Industry Analysis with One Urgent Goal, To Protect the Right to Vote
February 25, 2016
The right to vote is the hallmark of America’s democratic system, and yet the election infrastructure in the United States is facing an “impending crisis” as covered recently by many media outlets, including Politico and the Atlantic.
As stated in OSET’s announcement of the project, “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.”
The students involved in the industry analysis bring a diverse set of skills and expertise to the project, as well as a keen understanding of the need for reform within the voting technology infrastructure. Maggie Diehl, a dual-degree student pursuing a Wharton MBA and a master’s in International Studies through Penn’s Lauder Program, states, “Incorporating technology to update our voting processes is an important step to allowing minority Americans to vote, to re-engaging the young vote, and to bringing transparency to our voting system.” 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. As a matter of public policy, the critical need to reform America’s election infrastructure has been laid out cogently in two key documents: a January 2014 report by the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (also known as the “The White Book”); and a September 2015 study, “America’s Voting Machines at Risk” (a.k.a. “The Red Book”) conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The result of the Wharton/OSET study (which will be “The Blue Book”) will add to this ongoing conversation thru its examination of the business, financial fundamentals, intellectual property and regulatory issues of the global election technology industry.
Improving America’s election integrity is important right now not only because the US sits towards the bottom of all 34 OECD countries in voter turnout, but also because our current voting machines are precariously aged… . The lack of long-term procurement plans, decentralization of buying power amongst various local and state election officials, and insufficient voting machine standards has caused those election officials to operate without a clear roadmap.” ~Michael Windle, W’16, Graduate Student also at HKS
The lessons derived from the Wharton/OSET study will be relevant also to the administration of elections outside the U.S. As described by Simran Ahluwalia, a senior in the Wharton School and Director Emeritus of PennApps, the world’s largest college hackathon, “I have lived in many countries where elections are inconvenient and potentially inaccessible to the non-urban population. Creating a model off of which solutions can be based can help improve both the security and efficiency of a core part of their democratic processes.”
The work of the student team is supported financially by a Scholars Fund established by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Penn Wharton PPI at the Wharton School. In addition to receiving academic credit for the industry analysis research they are conducting, each student has been recognized as a PwC Scholar.