Steve Rodermund, the Orange County Registrar of Voters, heard that you're now an expert on the social and organizational aspects of computer systems. He has asked your opinion about the system for running elections in Orange County. He wants a system that is accurate, reliable, secure, convenient, and accessible to all voters.
You will write a report of about four pages, giving your recommendations for how to organize voting in Orange County in a way that best satisfies these constraints.
You can see from the registrar's web site, http://www.oc.ca.gov/election/, that Orange County currently uses eSLATE voting machines; the registrar's site has a background page and a multimedia page describing these machines. Once you decide how best to handle voting in Orange County, you can relate your recommendations to the current system. Criticizing or commending the current system should not be your main focus, however; what the registrar wants is your overall recommendation of how to handle elections in Orange County.
Voting systems: A voting system (in the broadest sense, including not just technology but the people involved and the rules and procedures they follow) should have these qualities, among others:
Your task is to design and describe a voting system that has these characteristics. Your design may not be able to satisfy every criterion perfectly--if there were a perfect solution, it would already be implemented and the 2000 election's problems in Florida wouldn't have happened (nor would the more recent problems in Florida and elsewhere). Be as thorough as you can in four pages, but don't panic if you hear that one of your classmates discussed something that you didn't have room for.
You should assume that your reader, Mr. Rodermund, is very familiar with the voting technologies available; you should not spend any time describing punched cards, optical scanners, touch screens, internet voting, cryptography, or any other technologies. Your analysis should focus on how the technology (or combination of technologies) you recommend will meet the criteria listed above and satisfy the major constituencies (stakeholders): voters, candidates, political parties, office holders, election officials, and the general public.
There are no "right answers" to this assignment. The most important thing is that you describe how each of your recommendations will improve the voting process, and how each aspect of your design will affect the various constituencies involved.
Stage I: Decide on your recommendations (due Wednesday, April 14)
First, decide what systems and procedures should be implemented (or maintained, if they already exist). Read the assigned articles, discuss ideas in section and with your classmates (perhaps on the NoteBoard at eee.uci.edu), try to think of how each of the criteria and each of the constituencies will be affected by what you recommend. We don't expect you to do significant outside research, but of course you may use any information you like, so long as you cite it properly. This is the part of the assignment that requires the greatest intellectual effort and the most time--don't neglect it just because the written product of this stage (see below) is relatively informal.
Once you know what you plan to propose (including the reasons behind your choices and what effect you expect each recommendation to have), write them down in outline form and turn the outline in electronically via Checkmate. You must also bring a paper copy of your outline to a face-to-face meeting you will schedule with Keri Carpenter on Wednesday or Thursday, April 14 or 15. She will look over your outline to make sure you're on the right track. (The outline and the meeting are required; your score will be lowered if you don't submit electronically and show up to your meeting.)
Be sure to keep the paper copy of your approved outline; you will need to turn it in with the draft and final versions.
Stage II: Write your memo (due Thursday, April 29)
Second, write your memo, following your outline and the TA's suggestions. Your memo should be about four pages long (in 10 or 12 point type, double spaced)--not less than three and not more than five.
Content, organization, and clarity are more important than precisely what format you follow. However, your memo or report must have a one-paragraph executive summary (a paragraph that starts out with the words "Executive summary:") that lists your major recommendations. The executive summary appears at the top, but you don't write it until after you write the body of the memo. Mr. Rodermund is busy, and while you expect him to read your whole memo, the executive summary may help him decide whether to read it now or later.
This version will be graded; the TA will make comments and suggest improvements. Your grade for this part will count 30% of your grade on the whole assignment, so it pays to do as well as you can at this point. Turn this in on April 29 (on paper at the beginning of class; electronically using Checkmate).
Be sure to keep the paper copy of your graded draft memo; you will turn it in again with the final version.
Stage III: Revise your memo (due Tuesday, May 11)
Third, after your graded memo is returned, revise your memo, taking into account the comments of the TA. This final memo will count 70% of the grade on the whole assignment. Turn this in on Thursday, May 11 (on paper in class and electronically).
What to turn in: When you turn in your Stage II memo on paper, include a copy of the outline you went over with the TA. When you turn in the paper version of your Stage III revised memo, include that same Stage I outline and your graded Stage II memo. Including your previous work is important context for the grading; to receive credit, you need to turn in your previous work in the package. Don't forget the other guidelines on the sheet of "Writing Assignment Requirements".
Other important advice: Based on students' work in the past, we'd like to suggest some things for you to consider as you work:
We can expect to see more real-world proposals for voting reform in the next few months. Having spent this time thinking about the issues, you'll be uniquely placed to comment on them.
Background on American elections: If past classes are any guide, there may be some students who don't actually have much experience with the American election system. To help you get going on the assignment, here are some good sources of information. These readings are not required; they do not have to be included in your notebook and they won't be tested on the exams.
This short article briefly describes the main voting technologies available. Note the recent news item that optical scanning ballots in Florida (which are like Scantrons; the article calls this "marksense") produced more ambiguous ballots than the punch-card voting did. (The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization formed when women were first given the vote, to promote voter education.)
These give information on voting procedures in California.
This FAQ, from the Federal Elections Commission, lists a variety of voting procedures and how they differ from state to state.
If you'd like even more information, you can check these out:
Further reading on electronic voting: In addition to the assigned readings, there have been a few other national studies and task forces on electronic voting. Feel free to check these out, although they are not required and won't be tested:
California Secretary of State, "California Internet Voting Task Force Report"
Internet Policy Institute (sponsored by National Science Foundation), Report of the National Workshop on Internet Voting: Issues and Research Agenda (March 2001)
Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, Voting--What it is, what it could be (July 2001)
National Commission on Federal Election Reform (headed by Presidents Carter and Ford), Final Report (July 2001)
This group has a variety of other, more recent reports at