Open Source Elections Pioneer on Helping Voters With TechnologySep 15, 2020
Dr. Juan E. Gilbert, a professor at the University of Florida, can recall the disputed U.S. presidential election 20 years ago when fiascos over counting ballots in the Sunshine State left the country in limbo. For weeks after Election Night, counting officials were shown on live television peering at hanging chads on ballot papers, straining to discern whether a vote had been cast for Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore. Eventually, the Supreme Court decided the result putting Bush in the White House -- with many votes left untallied.
Motivated to fix such a kind of mess, Juan dismissed widespread skepticism about technology and set out to bring open source solutions to bear on election voting systems. Juan is the Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed Professor and Chair of Computer & Information Science & Engineering Department, who leads the Human-Centered Research Lab. On the latest episode of Follow the White Rabbit, he said he built, along with his students, "the only open-source election technology to be used in state, local and federal elections in the United States." That means citizens in the likes of New Hampshire and Ohio have been able to exercise their right to vote using technology that "gives security, accessibility, usability and benefits of cost," he added.
We have experiences of building technology that interfaces with people, so we understand the technology, we understand the culture and the policy around things and that's what helped us build the technology," Juan said.
The issue of voting systems is once again timely less than two months before Election Night 2020 determines if President Donald Trump will remain in the White House or be replaced by his Democrat rival Joe Biden. The specter of another disputed election and drawn-out decision process has emerged during the campaign, especially as Trump has questioned the reliability of mailed ballots compared with casting a vote in person at a polling booth. With Covid 19 still prevalent, more people are expected to avoid the voting centers than in previous elections.
On the podcast, Juan also revealed publicly for the first time an innovation he has launched to help thwart long lines at the polls. Juan, whose university is less than a two-hour drive from Orlando, was inspired by the user experience companies like Disney have developed to reduce lines for popular rides. The proposal is to use data to help precincts understand their capacity and create specific time slots for voters who arrive at a polling station that has a long line. "I am creating a virtual line, where the people can leave but their spot is still held," he said.
To learn more about Juan's ideas for improving elections, follow us down the rabbit hole: listen to the conversation here or on your favorite streaming service.