Voting Systems Institute Established at DGRC

February 1, 2005

Against a background of continuing controversy about the reliability, security, and accuracy of voting technology, the USC Information Sciences Institute- headquartered Digital Government Research Center (DGRC) and the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) today announced the creation of a new institute, the Voting Systems Institute (VSI), to support a growing grassroots effort to develop objective test standards for tamperproof, verifiable, and technologically sound voting systems.

VSI will be a joint entity of DGRC and the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a 20-year track record of using technology to empower the underserved, improve communication between voters and candidates for office and to implement effective public policy reforms.

Funded by the NSF and other agencies, the DGRC is a joint enterprise of the University of Southern California and Columbia University with a charter to use digital technology to improve government efficiency and public access. VSI will work closely with the newly formed Voting Systems Performance Rating (VSPR) effort, which has brought together state and county election officials, computer and security experts, and voting equipment manufacturers to create assessment methods for voting systems.

CGS CEO Tracy Westen said that "VSPR's aim is to improve confidence in US election systems, by providing an open and objective basis for rating them." The VSPR rating methods can be used by advocates and by election officials during purchasing decisions, Westen explained. "We expect over time that VSPR will create a framework for innovation that will ultimately lead to increased voter confidence and civic participation."

Yigal Arens, co-Director of DGRC and a division director at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Information Sciences Institute (ISI), noted that VSPR is modeled on the highly successful IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), the unincorporated entity responsible for developing the standards that make the Internet work.

"We believe that VSI can introduce the same open, democratic methods for voting systems that succeeded brilliantly in creating workable and universally accepted standards for the Internet," Arens said, adding that VSI will be able to facilitate VSPR's efforts by helping provide access to academic expertise and, potentially, research funding.

Yigal Arens

Arens' home institution, ISI, was deeply involved in the IETF, "and we understand how to help build consensus among different parties from our previous work there," Arens continued. Arens and Westen announced that VSI will be headed by James Dolbear, who has previously founded and run technology associations and has researched voting developments extensively over the last several years.

Dolbear recounted that in the wake of problems with punch card systems in Florida, the "Help America Vote Act of 2002" provided funding to replace voting systems, and as a result State and local election officials initiated a wide range of reforms and vendors introduced new voting equipment.

"But" said Dolbear, "progress has been tempered by continuing security concerns. And now coming out of the November elections, throughput rates, absentee voting, provisional voting, and registration have been highlighted as potential issues. VSPR offers a way forward by bringing together all parties to structure and define the relevant technical aspects of voting systems. And VSI can play an important role in supporting VSPR in its technical work and providing the best educational tools to support the widest possible outreach."

In establishing VSI, DGRC's Arens hopes to duplicate the role that The Corporation for National Research Initiatives plays in supporting IETF. "We are embracing VSI as a natural outgrowth of our community building role in digital government," Arens said.

More information: http://www.votinginstitute.org/