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Joseph Lorenzo Hall: Trustworthy Voting Systems Through Auditing and Innovation

Thursday, March 25, 2010
12:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd floor open space
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States + Google Map

Food at 12:30 pm. Discussion begins at 12:45 pm. Everyone invited.

Nearly all voters in the United States cast their ballots or have them counted on computerized voting systems, making these systems, literally, the machinery of our democracy. In recent years, electronic voting has emerged as a critical case study in the design, engineering, regulation and procurement of complex trustworthy systems involving people, policy and technology. Electronic voting is a hard problem, requiring anonymity and auditability as well as security and usability on devices used infrequently which are provided by a loosely regulated private market.

This talk will describe research efforts to 1) check the accuracy of black box systems, in this case voting systems, through auditing techniques and 2) explore why the market and regulatory environment has failed to provide incentives for innovation in trustworthy voting systems. These projects are part of a larger research agenda to study the regulation and governance of technical systems in times of technological transition.

Part 1 of this talk will examine post-election auditing, a policy mechanism where human teams count the same artifacts as the voting system in order to assess its accuracy. Our multidisciplinary research group in partnership with several California counties iteratively redesigned post-election audits and piloted methods for conducting “risk-limiting” audits. Based on the success of these experiments, we are working with the California Secretary of State to extend these methods to more counties and other applications of technology in the election cycle.

Part 2 of this talk will describe work we’ve done to understand how interactions between regulation and the market affect the trustworthiness of voting systems. Through an analysis of a nationwide sample of (~400) contracts between jurisdictions and vendors, we provide a more complete picture of the conditions in the voting systems market and can identify where regulation has misplaced incentives that promote diffusion of existing technologies rather than invention of leap-ahead technologies. Moreover, we see evidence that the federal standards for voting systems are stuck in an equilibrium that provides disincentives for innovative experimentation.


Joseph Lorenzo Hall received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Information in 2008. Hall is now a joint postdoctoral researcher funded by the NSF ACCURATE center through the UC Berkeley School of Information and Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP). His current work focuses on policy mechanisms that promote transparency, as core functions of our government become digital. Hall’s Ph.D. thesis used electronic voting as a critical case study in digital transparency. His thesis committee consisted of information law professors Pamela Samuelson (Chair) and Deirdre Mulligan, computer scientist David Wagner and sociologist Coye Cheshire. Hall holds master’s degrees in astrophysics and information systems from UC Berkeley and is a founding member of the National Science Foundation’s ACCURATE Center (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections). He served as a voting technology, policy and law analyst on the teams that conducted the California Secretary of State’s Top-To-Bottom Review of voting systems and Project EVEREST, the Ohio Secretary of State’s voting systems review. Recently, Hall was Program Co-Chair of the 2009 Electronic Voting Technology Workshop/Workshop on Trustworthy Elections (EVT/WOTE) 2009, the premier venue for voting technology scholarship and Program Co-Chair for the workshop, “Open Government: Defining, Designing and Sustaining Transparency” hosted by Princeton’s CITP.