An Assessment of Voting Technology and Ballot Design
NSF-Funded Project starting September, 2003
This project is a collaboration between:
Ben Bederson, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, UMD
Paul Herrnson, Professor of Government and Politics, UMD (project lead)
Richard Niemi, Professor Political Science, University of Rochester
Michael Traugott, Professor at Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan
Fred Conrad, Research Scientist at Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan
The events surrounding the 2000 presidential election called attention to a variety of seldom-discussed facts: that voting technology and ballot design can influence election outcomes; that most polling places in the United States employ outdated technology; that training in election administration is inadequate; that minorities and the poor are more likely to cast their ballots on outdated systems; and that voting procedures affect how voters feel about their ability to exercise their right to vote and their willingness to accept the results of an election as legitimate.
Since 2000, states have commissioned studies, revamped election administration, redesigned ballots, and begun to invest in new voting equipment. Existing research, however, provides little help in understanding current technology and, especially, the interface between voters and various voting systems and ballots. Thus, there is little solid information on which to base massive reforms, significant expenditures, or even the redesign of individual local ballots. The problems associated with the September 2002 primary election in Florida illustrate this.
This project will bring together social and computer scientists from a number of disciplines to study voting technology and ballot design. The research team will first assess the impact of existing technology and ballot designs on a variety of factors: the ability of voters to cast their ballots accurately and efficiently, voter ease in casting complete ballots (if so desired), voter comfort using different technology and ballot interfaces, voter confidence that their ballots will be accurately and confidentially recorded, and the level of voter turnout. They will also assess the effects of alternative voting systems and ballot formats on the frequency of incomplete ballots and split-ticket voting.
The project will use a variety of research designs, data collection methodologies, and analysis techniques, including: laboratory experiments, expert review, close-up observation, field tests, and .natural experiments. that occur as local jurisdictions change their voting technology and procedures. The project will also subject the research team's own prototype ("zoomable") voting interface design to the same rigorous evaluation applied to existing systems. Finally, the research team will create a generalized protocol for testing voting technology and ballot formats that will be disseminated for nationwide use.
The public benefits of this approach will be substantial: a considerable improvement in the totality of the election process, including reduced voter frustration, increased voter confidence in elections, the casting of more completed ballots, and, possibly, an increase in voter turnout. Scholarly benefits include improved understanding of human-computer interaction as it relates to voting behavior and commencement of a new approach to data collection and analysis in the study of voting technology, ballots, and voting behavior.
The project will be guided by regular interaction with practitioners and policy makers who have responsibility for the effective administration of the electoral system in the United States. Regular interaction will allow these individuals and agencies to disseminate information about the project, encourage potential beneficiaries to review the findings and use the testing protocol, communicate project findings and recommendations to companies that manufacture voting machines, and collect and analyze data from those who use the protocol.