Voting Vanguard

Can a more accessible voting machine also bolster U.S. election security?

Can better voting machines bolster US election security? (Courtesy Tucker Viemeister and Radii, Inc.)

With questions over the integrity of American elections swirling across the country, designers are stepping up to ensure that necessary improvements are made to critical voting infrastructure before 2020. Making use of ElectionGuard technology developed by Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program, industrial designer Tucker Viemeister has teamed up with fabrication studio Radii, Inc. to create a more accessible, easy-to-use voting machine for polling stations. While the software components of the machine make it more difficult to hack and less confusing for users, Viemeister’s hardware design attempts to accommodate a diverse array of American voters.

The prototype of the proposed machine has three main components: a touch-screen tablet, an auxiliary control device with multiple inputs for other assistive implements, and a dedicated printer for backup paper ballots. The auxiliary device is an Xbox Adaptive Controller, which was originally developed for gamers with limited mobility. Its oversized, black pads make it easier to navigate information presented on the screen, a particularly important feature for voters who are unable to use touch screens. Those who need additional assistance, including voters who use sip and puff machines, can have their devices plugged into one of six jacks along the edge of the voting machine.

A sleek printer and tablet attached to a voting pad

A view of Viemeister and Radii’s voting machine with its dedicated printer. (Courtesy Tucker Viemeister and Radii, Inc.)

The attached printer produces a hard copy of every ballot filled out on the screen—a measure that is widely recognized as an important safety net in the event of technological failure. The designers argue that their specially developed hardware integrates and optimizes the effectiveness of Microsoft’s secure voting software. While it is unclear where, when, or if the voting machine will ever be fully implemented, the design takes critical steps in imagining how future American elections might become more transparent, accessible, and safe.

According to Radii, “Working collaboratively with Radii Principal Ed Wood and his team, the fundamental working parts (the electronic ‘guts’) of the design were combined with Radii’s extensive fabrication knowledge to execute Viemeister’s vision for the minimalist ‘box,’ tablet support and printer housings. The goals were simple: Make something that works dependably, fabricated in 2 weeks and looks good without looking overdesigned. After an intense few days of working design sessions with Viemeister, and a few rounds of chipboard mock-ups, testing appearance, and functionality; the design was finalized and ready for production. All visible components and housings (other than the retrofitted shelf tablet bezel) were scratch built around Viemeister’s initial concept sketches and a logical assemblage of working parts to minimize depth of ‘pizza box’ housings.”

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