On October 12, 2020, Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) and the AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center) hosted a virtual panel discussion with STEM professionals who are working or volunteering on issues related to elections and the voting process. The panelists, Jennifer Morrell, Dr. Juan Gilbert, and Dr. Thomas Beatty discussed ways in which science and technology contribute to election administration and integrity.
Morrell, an expert in election audits, partner at The Elections Group, and former election official, helped implement the first statewide risk-limiting audit (RLA) in Colorado. Dr. Gilbert leads the Human-Experience Research Lab at the University of Florida, chairs the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Department and has conducted research on elections for more than 15 years. Dr. Beatty is an astronomer at University of Arizona and volunteered to work on redistricting issues while a postdoc at the Pennsylvania State University.
The speakers discussed how local governments have made progress to safeguard election integrity and the voting process, including ballot-drop box security, RLAs and improving cybersecurity. Dr. Gilbert began the webinar by talking about the Human-Experience Research Lab at the University of Florida and the insecurity of online voting.
Morrell discussed how RLAs are used to detect voting system errors and fraudulent activity, while also providing accountability to voters. RLAs are designed to provide statistical evidence of whether the outcome of the election is accurate with a high level of confidence. “The RLA is becoming nationally recognized as a way to validate the integrity of voting equipment," said Morrell. When asked about ballot drop-box security, she stressed that “it’s really important that people understand all the layers of security and the physical protocols that election officials go through.”
Dr. Beatty encouraged scientists to get involved in their local elections as a volunteer. He stressed that “showing up is half the battle” and encouraged graduate students and postdocs to get involved. Dr. Beatty, an astronomer, discussed how scientists can contribute to topics outside their discipline and the importance of interdisciplinary work on issues such as election security. “It is fascinating how we can approach the same objective, like how do you statistically validate the ballots you get, from very different orientations."