10/16/06 Contact: Juan Gilbert, (334) 844-6316 (gilbeje@auburn.edu)
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)


AUBURN - Researchers in the Auburn University Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering have partnered with Indiana University, the AU Center for Governmental Services and IBM to develop Prime III, an advanced electronic voting system that enables people with certain disabilities to vote in elections with ease and privacy.

“By providing voting methods to members of society who can’t read, hear or see, we have broadened the voting community,” said Juan Gilbert, project director and head of the Human Centered Computing Lab. “We put in a lot of effort so that we could reach these individuals.”
In 2003, Gilbert heard a specialist in electronic voting talk about the flaws, such as security and ease of use, in existing electronic voting systems. Gilbert, who was teaching a class in multi-modal interfaces, immediately envisioned how this technology could be used to provide more natural methods of voting for those with disabilities.

With a grant from the AU Outreach office, a team of ten AU graduate students and faculty members began developing the Prime Voting System, or Prime III, an innovative, multimodal electronic system that allows voting via touchscreen and voice. The name comes from the three methods of voting used by the program: visual, touch and speech.

The team also addressed the security issue, protecting voter privacy by using randomly generated numbers at the time the voter views or hears their options. A printed ballot and barcode system ensure accuracy of vote counts and also protect against malicious intent.

“Numerous checks make it tougher to break in and change the data,” said Vince Cross, an AU graduate student involved in developing the system’s software. “We believe the process is the safest out there.”

The program will undergo an extensive evaluation during the 2006-2007 academic year, with simultaneous studies taking place in AU’s Haley Center and in Uniontown, Ala. In the usability tests, participants will cast their votes for types of food rather than political candidates to ensure the personal political views of those participating in the tests remain private.

“We’re inviting anyone interested, disabled or non-disabled, to test the system on October 19 in Haley Center,” Gilbert said. “The only way to know it’s successful is to have a broad spectrum of people try it out.”

A security evaluation will be performed jointly by Auburn University and Indiana University, with the team going so far as to send the system to actual hackers for testing. Further evaluation will make sure the actual casing of the system is tamperproof.

If test results are favorable, AU’s Center for Governmental Services plans to work with the research team to seek approval of the improved system.

“With the system coming from a research institution not linked to a particular party or candidate, we think people will be more likely to embrace it,” Gilbert says. "It’s not for sale and we’re not looking for a profit. We're just hoping to offer a secure alternative that enables a larger base of voters to participate in the electoral process.”

For more information, visit the Prime III Web site at www.primevotingsystem.com.
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