AU's voting system, Prime III, garners Congressional attention

Published: Jul 30, 2007 1:00:00 AM
Media Contact: Amy Weaver, aweaver@oanow.com, 334-737-2534

Source: Opelika-Auburn News

Sometimes winning isn't everything.

Although a team of Auburn University engineering students intended to win the first ever University Voting Systems Competition held July 16-18 in Portland, Ore., they say it's OK that they didn't.

Sure, the $10,000 award could have helped finance more research, but Dr. Juan Gilbert, an associate professor in the department of computer science and software engineering at AU's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, said the exposure at the contest was worth much more.

For instance, AU attracted the attention of at least one vendor who is interested in working with them to adopt a similar user-friendly system. Gilbert also met Jim Dickson, a lobbyist with the American Association for People with Disabilities. Dickson connected Gilbert to Dr. Michael Shamos, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Coincidentally, Shamos was getting ready to testify before a U.S. Senate committee on the Ballot Integrity Act and the different technologies available now in voting systems. In his remarks Wednesday, Shamos specifically explained the advantages of the AU system for a couple minutes.

Prime III gets its name from the three voting methods it offers - voice, touch and both. Instructions are provided through a headset or on the computer screen. Votes are cast by touching the screen or saying a corresponding number. It is designed to allow everyone to vote, regardless of ability, and yet retain voter privacy.

Gilbert said he expects to hear some "big news" in the coming months, especially if Congress calls for the creation of a committee to look into the latest in voting technology.

"If that occurs, we will be interacting directly with Congress," he said.

Voting is a hot topic now as the nation prepares for a presidential election in nearly 15 months. With an impending major election, Gilbert says Congress knows how important it is to have a reliable system. No one wants to see paper balloting fail again like it did in 2000, he said.

In the meantime, the Prime III team is going to brief as many people as they can on their system, including more folks in Washington, D.C. Gilbert and some students will miss the first days of class next month as they will be in the nation's capital for the Black Data Processing Association Conference. They are inviting all lawmakers to test Prime III. Then in September, the team will brief an advocate back home in Alabama, Secretary of State Beth Chapman, on the latest with the project.

"It looks like we are gaining some momentum," Gilbert said. "We are going to make sure everyone knows we are here."

Prime III may not have won the grand prize in Oregon, but Gilbert said it bested three other teams as the Best Usability Metrics and Best Human Factors.

"It means we had the most usable system, the most user-friendly," he said. "Everyone should have equal access (to vote) and that is what Prime III is all about."