Our view

State should consider new voting system

January 7, 2014 

Dr. Juan Gilbert says his Clemson team's voting system, Prime III, will allow the disabled to vote securely and independently while eliminating ambiguities left by stray marks.

KEN OSBURN — Greenville News

  • In summary

    South Carolina should consider adopting a voting system developed at Clemson that would make voting easier and accessible to more people.

Imagine this: A computerized voting system that makes voting easier, more accurate, more secure, cheaper and more accessible to handicapped voters.

It’s not a system South Carolina would have to wait years to install. It’s available now, developed by Clemson University.

For the past decade, Juan Gilbert, Clemson’s chair of human-centered computing, and his students have been developing a software program called Prime III – Premier Third Generation Voting System – that can be downloaded to a tablet, computer or smartphone.

“Prime III is the world’s most accessible voting technology ever created,” Gilbert said. “And we did that in our labs.”

Prime III also offers a crucial feature not offered by the voting system the state now uses – a paper trail. In Prime III, after the voter casts a ballot, the names of the candidates chosen are fed into a machine that reads, scans, stores and counts what’s on the paper.

That not only provides a second tally of votes, it also provides a verifiable document of how votes were cast. South Carolina now is one of only 16 states that use paperless voting machines, and audits conducted by the state’s League of Women Voters in the 2010 elections found significant errors in the way votes were tallied. More than 2,500 errors were found in voting tallies in two counties alone.

Clemson is making its software available free, and several manufacturers – including the maker of the touch-screen machines now used statewide in South Carolina – are considering it. The system will be used later this year in Wisconsin.

South Carolina’s Election Commission is not looking at a new voting system now, but its current machines are near the end of their life cycle. Prime III appears to be a system worth considering as a replacement.

Voting machines purchased by the state in 2004 and 2005 cost about $3,000 each. In addition to providing a paper trail, Prime III could let voters case ballots on iPads.

Voters with disabilities would be able to use the same system as everyone else with Prime III, and an auditory system lets visually impaired people and people unable to vote by hand to vote by voice. Now special machines must be set up for disabled voters, and poll workers often don’t know how to operate them.

So much effort has gone into policy changes to make voting more difficult – voter ID laws and the elimination of early voting days – that it’s reassuring to see the development of a system designed to make voting easier and accessible to more people. The Election Commission could make South Carolina a national innovator by adopting this cutting-edge technology.

If Prime III works as promised, other states are sure to consider it. We hope the Palmetto State is not the last to take advantage of a system that is potentially vastly superior to what it has now and which was developed by one of its own universities.

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