NSBE member Juan E. Gilbert, Ph.D. (fourth from left) and researchers at Auburn University's Human Centered Computing Lab. Dr. Gilbert and a team at the lab created the new Prime Ill electronic voting system.
Fans of the TV show "Heroes" may remember a scene from Season 1 in which little Micah Sanders used his supernatural ability to change data in New York City's computerized voting machines. A little concentration of his electronic power, and presto! Nathan Petrelli was transformed from election loser to congressman.
Well, of course it wouldn't be that easy, but as more and more e-voting machines are put into use around the country and the world, many people are concerned that a real-life computer hacker might do a similar thing.
NSBE member Juan E. Gilbert, Ph.D. is an expert on this topic. A professor at Auburn University and a winner of NSBE's 2008 Golden Torch Award, Dr. Gilbert heads a 14-member team that created a unique electronic voting system called Prime III.
Juan E. Gilbert
"There's a whole lot wrongn with the e-voting systems being used today, Dr. Gilbert says. "Most people assume the biggest problem is security, but to be honest, the biggest issues are usability and accessibility. To date, no one has hacked a voting system."
Problems have occurred, and elections may have been thrown, Dr. Gilbert says, because of poorly designed systems that don't allow for accurate recounts; poorly designed electronic ballots that confused voters; and usability problems for people with different disabilities. Cost, among other things, has also been a problem, he adds. His research has discovered that the cheapest electronic systems now in use cost about $5,000 per machine.
Prime III solves all of these problems, Dr. Gilbert says. The system uses multiple encryption code, including "imposter ballots," to frustrate hackers. Its software is on bootable DVDs that can be used on many different computers, a feature that enhances security and keeps costs low, about $1,200 per machine. Votes on each machine are captured by two video recorders that don't record the voters; so votes can be recounted quickly and easily if necessary. And the system is "multimodal," meaning votes can be cast by touching the screen or by voice commands. So people who can't hear, read or see can vote using Prime III.
NSBE members who attended the 34th Annual National Convention in Orlando had a chance to use Prime III to vote for NSBE's national officers. The system also has had public exposure at a national forum on Capitol Hill and through the media, including National Public Radio and Dan Rather on HDNet.
Dr. Gilbert and his team at Auburn's Human Centered Computing Lab are now working on two more projects that provide "innovative solutions to real world problems": advanced learning technologies to teach math from "culturally relevant perspectives" and Applications Quest, software that helps schools create diversity admissions programs that stay within the law.
He and his team are not selling Prime III, he explains, rather, they are offering themselves as consultants to companies that sell e-voting systems to governments. He would like to see Prime III technology used around the world.
"We are the only people on the entire Earth that have implemented a system like this," he says. "If we can influence policy, we benefit from that as well."