Freshman Seminar 101
Election Machinery
Andrew W. Appel

Fall 2008

General Information | Schedule and Readings | Assignments | Course Blog

Course Description. How do you know your vote will be counted? When citizens of a democracy vote, the elections are run by "the government," which consists of those very same elected officials being chosen in the election (or politicians of from the same parties as those officials). Making this work is a hard problem in protocol design, and it's been solved and re-solved in many ways in the last 200 years. When we look at the machinery of elections, we find vestiges of many kinds of safeguards against the abuses perpetrated historically by political machines.

In every century we have new kinds of election machines and new kinds of political machines. Our election machines are now computers: computers inside touch-screen voting machines, computers inside op-scan vote-counters, computers that add up the results from all the precincts. Who programs those computers, and how do we know that they haven't been hijacked? Our political machines are have evolved too, from the single-city or single-state party-boss organizations of 1880-1950 to a new combination of internet + lobbyists + databases.

In this course we will study the election machinery from both perspectives, technological and political, and see how it works and how it could work better.

General Information

Seminar: Monday 1:30-4:20, Butler College
Professor: Andrew W. Appel, appel+frs@cs

Office Hours

My office is room 309 Sherrerd Hall.
Phone: 8-4627
I am generally in my office 9-12, 1:30-5 most weekdays. Feel free to drop in. You can call or e-mail first to make sure I'll be there before you come over, or to make an appointment if you want to.

Textbook information

The required textbooks for this course are:
Optional readings
The following books are on reserve at Firestone Library: There will be many other readings available on the Internet.