December 2008

International GW Students Test Invisible Ink Voting System in Mock Election

Graduate student Stefan Popoveniuc is one of the pioneers of Scantegrity, a new voting system used in a mock election Nov. 4.

By Julia Parmley

GW’s international students did more than just vote in a mock election on Nov. 4; they tried out a new voting system developed by GW computer science doctorate student Stefan Popoveniuc.

Scantegrity, a “voter- verifiable voting system,” allows individuals to confirm that their ballots have been collected and counted. Voters use a pen with invisible ink to fill in an oval next to each choice and receive a confirmation code for each selection, which they can use to check online to ensure their votes have been recorded. Neither the coding nor the verification reveals a voter’s selections, and Popoveniuc says this privacy is critical.

Popoveniuc organized the mock election for international students to take advantage of Election Day fervor. “We thought people would have an incentive to voice their opinion as well as see the technology at work,” says Popoveniuc.

With 187 ballots cast, online results revealed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) won with 79 percent of the vote. Voters also had the opportunity to rate the difficulty of using the ballot, with more than two-thirds saying it was “easy” or “very easy.”

Juan Falquez, a GW graduate student from Colombia, voted in the mock election to try out Scantegrity and to help increase awareness about the innovative voting system.

“Voting is a privilege not many people around the world have, and, sadly, many elections are marred by manipulation and corruption,” says Falquez. “Scantegrity can provide a higher transparency in the voting process, therefore increasing our level of trust in the system. Just hours after the poll was closed, I verified online that my vote was counted as I intended.”

Scantegrity is a joint project among students at GW, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and David Chaum.

Chaum has invented two other voter-verifiable systems, one of which, PunchScan, won the grand prize at the 2007 international voting system competition funded by the National Science Foundation. Popoveniuc—along with GW doctoral student Ben Hosp, Rahul Simha, GW associate professor of computer science, and Poorvi L. Vora, GW assistant professor of computer science—has worked on implementing the three systems in real venues.
Popoveniuc says Scantegrity has already been used to count votes in elections at several private organizations and hopes to generate more attention with events like the mock election.

“It’s great to see people interested in what we are doing and wanting to be a part of the process,” he says.

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