Researcher demonstrates accessible voting technology on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Clemson University researchers showed lawmakers on Capitol Hill an electronic voting system they say will help resolve current technological challenges at the polls and restore voter confidence.

Juan Gilbert shows U.S. Rep. James Clyburn the Prime III accessible voting technology. (Photo credit: Katy Bayless Gibson Clemson University)

Juan Gilbert shows U.S. Rep. James Clyburn the Prime III accessible voting technology. (Photo credit: Katy Bayless Gibson
Clemson University)

Researchers took Prime III to the Rayburn House Office Building to demonstrate use of the technology to U.S. Representative James Clyburn and other congressional leaders.

“Too many Americans face barriers to voting that simply should not be there,” Congressman Clyburn said. “Whether it’s a disability, a language preference or the color of their skin, every eligible American should have unfettered access to the ballot box.”

Professor Juan Gilbert, Presidential Endowed Chair in Computing, leads the human-centered computing division in the School of Computing at Clemson. He developed Prime III to ensure voting accessibility for all people, including individuals with disabilities. The voting technology also produces old-fashioned simplicity with paper ballots for backup verification.

“It’s a universal design that makes it usable by as many people as possible, regardless of their age, ability or situation,” Gilbert said. “You don’t have a disability machine, but one single voting machine.”

Current law requires voting precincts to maintain voting machines that are accessible for the disabled, but Gilbert notes some states experienced problems maintaining multiple systems and training poll workers.

“Consolidating a system into one technology makes the training process easier and more conducive for everyone,” he said. Prime III allows voters to cast ballots by touch and/or by voice.

“If you can’t see, can’t hear, can’t read or don’t have arms, you can vote privately and independently on the same machine as anyone else,” Gilbert said. “There’s no ambiguity. The ballot is easy to count, easy to verify and can be read by optical character recognition.”

Prime III includes advances in four areas:

  • Accessibility — Voters can choose to follow written or spoken instructions. Likewise, they can record their votes either by touching a screen or speaking into a microphone.
  • Security — The self-contained software for Prime III is run from bootable DVDs. It never is reached online or downloaded to a local computer. Voters confirm printed ballots before they are filed with the electronic data so election officials can audit overall results from a precinct.
  • Usability ­— The software was developed through years of usability testing, using focus groups that included people with a variety of physical disabilities. That research will continue in larger public tests.
  • Privacy ­— Even using the voice-activated ballot, voters don’t have to divulge the names of the candidates they support. A series of voice prompts leads voters to say words such as “next” or “vote.” Printed ballots contain no identifying information; stickers with authenticated serial numbers are applied to each ballot to ensure that only properly cast ballots are retained.

Gilbert’s research team examined all aspects of the voting experience.

“Our research team is interdisciplinary, with individuals from the social sciences, engineering and computing. We have experts in accessibility. We also have experts who deal with administration — training election officials and poll workers,” Gilbert said.

Prime III was first tested in controlled laboratory settings and later in national academic and trade association elections. It was used in an official capacity during the 2012 presidential primary election in Oregon, and voters who attend the 2013 NAACP conference in Orlando will use Prime III to elect new officers.