This week the Wharton School together with its Public Policy Institute and the OSET Foundation announced an important industry research project to further inform business, government, and philanthropy on the state of the global election technology industry. The research team is comprised of two principal investigators: Dr. Lorin Hitt of Wharton and Gregory Miller of the OSET Foundation, leading a team of six Wharton students, and managed by Andrew Coopersmith of the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative.
Much is being published to inform public policy and assist elections officials in addressing an impending voting machine crisis. This is different than prior “crises” government has braced for—such as the Y2K bug, which never substantially materialized. In this case, the machinery on which the U.S. depends for the operational continuity of our elections is reaching the end of its life—literally. Much of the underlying computer hardware federally certified for use in elections is no longer manufactured—relying on spare parts through online auction sites. And the operating system on which many current voting systems are based is no longer supported by its maker—relying on patches from independent developers with lessening interest in maintaining the code.
This research is intended to fill a gap in information necessary to inform policy makers, investors, philanthropists, industry participants, and elections administrators on the industry state and outlook. The study will examine the business, financial fundamentals, intellectual property and regulatory issues of the global election technology industry.
The result will be the third of three studies focused on the state of elections administration and related technology, systems, and processes. The first of these studies was the Presidential Commission on Elections Administration Report. The second was the Brennan Law Center’s study on the voting machine crisis released last Fall.
“It’s understood that the election technology industry is not in good shape—there is little to no innovation, the monolithic proprietary black-box product and business model is problematic, the existing machinery is reaching the end of its life, and county governments have little budget and no clear way forward,” explained Gregory Miller, Chief Development Officer for the OSET Foundation.
Miller added, "While there has been much study on policies and practices, there is not an in-depth industry analysis as one would find on every other product and service sector of the economy. The reason is simply that election technology is essentially a backwater of government I.T., but yet it’s critical democracy infrastructure. So, we believe its imperative to complete a solid industry analysis before any intellectually honest recommendations, policies, or decisions about how to move forward can be made."
The Study will be released in mid-July 2016, and the team believes that may be timely given an election year and upcoming RNC and DNC Conventions. Those gatherings include discussion about more than candidates, covering all aspects of how we manage our democracy.
“Pragmatic decision making and policy development demands this information, because how America administers elections is now as important as who America votes into office,” observed Dr. Lorin Hitt, Zhang Jindong Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School and project team Principal Investigator. “My central research area is on the relationship between information technology and productivity and the factors that affect the value of IT investments. Most of my work has been directed recently at IT deployment in healthcare, but there are parallels in elections administration.”
Professor Hitt added, “There are interesting industrial organizational questions given the oligopoly that the election technology market has become, including what kinds of underlying business model innovations are possible, and what does the empirical data tell policy makers and business leaders about a way forward to rejuvenate the industry and deliver the kind of innovation at an affordable price necessary to ensure high integrity in elections administration. It’s a timely and necessary investigation.”
The work of the student team is supported by a Scholars Fund established by PriceWaterhouseCoopers at the Wharton School, and the global Firm plans to also provide some support in the form of industry audit experts.
The OSET Foundation is also supporting the work and making substantial contributions of domain expertise, data visualization design, and other support.