VTP News

MPSA 2011 Conference - Presentations by VTP Faculty, Affiliates and Students

Our Voting Technology faculty, affiliates and students will be presenting papers/posters, and several of our faculty will be sitting on panels at this year's Midwest Political Science Association Conference. Please visit the website for specific locations. Following are dates and times of the sessions for each VTP team member:

> Paper: The 17th Amendment and the Partisan Composition of the U.S. Senate, by Charles H. Stewart III, MIT and Wendy J. Schiller, Brown University. March 31, 2011/4:35pm

> Roundtable: Using Political Science to Understand the Democrats Surge and Decline: Charles Stewart will be a panelist. April 2, 2011/10:25am

> Charles Stewart will be Chairing the following session: Proximity Models: Moving beyond One Dimension on April 2, 2011/12:45pm

> Paper: Deciphering Declining: California's Decline to State Voters, by John Andrew Sinclair and Michael Alvarez, Caltech. March 31, 2011/2:40pm

> Roundtable: Graduate Methods Training in the Potential Outcomes Era: Moving Beyond Regression?. Michael Alvarez will be one of the Chairs on April 1, 2011/12:45pm

> Paper: Voter Choice under Instant Runoff Voting: An Empirical Analysis of the Rationality and Dimensionality of Candidate Rankings, by Ines Levin, Michael Alvarez, Caltech and Thad Hall, University of Utah. April 1, 2011/4:35pm

> Paper: How Emotional Reactions Alter Survey Responses, presented by Peter Foley, Ralph Adolphs and Michael Alvarez, Caltech. April 2, 2011/10:25am

> Paper: Uncertainty and Importance in Vote Choice, presented by David Peterson, Iowa State University and Michael Alvarez, Caltech. April 2, 2011/12:45pm

> Paper: Overseas Voter Satisfaction in 2010, presented by Clair M. Smith, Overseas Vote Foundation and Thad Hall, University of Utah. March 31, 2011/10:25am

> Paper: Voter Choice under Instant Runoff Voting... presented by Ines Levin, Michael Alvarez, Caltech and Thad Hall, University of Utah. April 1, 2011/4:35pm

> Paper: Measuring Changes in Voter Turnout and mobilization Patterns: The 2004 and 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections, presented by Morgan Llewellyn, IMT, Lucca. April 2, 2011/10:25am

> Paper: Uninformed but Opinionated Voters, presented by Peter Foley, Caltech. March 31, 2011/8:30am

> Paper: Optimal Defense Policy Under Domestic Constraints, 1815-1914, presented by John Andrew Sinclair, Caltech. March 31, 2011/10:25am


39th Annual James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award Lecture

Tuesday, February 08, 2011
39th Annual James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award Lecture

Speaker: Professor Ronald L. Rivest, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Time: 4:00p–5:30p

Location: 10-250, Huntington Hall

Ronald L. Rivest, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science who helped develop one of the world's most widely used Internet security systems, is MIT's James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award winner for 2010-2011.

The award was announced at the faculty meeting on Wednesday, May 19. Established in 1971 as a tribute to MIT's 10th president, the Killian Award recognizes extraordinary professional accomplishment by an MIT faculty member.
Rivest, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), is known for his pioneering work in the field of cryptography, computer and network security.

Web site: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/rivest-wins-facultys-killian-award

Open to: the general public

Cost: Free

Sponsor(s): Information Center, Provost's Office, Killian Award Committee

For more information, contact:
Joe Coen

This event is categorized as: lectures/conferences, science/engineering, institute events

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Researchers Use Technology to Improve Voting

A group of researchers from MIT and CalTech are working to use technology to make voting better.

An electronic voting booth in Alexandria, Virginia, November 2, 2010.

The Voting Technology Project was founded ten years ago as a response to the problems that occurred in the 2000 presidential election. Charles Stewart, a professor of political science at MIT who works with the project, says it is largely supported by non-profits such as the Carnegie and Ford Foundations.

During this election, Prof. Stewart says the team is paying attention to reports from states like Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado, where the races are close and many people vote on electronic machines.

Some issues have already come up from the touchscreen technology used by the electronic voting machines. Prof. Stewart says he has heard of complaints today from voters in North Carolina who say that the touchscreens were registering the wrong selections. This could be caused by voters leaning on the machines or running their fingers over multiple selections, or by improperly calibrated machines.

The latter issue, says Prof. Stewart, highlights a problem with electronic voting machines that people may not realize: though many of the machines were purchased between 2004 and 2006, they are already becoming obsolete. “The industry is very capital poor, and there’s not a lot of money going into research to develop better equipment. The new stuff is getting old really fast.”

Researchers from the project will also closely monitor the elections in New York, after widespread issues cropped up with new machines used to tally votes during the September primary.

Rather than pulling a lever in a mechanical voting booth, New York voters now mark their selections in pencil on a paper ballot, which is then scanned by a machine—similar to Scantron-scored standarized tests. Optical scanning machines have been used in elections in the U.S. for the past 30 years but were only adopted in New York state beginning in 2009.

Prof. Stewart says many voters are anxious about whether their ballots will be counted, particularly after the 2000 presidential election. “We get lots of calls from people who just don’t trust that their ballots have been counted.”

Ronald Rivest, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT who is involved with the Voting Technology Project, has been working with a team of researchers to develop a system that would allow voters to confirm that their ballots have been counted and that their votes have been recorded correctly.

The system, called the Scantegrity II, has voters mark their ballots with special pens that expose codes next to the names of the candidates they select. The voter records those codes along with their ballot’s serial number. The voter can then look up the serial number on the election website to verify that the codes they marked were registered on that ballot. The codes are randomly generated and can’t reveal what candidate a voter chose. The Scantegrity machine was used by the city of Takoma Park, Md., for its municipal elections last November.

Other developments that researchers involved with the project are studying include the potential for Internet-based voting systems.

Prof. Stewart says a challenge to developing more reliable voting technologies is a central aspect of voting itself—the secret ballot. “At some point, you lose the chain of custody and the chain of proof. But there might be ways of auditing all the steps along the way.”

Despite issues that have arisen in recent elections, Prof. Stewart says the technology is moving in the right direction. “We vote better now than we did in 2000 ,” he says.”The machines are better and the procedures are better. The people who run elections are more aware of the problems, and they’re aware that the public is watching how they resolve them.”

Perspectives: GOP tidal wave stopped at state line

By R. Michael Alvarez
Posted: 11/06/2010 07:12:23 AM PDT

Tuesday's elections were historic. We will look back on 2010 as one of the most important midterm elections in recent memory.

First, Washington politics is about to change, big time. With Republicans picking up a majority of House seats, there will be new political leadership and a change of focus in one branch of our government. No doubt, the new Republican House leaders will look at their sweeping victory as a mandate for change.

These elections will also undoubtedly usher in a new era of partisan wrangling, and most likely gridlock. With Republicans holding a solid majority in the House, they will be able to stymie Democratic initiatives coming either from the Senate or the White House.

Republicans can also use their new power to launch investigations and to attack the Obama administration. While this will satisfy some conservatives throughout the nation, it will likely alienate other voters who are looking for real solutions to pressing problems.

While it is early to say exactly what drove voting decisions across the nation, in the first national exit poll reported by CNN, most voters said that the economy was the most important issue facing the country today. It was important to note that few named health care, illegal immigration or the war in Afghanistan.

But I doubt that many of those voting Tuesday for change believe that partisan gridlock and politically motivated investigations will produce new jobs, restore value to their homes or lead to a better standard of living for their families.

So unless the politicians in Washington are solution-driven, we might see an even angrier electorate in 2012.

Second, while this tidal wave of change swept the nation, it seems to have stopped at the California border. Democratic candidates like Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer successfully fought back the Republican tide, as did many legislative candidates across the state. A good example of the latter is incumbent Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, who easily and overwhelmingly brushed off what some thought could be a strong challenge from tea party-aligned Republican John Colbert.

Why didn't the Republican tidal wave sweep over California? This will be something that pundits and researchers look at in the future, but at this point there seems to be a couple of possible explanations. At the state level, Republican candidates were inexperienced and lacked a message that resonated throughout the state.

Neither Fiorina nor Whitman seemed sure of themselves as politicians, and they never got traction with their messages. At the congressional level, California is so heavily gerrymandered that national tides did not do much damage to incumbents.

Additionally, it is likely that California's electorate on Tuesday was distinct from the rest of the nation. As I visited polling places on Tuesday, in many parts of Los Angeles County there were energized voters, and visible voter-mobilization efforts. Early analysis of exit poll data indicates that those efforts might have led to a significant increase in Latino participation, another possible reason Republicans failed throughout the state.

Third, after Tuesday's races, the future of the Republican Party in California at the state level is unclear. At this point, Democratic candidates have swept all of the statewide offices except for the attorney general's seat; that race may not be decided for weeks, with Kamala Harris of San Francisco currently in a slim lead. Given the virtual Democratic sweep at the state level in a Republican year nationally, it surely looks as if California Republicans are out of sync with California voters.

Fourth, the two top-of-the ticket races provide strong evidence that well-heeled candidates do not always win elections. Whitman spent at least $142 million of her own money on her failed bid. Fiorina spent more than $5 million from her pocketbook in another failed effort.

Rich, free-spending candidates strike fear into the hearts of their potential opponents, but winning an election in California requires more than a large bank balance. While there is no guarantee that well-heeled individuals won't blow their fortunes in future elections, my guess is that Whitman and Fiorina's losses on Tuesday may force other rick potential candidates to rethink their political plans.

Finally, there was a trio of ballot measures in California of future importance: propositions 19, 20 and 25. Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana in California, lost badly. It never raised a lot of money, at least until billionaire George Soros weighed in at the last minute. But the measure attracted a lot of attention across the nation. Despite failing at the polls, we might see another similar ballot measure in the near future - 45 percent of California voters said "yes" to legal pot.

But both propositions 20 and 25 did pass, and they will have long-lasting effects on politics and governance in California.

Proposition 20 added the responsibility of drawing congressional district boundaries to the new Citizens Redistricting Commission, which was put into place after Proposition 11 passed in 2008.

The work of this new commission will begin shortly, and because it will take the power to draw legislative districts away from politicians, we could see more competitive state legislative and congressional elections soon.

If Proposition 20 will change who gets elected in California, Proposition 25 is likely to change one of the most important things state legislators do in office - produce a state budget. Proposition 25, which was strongly supported at the polls on Tuesday, will lower the vote requirement to pass a budget from a two-thirds to a simple majority. This could reduce the budgetary gridlock we have seen in recent years in Sacramento, and eliminate one of the primary sources of partisan friction in our state's politics.

R. Michael Alvarez is a professor of political science at Caltech whose research focuses on voting behavior and election technologies.

Read more: http://www.sgvtribune.com/opinions/ci_16542589#ixzz14oFTJoLP

Use of "NegExp" auditing method in Boulder, Colorado

The ``NegExp'' auditing method developed by Jay Aslam, Raluca Ada
Popa, and myself as part of the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project
research is currently being used to audit election results in
some jurisdictions in Boulder, Colorado.

Here is a pointer to the web site regarding the audit:

The person to contact about this, if you are interested in
contacting someone about this, is
Neal McBurnett

Attached is an information sheet about their audit procedures,
which references our paper. You can download more information
from the web site.

Electoral Reform: Charting the Course to Voter Engagement

A nation that can send a man to the moon and that can put a reliable ATM
machine on every corner has no excuse not to deploy a reliable, affordable,
easy-to-use voting system!

Attached is a PDF of the Carnegie Review, which features an article where Mike Alvarez was interviewed on Electoral Reform.

carnegie review 2009.pdf745.51 KB

Prof. Thad Hall interview on "Voting on the Internet" in Estonia.

Former Soviet Republic Estonia is the first country in the world to allow citizens to vote over the internet. Thad Hall, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Utah, recently observed the municipal elections in that country, which saw 20% of the vote conducted online. He tells Utah Policy how the country conducts the online vote and ensures the integrity of the election process on the internet.

See attached interview.


MIT's Charles Stewart receives Arthur C. Smith Award.

Professor Charles Stewart is this year's recipient of the Institute's Arthur C. Smith Award. The Arthur C. Smith Award was established in 1996 on the occasion of Dean Smith's retirement from the position of Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs. The award honors the service of Dean Smith and is presented to a member of the MIT faculty for meaningful contributions and devotion to undergraduate student life at MIT.

2008 Survey of the Performance of American Elections

Charles Stewart is giving a presentation at the IACREOT 38th Annual Summer Conference & Trade Show in Spokane, Washington this week (July 7-11, 2009).

Attached is his presentation on the 2008 Survey of the Performance of American Elections.

iacreot_presentation_slides.ppt282.5 KB

United States Senate Committee on Rules and Administration

News from Chairman Schumer

Schumer Reveals Groundbreaking New Study from Voting Experts: Up to 7 Million Registered Voters were Prevented or Discouraged from Casting Ballots in '08 Election

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, announced Wednesday that, according to a groundbreaking new study conducted by leading election experts, as many as seven million registered voters were prevented or discouraged from casting their ballots in the 2008 election, demonstrating major malfunctions in the country’s election process.



Testimony of Mr. Stephen Ansolabehere
Professor, Department of Government
Harvard University

Hearing: Voter Registration: Assessing Current Problems
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Testimony of Mr. Stephen Ansolabehere
Professor, Department of Government
Harvard University


03112009Ansolabehere_Testimony.pdf139.24 KB