CMU-SV Presents Accessible Voting Project at EAC Roundtable-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, July 8, 2013

CMU-SV Presents Accessible Voting Project at EAC Roundtable

Every four years and many times in between, U.S. citizens flock to the polls to exercise their right to vote. Long lines may have posed an impediment to voters’ ease of access in the 2012 presidential election but for disabled citizens, the challenges of voting extend far beyond a longer wait in line. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which works to improve election administration, recently held a roundtable in Washington, D.C. to discuss accessible voting research. Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley (CMU-SV) project scientist Dan Gillette participated as a panelist and presented CMU-SV’s EAC-funded Research in Accessible Voting project.

The EAC’s “Transforming Election Administration, Voting System Accessibility, and the Certification Process” roundtable brought in a number of experts on voting from various universities, many of whom are invested in solving the same problem the CMU-SV team is tackling, namely barriers to voting “independently and efficiently.” Gillette said that though there’s a “strong expectation that a good citizen exercises his voting rights,” current systems, especially those for the disabled, simply do not meet the expectations of a “reasonably difficult” voting experience.

Though the team is working on accessibility for all electronic voting methods and a magnifier for paper voting, the focus thus far has been on audio voting, which can take 8 to 10 times longer than a graphical approach. None of the current interfaces, according to Gillette, are satisfactory: “They’re seen as underpowered by expert assistive technology users and for the rest, these systems are just extremely difficult to use.”

The CMU-SV team, which is led by distinguished research professor Ted Selker and Gillette, and includes MS Software Engineering ’13 student Shama Hoque, and MS Software Management ’12 alumni Ashwin Arun, have been developing more efficient candidate browsing, considerate dialogs and help, write-in systems and contextual awareness for audio voting systems. The goal is to provide disabled voters the same expectation of an independent, private and verifiable voting experience that most voters expect.

“Disabled voters usually have to sacrifice at least one of those criteria but we’re working on them not having to make that choice,” said Gillette.

The team’s research is currently broadening to improve graphical voting, which includes an update of LEVI, a below error voting interface created by Selker at MIT. With most current electronic voting interfaces, there is a choice between audio or visual, with no in-between. Gillette hopes that future systems can be truly multimedia, with audio perhaps as a secondary interface. “We believe that there are many possibilities to make an impact on this real world issue.”

To learn more about the CMU-SV team’s work in accessible voting, see the Research Alliance for Accessible Voting.

Slides for Dan Gillette’s presentation at the roundtable are available at the EAC.