Barbara Simons: Making votes count

Barbara SimonsWith the midterms rapidly approaching, there has been a flurry of news articles about the country’s ability to safeguard election results. But for Barbara Simons (Ph.D.’81 CS), this scrutiny is long overdue, as she’s been drawing attention to the pitfalls of electronic voting for the last 15 years. She first spoke out about the dangers of unverifiable voting technology in 2003, when election officials in Silicon Valley proposed transitioning to paperless electronic voting machines. Since then, she’s been a vocal critic of electronic ballots, serving as board chair of Verified Voting, a non-partisan organization that advocates for reliable and secure voting practices, and co-authoring a book, “Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?”

Simons, past president of the Association for Computing Machinery, says the best way to protect election results is through the use of paper ballots and post-election manual ballot audits to check computerized machines. “A lack of trust in our elections will undermine our democracy,” she said. “Therefore, we must have robust and resilient voting systems that demonstrate to the voters — and especially the losers and the losers’ supporters — that the election results are correct.”

In addition to her work on election security, Simons has been a long-time champion for programs to increase diversity in computer science and engineering. As a graduate student, she co-founded Women in Computer Science and Engineering (WiCSE), a networking and advocacy organization for women that just marked its 40th year on campus. Following graduation, she also co-created a re-entry program for women and underrepresented minorities in computer science at Berkeley. For her leadership and many contributions to the tech industry, she was honored with Berkeley Engineering’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005.

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