Merle King’s “Ten Things to Know About Selecting a Voting System”


[Image via YouTube courtesy of NCSL]

Yesterday, I wrote about the great work NCSL’s elections team is doing to help policymakers manage the ever-changing world of voting and voting technology.

As if to prove my point, NCSL’s latest Canvass newsletter came out on Thursday with a nifty feature culled from their Elections Technology Project entitled “Elections Technology: Nine Things Legislators May Want to Know“. It includes some important background for legislators and staff who will soon be asked to confront the costs and benefits of changes to elections technology.

Immediately following that piece, however, NCSL also included a short list from the widely-acknowledged guru in the field – Merle King of Kennesaw State University in Georgia. His list of “ten things” (taken from a recent presentation in South Carolina) is a nice compliment to NCSL’s nine – and so I asked him for permission to share it here:

Ten Things to Know About Selecting a Voting System

1. A voting system is the core technology that drives and integrates the system–and it is the part the voter touches.

2. Know who does what and why. Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, problems will occur.

3. The true cost of ownership is the cost to purchase, operate and maintain a voting system
over its life span. It is more than you think.

4. The request for proposal (RFP) is your first, last and best chance to get the system requirements right. Systems are never better than the RFPs used to define the requirements.

5. Changing a voting system is like changing tires on the bus … without stopping. [I’m stealing this – DMCj] A transition plan may allow the seamless migration from the old system to the new system, with minimum disruption.

6. Training and education may cost more than the purchase price of the system when you factor in voter education, poll workers, election officials, etc.

7. How long will new systems last? What shortens their lives? What needs to be done before purchase to ensure long life?

8. All modern voting systems are “multimodal,” meaning they will have to function for vote-by-mail ballots, in-person voting, online ballot return, etc. That means flexibility in the architecture is required to avoid retrofitting later.

9. Either you manage vendors or they manage you. Pick. [I’m stealing this, too – DMCj]

10. Know the “known unknowns,” such as security, accessibility, auditability, usability, voter convenience, transparency of process and testing and certification requirements.

I’ve already cut-and-pasted this list into my own electiongeek reference file and I highly recommend you do the same. Thanks to Merle for his leadership in the field and for sharing his thoughts with us – and also to the amazing folks at NCSL (especially Wendy Underhill and Katy Owens Hubler) for all their work in this space.

Have a geeky weekend, all!

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