Freshman Seminar 125
Election Machinery

Andrew W. Appel

Fall 2004

General Information | Schedule and Readings | Assignments

Note: assigments are due at the beginning of class on the due date.

In this course, please use 12-point font, double-spaced; text width 6 inches, height 9 inches. This will yield 500 words per page, approximately.

September 20

Take notes on the reading for this week and bring a 1-page summary sheet. (This can be handwritten or typed.)
  1. Which machines / practices / systems are in controversy? (i.e., Diebold, Florida felon list, etc.)
  2. Which of these controversies are more significant (in your evaluation) and which are less significant?
  3. Who are the people involved and what are their roles and major actions? (e.g., Kevin Shelley, Avi Rubin, etc.; you can limit yourself to a dozen or so of the most interesting)
  4. Which of these people seems more credible or less credible, and why?
  5. For each major controversy, what is its current status? (Resolved? Unresolved?) In your evaluation, is this resolution satisfactory?
  6. Some of the Wired News stories have links to original sources. Take note of two or three of these original sources that seem interesting or significant, because you might use them as background for a paper you write later in the semester.

October 4

In 1966, incumbent mayor Addonizio of Newark, NJ ran against several challengers including Gibson, and won. In 1970, Gibson ran again and beat Addonizio. Bring in five newspaper or magazine articles from the period 1966-1971 about the mayoral election. Bring the five most significant articles you can find (from the point of view of what we're studying in this course). Articles that discuss vote fraud, if you can find any, would be particularly interesting.

Make sure you have full citation information attached to each article. Bring three copies: one copy to hand in, one copy to lend to other students, and one copy for yourself.

Firestone library is a good bet. Don't hesitate to ask a professional librarian how to go about this search; that's what they're there for. The Newark Star-Ledger and the New York Times might be good sources.

Another source, if you don't want to leave your room and you have fifteen bucks to spare, is the New York Times back archive on line. But then you won't get the Newark newspapers.

October 11

Outline a report summarizing election procedures in Mercer County, based on notes you have taken in meetings with county election officials and party workers, and on other sources. For each procedure,
  1. Explain the procedure.
  2. Explain the reason for the procedure (why is it considered necessary)
  3. Present data, if you have it, to evaluate whether the procedure is still relevant or necessary. If you have no data, give your best guess. Clearly separate data from speculation.
  4. Are the frauds that the procedure guards against still commonly perpetrated in Mercer County or elsewhere in the country? If not, is this because they are deterred by the particular election procedure or for other reasons?
  5. If you find the procedure is still necessary, evaluate (using data or common-sense speculation) whether the procedure is likely to accomplish its goals. Are there weaknesses or vulnerabilities?
If you find vulnerabilities in the system that are not addressed by any specific procedure you've described, then discuss these in a separate section.

Finally, write a conclusion: are elections secure in Mercer County? What should "secure" mean in this context?

For this outline, each procedure can be summarized in few words, and so can each of the numbered aspects of the procedure. Complete sentences are not necessary.

October 18

Bring a calculator to class. Be prepared to compute
  1. The remainder x mod n of two integers. Some calculators have a button for this, but you can also do it using divide, subtract, and multiply.
  2. The Jacobi symbol of (x/n) of two 3-digit numbers using the calculator (see the Blum paper).

October 22

Write your report of approximately 8 pages summarizing election procedures in Mercer County and analyzing whether they are adequate. Imagine you are addressing the report to state officials who certify election procedures.

You may find it difficult to fit everything into 8 pages, so you'll have to be concise and direct.

November 15

As you read Ross Anderson's book, think about how the attacks he describes could possibly be used against a voting machine or (more generally) a voting system. Make a list of examples, one sentence each. Bring two copies, one to turn in and one to discuss in class.

November 22

1. Choose a topic for a research paper, state clearly the hypothesis that you'll test with your research, and write a 1-page research plan. The research plan can include a list of specific questions or subtopics that you plan to investigate, and also a list of citations of information sources that you think will be useful.

2. Prepare for "oral arguments" in the NJ voting machines lawsuit, based on the plaintiffs' and defendants' briefs.

December 6

In the reading for this week (Chapter 5 of Security Engineering), in each of the following sections either (a) understand the material or (b) prepare specific questions to ask in class: Sections 5.2.4, 5.3 (& subsections), 5.7.1.

January 6, 11:59 p.m.

Research paper due. This is a hard deadline (7 on the Mohs scale).