 from the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

"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," said Charles Stewart, professor of political science and associate dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

The Knight funding (the first grant from that foundation to the VTP) will allow experts to "continue to analyze elections and other voting data. It will also help create new kinds of electronic voting architectures, demonstrate new kinds of unbiased voting interfaces, developing a universal design in voting interface to remove barriers for disenfranchised voters and exploring ways of testing registration databases," said Ted Selker, associate professor and director of the Context-Aware Computing Group at the Media Laboratory.

The VTP researchers from MIT in addition to Stewart and Selker include Stephen Ansolabehere, the Elting Morison Professor of Political Science; Srinivas Devadas, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Stephen Graves, the Abraham Siegel Professor of Management, and Ron Rivest, the E.S. Webster Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.

"Assuring the integrity and security of the nation's voting system protects democracy. We're thrilled to support a project that works with the country's top researchers, industry executives and government officials to guarantee a voting process that works for all Americans," said Lisa Versaci, director of the Knight Foundation's National Venture Fund.

The Carnegie Corp. awarded grants to the VTP in 2001 and 2002. The latest Carnegie grant will help the VTP group design an Internet voting system and test how such a system could integrate all components of the voting system, including registering, casting and counting votes.

Since Internet voting implies that voters have computer access, the researchers will investigate security questions such as: How do you ensure that voters vote only once? Can voters be certain that their votes are confidential and free from coercion?

The Voting Technology Project was initiated by MIT President Charles M. Vest and Caltech President David Baltimore in December 2000, one month after the controversial presidential election.

A team of political scientists and engineers from both institutes conducted the first-ever evaluation of the security, reliability and accessibility of existing voting methods while a furor over miscounted votes was still unfolding in Florida.

The VTP's 2001 report, "Voting: What Is and What Could Be," is available online at http://web.mit.edu/voting.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 1, 2003.


Topics: Voting and elections, National relations and service

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