As Americans prepare to cast their ballots in the 2008
national elections, there are growing calls for improvements to the voting
process. In recent years, important U.S. elections have been plagued by
electronic voting machine failures and other problems. That's why in the
presidential and congressional elections on Nov. 4, more than half of all
voters will use paper ballots read by optical scanning machines.
Many voters and election experts question whether, without
a paper trail to verify one's vote, electronic voting machines can ever be
trusted. But that could change with a
new vote counting system that might help restore voters' confidence that their
ballots are being accurately counted.
an assistant professor of computer science at George Washington University,
understands why people are frustrated with the process of voting. She says once
ballots are cast, voters must have faith that their vote is recorded.
"Essentially, that is all you can do unless you are a
privileged polling official or somebody who can come close to the scanner and
ballot boxes and ensure that [the votes] are counted correctly," she says.
Vora says voters want a way to check independent of
polling officials and machines. Working with researchers from a half-dozen
universities in North America and Europe, Vora helped develop a new vote
it works with the optical scanning devices already in common use. Much like
they are accustomed, voters are given a paper ballot and asked to mark it. The
only difference is the pen they use has special ink, which reveals hidden
codes. Before leaving the polling station, the voter would copy those codes on
a detachable receipt at the bottom of the ballot. The codes could then be confirmed online.
Vora says Scantegrity would make election fraud more
"The machine would be caught [in a discrepancy]
between voters and Web site numbers if your confirmation code is incorrectly
recorded on the Web site," she says.
With the proof, voters would then step in and challenge
"It helps detect that there really was an error or
there wasn't," Vora says.
Team member and George Washington University graduate
student Stefan Popoveniuc says invisible ink and encrypted codes aside, the
magic of Scantegrity is that it empowers voters to take a greater role in the
"We really want the public [to] check each and every
promise that the election officials make about running the elections correctly,
and we can do that if we have enough data," he says.
Scantegrity is ready for use in elections. Since it has
been designed to be used with optical scanners, increased costs would be
minimal. According to Scantegrity
researchers, although election districts would still have to pay for equipment
and supplies, the first to adopt the system will get it royalty-free for a
The system will get a workout on Election Day when more
than 1,200 foreign students on the George Washington University campus cast
their ballots in a mock presidential election using the Scantegrity vote