U.Va. Systems Engineering Students Study
Charlottesville's Voting Systems
April 23, 2001--
The extraordinarily close electoral vote in last year's presidential
election illustrated basic flaws in voting systems nationwide. In
Florida especially, the margin of error in processing and counting
the votes exceeded the margin of difference between the number of
votes cast for each candidate.
after numerous recounts in Florida -- official and media-sponsored
-- debate continues as to who actually won the election. Experts
agree that these flaws must be analyzed and alleviated before another
tight and divisive election alienates public trust of voting systems.
in the University of Virginia's new Executive Master's Degree Program
in Systems Engineering
selected the City of Charlottesville's voting system as a subject
for their major final project, the "capstone" project required to
complete their degrees in May. The 17 graduating students in the
Northern Virginia-based program have spent all of April working
with the Charlottesville Board of Elections and Registrar to evaluate
the city's system, which serves 21,000 registered voters. The graduate-student
team will provide a report and recommendations for improving the
system during a final presentation to the Charlottesville Board
of Elections this Friday at the University.
chose this project because it puts to full use our training and
skills in systems engineering, which is the analysis and management
of immense data," says Matthew Mehalik, a Ph.D. candidate and co-instructor
for the capstone course, Systems Engineering 602. "The City of
Charlottesville, which already had begun reviewing its voting system,
looked at our proposal and agreed to be our client for this project.
We are conducting a detailed analysis and will provide a solid set
of recommendations that should be of great use to the city in its
efforts to create the most accurate and efficient voting system
students are providing a statistical analysis of nine previous elections,
a simulation analysis of poll-site operations, a financial analysis
of operational costs, and a discussion of related legal issues.
this baseline, our report will recommend sets of technological and
procedural alternatives for poll-site and absentee voting solutions
and will highlight their various strengths and weaknesses," Mahalik
Charlottesville did not have any major problems or disputes with
election results in November, the city's current voting system does
not comply with the requirements for sight-impaired people by the
Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.Va. study is addressing best
systems for ADA compliance. The City of Charlottesville also uses
the same Votomatic punch-card system that was a factor in significant
counting problems in a 1999 state election in Norfolk and, more
notably, in Florida in last year's presidential election.
city is very enthusiastic about this project, and we look forward
to seeing the students' recommendations," says Sheri L. Iachetta,
general registrar for the City of Charlottesville. "We have worked
closely with them, creating a very open process for full evaluation.
The students have proven to be extremely resourceful, insightful
and energetic. Both the students and the city are benefiting."
says the federal General Accounting Office and the state Board of
Elections also are interested in the findings produced by the study.
engineers create and use sophisticated analytical computer models
to sort through mounds of data," says Christina Mastrangelo, assistant
professor of systems engineering and lead instructor for the capstone
course. "We identify the critical facts and trends that will lead
to informed decisions and actions for a business or organization.
The voting system analysis is a perfect real-world capstone project
because it allows our students to use all of their information-gathering
and analytical skills."
Executive Master's Degree in Systems
Engineering is designed for business executives and technical
professionals with the guidance of several technology companies
in the Northern Virginia area. Classes are held at Xerox Document
University near Herndon and taught by full-time U.Va. faculty from
the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Darden Graduate
School of Business Administration. The two-year program was created
two years ago. This first graduating class of 17 students will receive
degrees during the University's commencement ceremony May 20 in
Fariss Samarrai, (804) 924-3778