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From the
Iowa City Press Citizen

Saturday, January 6, 2001

UI professor to speak on 2000 election tribulations

Jones will give suggestions to change
'haphazard' system

By Kathryn A. Ratliff
Iowa City Press-Citizen

An associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa will voice his opinions about improving the nation's election system in front of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on Thursday.

Douglas W. Jones works in his office Friday on a speech he will give to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission next week. Jones, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, will give his opinions on problems apparent during the 2000 election.
Press-Citizen/Scott Norris

Douglas W. Jones will testify during the commission's hearings in Tallahassee, Fla., on voting-machine technology and whether the rights of voters were violated during the problematic 2000 presidential election. Jones will offer suggestions for avoiding similar problems in the future.

"Since I don't know the details of what happened in Florida other than what I read in the newspapers, I can't tell whether rights were violated, but I can point out the vulnerabilities of each technology used," Jones said Friday. "Based on the news reports, I'm suspicious. But I don't think Florida is in any way unique. It could have happened in any state."

Approached in part because he is chairman of the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems, ...

"The system for regulating voting machinery in the United States is haphazard, and the fundamental legal tools at our disposal are significantly out of date," Jones said. "We have laws that still assume technology that dates from the 1930s. The extension of those laws to deal with modern systems do a haphazard job at best of recognizing the problems that need regulation."

Creating strong, uniform standards for regulating various types of voting machinery is the key to improving the election system, Jones said. Installing identical voting machines at polling places across the country, like some election reformers have suggested, will not work, he said. This approach likely would create more problems than solutions, he said.

"I think that would make us vulnerable down the road," Jones said. Each voting machine technology has pros and cons, he said. An attempt to impose a uniform system of machinery would freeze research into other forms of technology, Jones said, and dull a vibrant marketplace for designing and manufacturing new equipment.

"I want to see much stronger standards, but I don't want to see innovation stop," Jones said. "The kinds of systems we have to choose from today, none are close enough to perfect for freezing the state of the art and saying, 'This is what we'll do.' "


Jones said with several companies manufacturing machines of different design, as is the case today, it is more difficult for insiders to commit vote fraud.

One standard Jones supports is the elimination of punched-card ballots, which Iowa banned 16 years ago. However, some of the largest states, such as Florida and California, continue to use this ballot system responsible for the hanging chad. Other suggestions include improving the mandatory recount laws and developing standards that govern the way computers report totals.