Electronic voting expert comes to USF today

By Chris GardnerCorrespondent
On September 20, 2004

Rebecca Mercuri has been one of the top experts in the field of electronic voting since 1989. Mercuri brings her expertise to USF tonight and will touch on issues relating to voting in the new age. She will discuss how electronic voting is in several ways extremely unsafe, but at the same time can be used effectively to simplify things for voters.

"We decided that since this was an election year and electronic voting is growing in popularity that she would be a perfect speaker," said Michael Crump, the head of the University Lecture Series.

One of Mercuri's focuses will be on how several places are hurrying to implement new voting technology that is riddled with flaws, Crump said.

"Some places appear to be rushing ahead to deploy voter technologies with serious sociological and technological downsides, such as lack of means to be audited and increased opportunities for vote selling, monitoring, coercion and denial of service attacks," he said.

"There is even a case in the court system of Florida right now about how many voting precincts adopted voting machines that offer no clear way for a real recount," he said.

Mercuri will speak about the "Mercuri Method" that she created. This method involves a voter going to the polls and using something electronic to vote. The catch is that after the person votes, a piece of paper comes out of the voting machine, much like a receipt, with the votes of that person printed on it. This "receipt" is then deposited with all of the other receipts before the voter leaves and after the voter has checked to make sure there were no mistakes. This makes for an easily audited election with no hanging chads, no dimples, and in a best-case scenario, no confusion. The loser will still complain, most likely, but the system offers a voter-verified paper audit trail, Crump said.

Mercuri said her method has successfully been used in Brazil. It was also used with success in Venezuela's recent referendum on Hugo Chavez. Chavez won with 59 percent of the vote and immediately the opposition cried foul. Groups from outside of Venezuela came to see how valid the results were, and they were confirmed using the audit trail produced by the Mercuri Method.

"If they can do it in Venezuela, I think we can do it here in the United States," Mercuri said.

"Nevada has (the Mercuri Method) in place and it should be interesting to see how it goes in November. If it goes well then maybe more states will try it," she added.

Mercuri is a Harvard Radcliffe Fellow and is touring nationwide this year.

"It is interesting getting acquainted with each state's own way of elections," she said.

Mercuri's lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom.

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