Caltech Researcher Receives DoD Contract to Study Internet Voting

PASADENA, Calif. - A California Institute of Technology political science professor has received a contract for $1.8 million from the Department of Defense to study the viability of Internet voting for military personnel and overseas civilians.

R. Michael Alvarez, along with Thad E. Hall of the Century Foundation, in Washington, D.C., will head up the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE) evaluation project which will study the effectiveness of Internet voter registration and voting, and the costs of the system. They will consider the differences in cost and accessibility between Internet registration and voting and kiosk-based electronic registration and voting. They will also study security and administration of the system.

Internet registration and voting systems should greatly enhance the voting process for overseas civilians and uniformed military personnel.

"This will likely be one of the most significant studies of Internet voting, and we should learn a great deal about the effectiveness of the Internet for registration and voting," said Alvarez, codirector of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. "In particular, as military personnel and overseas citizens find it difficult to vote, Internet registration and voting could make the process much easier for them. The SERVE project may mean that more Americans overseas can participate in our political process."

"Following the voting difficulties experienced in Florida in the 2000 election, Caltech and MIT joined forces to try to better understand voting technologies," said Caltech president David Baltimore. "This contract will greatly advance our goal, because the military voting population offers an ideal situation in which to examine the issues and opportunities in Internet voting. We are very glad that Dr. Alvarez has been provided this opportunity."

During the 2000 election cycle, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which coordinates state and local elections overseas, conducted a small-scale Internet voting project called Voting Over the Internet (VOI) to study remote registration and voting for American citizens living outside the country. They found that it was feasible and worth further research and development.

"SERVE also presents a unique opportunity to understand better the way in which elections are administered. Analyzing how well administrators implement this new technology will help us learn how problems can be avoided in the future," remarked Hall.

SERVE seeks to study the scalability of VOI's Internet voting technology as well as the impact of Internet voting on voter turnout and on the local election officials who process the registration and voting materials.

The current project outline involves the participation by as many as a dozen states or more, hundreds of local election officials, and hundreds of thousands of voters in the 2004 election cycle.

Traditionally, voters must first register to vote, then request an absentee ballot. The local election official must send the ballot to the voter. The voter then fills out and returns the absentee ballot, after which the election officials must determine if the ballot meets legal requirements. Mail transit time and the mobility of military personnel have been the biggest barriers to the enfranchisement of these citizens.

In 2005, the findings of this project will be reported to the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Congress, and state legislatures, who will use these results for policy-making and legislative purposes.

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Written by Jill Perry

Caltech Media Relations