Mock Election Showcases Voice-Enabled Voting Machine

Published: Oct 22, 2008 1:00:00 AM
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Source: Speech Technology Magazine

Juan Gilbert speaking at mock election

AU Associate Professor Juan Gilbert tells students how to use the new voting system he developed. The system was used in Tuesday's mock election. Picture Taken By: Vasha Hunt | Opelika-Auburn News

Professor Juan Gilbert successfully showcased Prime III—his  multimodal speech and touch-screen voting system—at a mock presidential election at Auburn University yesterday.

Open to the general public, the mock election, took place in the Lowder Business Building; 118 voters cast ballots via Prime III. The results:  John McCain won by a margin of 62 votes to Barack Obama's 45 votes, with lesser candidates splitting the remainder of the votes.

"It went extremely well," says Gilbert, an associate professor in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department at Auburn, where he directs the Human Centered Computing Lab. "We were able to get 118 people through in about 30 minutes. So it went fairly quickly. All in all, people were very pleased. They were surprised at what we were doing and hadn't heard of it before."

Prime III's multimodal user interface and automatic speech recognition technologies allow voters to cast ballots either on a touch  screen or via a headset and microphone. Voters using the headset and microphone receive speech prompts indicating ballot options. Each option is randomly assigned a number and voters simply speak the randomly selected number associated with their particular choice, insuring privacy and anonymity.

According to Gilbert, Prime III easily handled the demands of the mock election—which featured a demonstration of his voting system and local politicians explaining Obama's and McCain's positions on key issues.

"We had no problems," Gilbert says. "It turned out to be pretty good, and we were very pleased with the results. As usual, we learned a few things—a couple things we may do a little differently. [We] learned some things about our design.

"All in all, people were very enthusiastic about having the opportunity to participate in something like this and discovering that there's a possibility to address a lot of the [voting] issues we've been hearing in the media," Gilbert adds. He notes that a lot of people have been "somewhat scared about stealing elections, the technology not being secure, and people with disabilities saying 'We can't vote on our own.'"

Sarah Teague, an undergraduate student of psychology at Auburn, was among participants in the mock election using the speech version of Prime III.  She notes that the system's voice prompts are repeated in a way that helps eliminate voter confusion and polling errors. 

"It was very clear," Teague says. "It was easy to hear...It makes it really hard to insert the wrong vote because it keeps reminding you."

"I'm a big fan of electronic voting, if they could just work out all the security issues," she adds, noting Prime III's increased accuracy and environmental benefits when compared to paper ballots. 

According to Gilbert, Prime III is more reliable than traditional voting machines due to a host of security features, including multiple encryption schemes that store each ballot among several encrypted impostor ballots, and video recorders that capture interactions on each machine's software but don't record or capture the voters' identities.

Valerie Grupp—a member of the Prime III team and graduate student in Auburn's masters of public administration program with a concentration in election administration—stresses that Prime III provides for increased accuracy in elections.

"A lot of the problems...stem from the use of paper ballots," Grupp says. "From the beginning of time there's been problems with paper [ballots]...There's cases where boxes of ballots get thrown in a river, or maybe the humidity gets to them and they get jammed into the tabulating machines...and that's where Prime III can help.  It's electronic, so voter intent is not a problem as it was with the 2000 election."

According to Grupp, Prime III eliminates questions about voter intent—something that was an issue in Florida in 2000 with hanging and pregnant chads: "With Prime III...voter intent is quite clear when you're auditing this kind of system."   

Gilbert agrees, noting that many Prime III users express an interest in having access to his technology in actual elections.

"Everyone was kind of surprised to hear that [we] are doing this, and the obvious question is 'can we use this in the real election?' That comes up a lot. We get that time and time again." 

That question has yet to be answered.  In July, Gilbert testified in Washington on the proposed Bipartisan Electronic Voting Reform Act of 2008. He stated at the time that accessibility, accuracy, and security of elections can be improved with Prime III.

And though the bill has not come to a vote in Congress, Gilbert is optimistic about its future. "When this election occurs on November 4, depending on how that turns out, there's likely to be accusations about the equipment," Gilbert says. "So we'll be right back in the forefront and ready to address those things."

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