February 27, 2009

Toward End to End Election Verifiability

FROM ELECTIONLINE.ORG by Kat Sambon - Takoma Park, Md. has long been considered a bastion of progressive thinking. The town is a nuclear-free zone, the city, by statute, is forbidden to do business with the country of Burma (officially the Union of Myanmar), and residents must apply for a city permit to cut down trees even on private property.

And the city’s progressive thinking doesn’t stop with environmental and social issues, it also extends to elections. Takoma Park allows non-citizens to vote in local elections, uses instant-runoff voting and recently, more than 20 election integrity advocates, poll workers and concerned citizens gathered at a community center to discuss Scantegrity, an end-to-end voting system built on top of an optical scan system that allows voters to confirm that their ballots were counted as cast after the election.

The November 2009 municipal elections in Takoma Park will mark the first time that Scantegrity is used for a binding public election but first, it will be tested in a mock election on April 11 in conjunction with the Takoma Park Arbor Day celebration.

Previously Scantegrity has been used in student government elections, according to Dr. Alan Sherman, University of Maryland – Baltimore County computer science professor and Scantegrity contributor.

Scantegrity uses open source software and interested parties can examine the source code here.

After deciding how to vote, a voter using a Scantegrity ballot uses a special pen to darken the oval next to their choice and the pen reveals a confirmation code in yellow. The voter can record the confirmation code on a tear-off portion of the ballot or receipt with a serial number that the voter can take home.

After the election, the voter can go to a Web site and enter the serial number to ensure that the confirmation code matches the code displayed, proving that the ballot was counted as cast without revealing the voter’s choice.

“Anyone in China can verify our election,” Richard Carback, a University of Maryland – Baltimore County computer science graduate student and Scantegrity contributor said.

Workshop participants talked about the nuts and bolts of running a Scantegrity election, such as what happens to the receipts that voters don’t keep (they will be shredded).

April mock election scheduled Takoma Park residents have the opportunity to check out the new system in a mock election on April 11 at the community center. The goals of the mock election are to demonstrate that Scantegrity is trustworthy and collect data on how voters use the system, Sherman said.

Select mock election participants will be asked to participate in a focus group which will be facilitated by a professional moderator, he said. Voters will also be videotaped to study how easy it is to use the system. Sherman hopes 400 voters try the system in April.

Watch a presentation to see how Scantegrity works here.

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