The State Picks NJIT Research Team to Test Voting Machines

An old voting machine

A team of NJIT researchers is testing electronic voting machines.

Specifically, the researchers are testing new printing systems that, according to state law, must be installed in voting machines by Jan. 1, 2008. By that date all voters must see a paper record of their vote before leaving the voting booth, the law says.

But first, the state is relying on NJIT to test the electronic voting machines.

The state Office of the Attorney General, which oversees voting procedures, hired NJIT's Center for Information Age Technology to test the new printing systems. The center, founded in 1983, advises government agencies about technology and systems evaluation.

“We’re pleased that the Attorney General picked NJIT to assure that the voting machines work reliably,” said Mitchell Darer, director of the NJIT technology center.

In a recent news release, state Attorney General Stuart Rabner said the state’s “ground-breaking relationship with NJIT will further public confidence in the process and ensure a paper trail which is accurate, reliable and can be audited. This is the first time in New Jersey’s history,” Rabner added, “that the state has directly engaged the assistance of computer consultants to conduct independent testing as part of its voting machine certification process.”

The three vendors who make the voting machines used in New Jersey are paying NJIT for the tests. Each vendor has sent three machines to NJIT.

The machines are somewhat complicated: They have printers and a display window through which voters will view their votes before casting their electronic votes. Votes will not be recorded until the paper receipt is seen and confirmed by the voter. If a voter rejects the paper receipt, he or she can recast a ballot. The paper receipts, which do not identify voters, will be stored in the machine. Voters will not be issued printouts of their votes.

The researchers, based in NJIT labs, are now reviewing the design, security and reliability of the machines. The two-dozen researchers on the team have experience in network security, forensics and electronics, Darer added. The researchers are casting 1,200 simulated votes on the test machines, checking to see if they hold up to heavy use. And the printing systems will undergo similar tests. If the printer jams, that vote cannot be recorded.

The researchers are working busily to check the machines. The center must issue a report of their findings to the state in July, said Darer. Though the researchers are working hard, he added, it’s a project they believe in and enjoy.

“Part of NJIT’s mission is to offer technical expertise to the state,” said Darer. “And here we’re helping the state make sure that elections are fair and forthright. It’s a very worthwhile project and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)