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For immediate release: Oct. 13, 2004
Media contact: Steven Schultz, (609) 258-5729, sschultz@princeton.edu

Media advisory: Researchers available to comment on electronic voting

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Most, if not all, current systems for electronic voting are not sufficiently protected from fraud or mistakes, but could be improved by simultaneous use of voter-verified paper ballots and other measures, according to computer scientist Edward Felten of Princeton University.

"The fundamental question is how trustworthy the technology is against both fraud and typical computer glitches," said Felten. "I think that most electronic voting equipment is not robust in that sense. If the machine malfunctions or gathers the wrong data or somehow loses the vote data during the day, it's going to be hard to figure out what happened."

The most effective improvement would be the addition of voter-verified ballots printed from the machine at the time of voting, "so you have an independent record of how the votes are cast," Felten said. "I think someday we may get to the point where we have all-electronic systems that do have the appropriate level of reliability and security, but I don't think we can do that quite yet."

Felten, an authority on computer and Internet security, is one of two Princeton experts available to comment on questions regarding electronic voting. Andrew Appel, also a professor of computer science, is teaching a course this semester on the subject. Felten can be reached at (609) 258-5906 or felten@princeton.edu. Appel can be reached at (609) 258-4627 or appel@cs.princeton.edu.

In his course, Appel considers issues of electronic voting from both historical and technical perspectives. "For more than 100 years, there have been voting abuses as well as procedures and gadgets put in place to combat those abuses. These measures have been mostly successful," said Appel. "When we think about new machinery and new procedures, we shouldn’t forget what kind of abuses have occurred in the past and who profited from them."

Felten, a Princeton faculty member since 1993, has written numerous articles on computer security, particularly in programming languages associated with Web sites. Felten's research also addresses the broader social and policy implications of computer security, including issues such as copyright protection in the digital era and electronic voting. Appel joined the Princeton faculty in 1986 and also studies questions regarding secure Internet programming. He has served as author and editor of many publications and journal articles in his field.

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