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Because Scantegrity is an open system, the results of an election can be verified by completely independent auditors. Ben Adida, a fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Research on Computation and Society, who is not involved with Scantegrity, plans to perform an audit to check the tallied results of the Takoma Park election. “The real issue with voting systems that don’t have end-to-end verification is that you’re quibbling and arguing about stuff, but you have no proof,” Adida says.

In the case of the Florida elections, for example, Adida notes that voters could have been encouraged to use the system to make sure their votes were counted, and candidates could have checked the tallies.

Scantegrity is “the best of its kind that I’ve seen,” adds Ben Bederson, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, College Park, who has studied election technologies extensively. “It strikes a pretty good balance of usability, security, and understandability, compared to other systems.”

However, Bederson worries that the system may be too complicated for some voters. His research group has studied election auditing systems and found that “any verification significantly increases voters’ need for help.” Bederson is also concerned that, if voters need more help or take longer to cast votes, the system could contribute to higher costs for elections or long lines that might cause some people to give up and leave without voting.

“I hate to be critical of something that is so well-intended and is likely to actually increase security, but I don’t think this is likely to be deployable on a large scale,” Bederson says.

Nevertheless, Anne Sergeant, chair of the Takoma Park board of elections, says it’s important for people to be able to check that their votes are counted as cast.

Before trying Scantegrity in an official election, the city held a mock vote in April to work out kinks in the system. In that test, she says, about 30 percent of participants went home and used the system to verify their votes. Sergeant says that Scantegrity representatives talked extensively with voters and election officials after the April test and have improved their system accordingly. “I hope we can provide an experience where people walk away and say, ‘That was awesome,’” she says. “It’s a goal to which we aspire.”

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Credit: Scantegrity

Tagged: Web, security, cryptography, election, math, voting machine

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