Probing the front Lines: Pollworker perceptions of security & privacy

Voting technologies have undergone intense scrutiny in recent years. In contrast, the human components of these socio-technical systems, including the policies and procedures that guide and bind behavior have received less attention. To begin to understand pollworker behavior, we conducted a two stage qualitative investigation in a single jurisdiction to explore the challenges pollworkers face on election day, their recollection of relevant policies and procedures, and their high-level ability to perceive and remedy threats to security and privacy whether they relate directly to policies and procedures or not. We first observed 4 polling places in one California county during the general election in November 2010, recording security and privacy related events. Based on our observations we developed 10 “vignettes”, each focusing on a privacy or security risk that we witnessed. In August 2011, we used this instrument to interview twenty pollworkers — recruited from the four polling places we observed the previous year and four additional demographically-similar polling places — in order to understand how they would respond to the vignettes. We report 1) qualitative findings from our observations; and, 2) qualitative findings from our vignette-based interviews of pollworkers. We find that awareness of security-related policies and procedures and comprehension of security risks is low compared with privacy policies, procedures and risks. We find divergent polling place management styles, which we tentatively suggest relate to different perspectives on risk management and trust. We propose that training materials be oriented around the risks they are designed to address, to promote pollworkers’ general knowledge of risks to election integrity as well as the specific policies their roles support in order to mitigate risks on election day.