Bridging Science, Technology, and Politics in Election Systems

R. Michael Alvarez
Erik Antonsson
The Bridge

Shortly after the tumult of the evening of November 7 and the morning of November 8, 2000, the presidents of Caltech and MIT challenged us to solve the technological problems that had arisen in the election, especially with the punch-card voting systems that were widely disparaged after Florida’s presidential contest. Our initial research team spanned the continent and involved two campuses with different research and administrative cultures. The team also spanned many disciplines—computer science, economics, human-factors research, mechanical engineering, operations research, and political science. In addition to taking advantage of the faculty resources on both campuses, the group included staff and students, both undergraduate and graduate.

For better or worse, the more our research team studied what happened in the 2000 presidential election, the more we became convinced that the problems could not be easily resolved because, in addition to technology, they involved people, procedures, and politics. The work of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP) in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 presidential election was controversial, but it served as a platform for research and reform in the years that followed. In this article, we discuss how we undertook this research project, how it has evolved over the past seven years, and the issues we believe are critical to advancing the science of elections.

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