Auburn U. Gears Up For Nov. 4 With Mock Election

This story was written by Brittney Williford, The Auburn Plainsman

With election day weeks away, Auburn University is preparing for its own election a mock election to find out which candidate Auburn prefers.

The event, which will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 in Lowder 113A, will feature republican Alabama State Rep. Mike Hubbard and Joe Turnham, chair of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Hubbard and Turnham will explain John McCain and Barack Obamas positions on five key policy issues: education, energy, immigration, Iraq and Social Security.

The Honors College is presenting the event as its fall convocation.

In the spring, the Honors Congress decided that the most appropriate topic for the fall would be something related to this years presidential race, said Honors College Vice President Sarah Teague.

Teague said the purpose of the mock election is to help students make an informed decision about the upcoming election.

The goal of this program is to inform our students, especially those who might have missed the debates, about where the presidential candidates stand on some of the important issues, Teague said.

After the explanations, students will have the opportunity to cast their votes in an adjacent room using an electronic voting system designed by computer science and software engineering professor Juan Gilbert.

The system, Prime III, is unique from any other voting system.

It uses a multi-modal user interface, meaning voters can cast their votes in a number of ways.

If you cant read, hear, see or if you dont have use of your hands, you can still vote using Prime III, Gilbert said. No other system in the world is as accessible as Prime III. The fact that we allow people to vote using their voice is unique.

The system allows users to vote with their voice while maintaining privacy.

The voter uses a sanitary set of headphones to listen to the options, which are each assigned a random number.

The voter then states their choice into a microphone, so outside listeners will hear a number rather than a name.

Voters can also use a touch screen to cast their vote, which features neutral colors visible to those who are colorblind.

Gilbert and a team of graduate students have been working on Prime III since 2003.

We have developed several different versions, and now we have a stable version that implements our tested ballot design, Gilbert said. We can load ballots into the system fairly easily now, and thats a huge improvement.

Each machine is attached to two video cameras that keep voting secure by recording the machines, but not the individuals using them.

Teague said she was excited to find Gilbert wanted to participate in the mock election.

We were more than happy about this development, because of the reported quality of Dr. Gilberts work, as well as the ease that electronic voting provides over paper ballots, Teague said.

Gilbert, who was recently honored as a Total Systems Services distinguished associate professor, said he hopes the mock election will help gain exposure for Prime III.

We want more people to learn about our technology, he said.

Prime III has served as the voting system in elections for the National Society of Black Engineers, the National Council on Independent Living and the Black Data Processing Association.

We have done mock elections at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute here at Auburn, Gilbert said.

He said he plans to continue conducting mock elections and sharing his technology with audiences, both locally and nationally.

We will speak with anyone about our approach, he said.

Gilbert will offer demonstrations to familiarize students with the system before they vote.

The discussion will be moderated by political science professor Christa Slaton.

Students can submit questions before the event that will be answered in a question and answer session following the explanation of the issues.

The doors open at 5 p.m., and Teague said she expects the room fill quickly.

Even if people cant make it in to hear the speakers, we hope that they will still vote, she said.

The event is sponsored by the Honors College, the Human Centered Computing Lab, the Office of the Dean of Students, and Chick-fil-A.

Students can register to vote before and during the event.