This is a more technical post than others here given the broadening of an audience visiting this Foundation web site in search for content like this article below rather than hanging out on our more geeky Project site (which is soon to be relaunched and be way more engaging for all audiences, we're excited to report). Usually, you will find this kind of content over there, while here we'll talk more about voting experience innovations, policy matters, and progress of the Project. So, for those who are passionate about elections reform and improving the voting experience, but are not as fluent in some of the technical issues, feel free to look this over, but do not fret if seems like gobbledygook. There is more relevant stuff for your concerns to come. Ready? Here we go...
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David Plouffe, President Obama’s top political and campaign strategist and the mastermind behind the winning 2008 and 2012 campaigns, wrote a forward-looking op-ed [paywall] in the Wall Street Journal recently about the politics of the future and how they might look.
He touched on how technology will continue to change the way campaigns are conducted – more use of mobile devices, even holograms, and more micro-targeting at individuals. But he also mentioned how people might cast their votes in the future, and that is what caught our eye here at the TrustTheVote Project. There is a considerable chasm to cross between vision and reality.
We've been putting together test cases and experimenting with techniques and actually developing code for actually scanning ballots - in other words, the 'simple' problem of taking a digital and figuring out if it is 'correctly' filled out by a voter, and who got the votes. Here is a progress report on this work so far. In that short document you will see, step by step, how one approach would work, the intermediate steps required, the supplementary information which would define the ballot style: how it would be detected and then applied. (The term ballot style, in this context means the information that specifies where to expect each vote oval on a particular ballot and what it means.)
We've made very good progress in this area. While we've worked so far only with one common look for ballots, so-called (by some) 'office style' ballots as generated by Premier. We believe that many if not all of our techniques would work equally well with other graphically designed ballots.
One interesting preliminary result is that it seems possible (and worthwhile) to get rid of the bulk of the computerish marks that decorate most ballots today and reduce that visual clutter to a set of 4 black squares in each corner of a ballot. That would be enough to allow the image analyzer to line itself up reliably. Read the progress report for the rest of the details.