A computer science professor at the University of Iowa has just returned from an eight-day visit to Kazakhstan, where he was invited to serve as one of three pre-election observers. That country’s national elections will be held December 4th and the U-of-I’s Douglas Jones is considered one of the United States’ leading experts in voting machine technologies.
Jones says Kazakhstan has developed its own new electronic voting system and he was assigned to assess the system — in his words – “to see if the electronic voting system is contributing to the development of democracy or inhibiting it.”
Jones was invited to Kazakhstan by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.The other observers were from Hungary and Holland. He says it was an honor to be asked to serve on this mission. He says he never felt “threatened” during the trip, but he says there is a huge legacy the Soviet Union left behind of “state control and suppression of dissent and this legacy is very hard to overcome.”
Jones is the former chair of the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems. While in Kazakhstan, Jones traveled more than 12-hundred miles to various cities. His assignment was to see as much of the election process as possible.
Jones says they spent time trying out the voting machines, looking over the polling places and trying to assess the design of the machines to determine whether the post-Soviet legacy creped into the design and will allow the state security apparatus to manipulate the results. As yet, he says the team has -not- reached a conclusion and says analysis is still underway.
In August, Jones was awarded a five-year, 800-thousand dollar National Science Foundation grant to investigate the use of electronic voting systems in U.S. elections. Jones was in Kazakhstan during Thanksgiving and says he didn’t have turkey but found the food there quite tasty.