Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast Highlight Potential Risks of Utilizing AI in Election Administration

7th May 2024: Queen’s University Belfast, one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities and a member of the prestigious Russell Group, came out with a new study that warns that the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in election administration could pose serious threats to the democratic process, with minority groups likely to be most adversely affected. The research, published in AI Magazine, is among the first to explore the impact of AI on ‘core’ electoral processes.

The research team lead by AI expert Dr Deepak Padmanabhan from the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; public-administration academic Professor Muiris MacCarthaigh from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics; and early-stage researcher Stanley Simoes from the School of EEECS, raises concerns about the use of certain AI technologies in elections.

Their findings suggest that the use of AI technologies such as video monitoring of electoral activity to address fraud could impair the integrity of elections if widely adopted. They call for a public conversation around the use of AI in crucial electoral processes, including the administration of mailing lists, voter identification, and even the location of polling stations.

One of the key issues highlighted by the researchers is the use of facial-recognition technology at polling stations. Despite its high accuracy rate, research has shown it to be less successful when used with people of colour, females, and younger people. This potential for disenfranchising minority groups is of significant concern, especially in relation to important processes such as elections.

Professor MacCarthaigh stated: “There has been quite a lot of debate already around the use of fake news, ‘deepfakes’ and other misinformation to influence election campaigns and manipulate voters and results. But there hasn’t been much focus on the core, administrative elements of the election process – in fact, we believe our research to be among the first, if not the first, in this area. We don’t think AI is widespread yet in core electoral processes, although it is being used in some jurisdictions, particularly in the US and parts of Asia. The literature on this is very limited, which is partly what motivated us to want to dig deeper.”

Dr Padmanabhan added: “It’s very likely that AI will become pervasive in election administration in the near future so we’re raising a flag in order to prompt and inform a public debate. We’re not saying it’s necessarily all bad, but our research uncovered several, significant concerns.”

The research team’s findings serve as a call to action, urging policymakers, electoral authorities, and the public to engage in informed discussions about the role of AI in safeguarding electoral integrity. As AI continues to permeate election administration, proactive measures must be taken to ensure that democratic principles remain paramount.

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