Meet Julia Stachofsky:
PhD Student Delves into Public Attitudes toward E-Voting

By Eric Hollenbeck

As the 2020 presidential election draws near, many are wondering if it’s safe to return to the polls, especially if the country experiences a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. If we do see an uptick in cases, as some experts predict, will the country be prepared to let voters cast their ballots from home? Or are voters even ready to embrace alternative ways to vote, such as voting electronically?

Julia Stachofsky
Julia Stachofsky, a Carson College doctoral student studying information systems, conducted research over the summer to find out how voters feel about electronic voting (e-voting).

“There’s an argument for electronic voting because it would be safer from a disease-spread standpoint, but it also adds a whole other threat factor from hackers, domestic or foreign, who want to influence the results,” says Stachofsky.

Stachofsky received the Alice O. Rice Graduate Fellowship from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Thomas S. Foley Institute of Public Policy and Public Service for her research proposal on voters’ perceptions of e-voting. The fellowship awarded Stachofsky $1,000 to survey voters from across the United States. She is the first Carson College of Business graduate student to receive the award.

The research idea came about after the controversy surrounding the 2020 Iowa Democratic presidential caucus, which was caused by a mobile reporting app that was full of errors, says Stachofsky. The fiasco raised questions about the reliability and accuracy of paperless voting and results reporting.

Understanding Voters’ Perceptions

Stachofsky worked on the project with her advisor Robert Crossler, associate professor and chair of the college’s Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship (MISE), who has a research focus on cyber security, and Christian Schaupp, professor of accounting at West Virginia University. Stachofsky says the team wanted to really understand voters’ perceptions through the following research questions: Do they even trust online voting? How does it compare to mail-in ballots? Does it matter who counts the ballots? Does it matter who designs the voting software?

Crossler says Stachofsky shows a lot of aptitude for research. “During her first year, Julia demonstrated an ability to think critically regarding research problems and the application of theory,” he says.

An opportunity to conduct research early in her doctoral education and work alongside established researchers were just a couple of things that drew Stachofsky to WSU.

“The MISE faculty are publishing in the best journals in our field,” she says. “Not only that, they are also highly supportive of their students. We are treated more like junior colleagues.”

Although her research results are not yet published, Stachofsky says she was excited to receive the research award because she was able to collect more robust data than she would have without the funding.

“The paper is much stronger because we were able to survey about 300 people from across the United States and really capture their perceptions of e-voting. Hopefully, it will be published in a higher-tiered research journal and generate public discussion,” she says.

The findings are sure to lend new insights into voters’ willingness to embrace novel voting technologies, and, perhaps, support the case for offering alternative ways for people to cast their votes.