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Caltech Launches 2020-2021 Watson Lectures With 'Can America Have a Safe and Secure Presidential Election?

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Caltech Professor of Political and Computational Science, R. Michael Alvarez will give the lecture.

Caltech Launches 2020-2021 Watson Lectures With 'Can America Have a Safe and Secure Presidential Election?

On Wednesday, October 7, at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, Caltech Professor of Political and Computational Science, R. Michael Alvarez, will launch the 2020-2021 Watson Lectures season by asking, "Can America Have a Safe and Secure Presidential Election?"

In this lecture, Alvarez will share how the scientific detection of election problems helps election officials improve their procedures and technologies, giving voters the information that they will need to bolster their confidence in the integrity of this and future elections.

This event is free and open to the public. Advance registration is required as capacity is limited. The lecture begins at 5 p.m. and runs approximately 40 minutes, followed by live audience Q&A with Alvarez. Those unable to attend the 5 p.m. event can view the lecture (without Q&A) on-demand starting at 8 p.m. that same evening on Caltech's YouTube channel.

Alvarez's talk is the first of eight Earnest C. Watson Lectures for the 2020-21 season, which runs monthly from October through May. The Watson Lectures spotlight the pioneering research of Caltech's faculty and represent the broad array of innovative and impactful research being done at the Institute. A full list of the dates, speakers, and topics is available on the Watson Lectures website.

"Historically, the Watson Lectures were presented on our Pasadena campus to a local audience," says Michael Alexander, director of Public Programs, which presents the Watson Lectures. "The virtual format creates a rare opportunity for anyone interested in Caltech's cutting-edge research to take a 'deep dive' with Caltech researchers.

"These lectures are a fascinating way to learn about the innovative tools and out-of-the-box thinking our faculty use to address critical issues facing our society," Alexander continues. "As we approach the November general election, I can think of no better example than the work of Michael Alvarez and his research team."

A professor in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, Alvarez, along with his team, uses data science methods and tools to help improve the security of important election infrastructure and provide transparent and rapid monitoring and auditing of the integrity of elections.

Alvarez notes that, in the states and counties that use such methods, voters can be more confident in the integrity of reported election results. To learn more about the science and technology behind voting and elections before Alvarez's lecture, visit the Caltech Science Exchange, an online resource committed to the public understanding of science and informed by Alvarez and other experts.

"Through initiatives like the Caltech Science Exchange, public programming like the Watson Lectures, and performing arts events, we are excited for more people to discover the many ways in which science intersects with our daily lives," says Alexander.

For more information, visit

To register for the Zoom webinar, visit Reservations cannot be made over the phone or in person for the Watson Lecture Series.

Questions? Contact the Caltech Ticket Office via email at or leave a message at (626) 395-4652. Please allow 48 hours for a response. On October 7 only, the Ticket Office phone line will be staffed remotely from 2 p.m. - 5:15 p.m. to provide technical support to Zoom webinar participants and to answer questions about the event.

For those unable to attend the live event, the recorded lecture (without the Q&A) will be posted on Caltech's YouTube channel at 8 p.m. that evening, then archived for on-demand viewing

Alvarez is currently the co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, which since the 2000 Presidential election has been working to improve the security and integrity of elections throughout the world. He also leads the Monitoring the Election project at Caltech, which has been working since 2018 to build tools and methods to help improve the integrity of elections, focusing largely on collaborations with election officials in California and Oregon.

Alvrarez has studied elections throughout the world, working closely with public officials in many locations to improve their elections. His current research projects include using machine learning to detect election fraud, developing social media tools to assess election problems in real time, and spearheading statistical auditing of voter registration databases. He is currently collaborating with state and county election officials in the United States to develop and use these tools in the November 2020 presidential election.

Alvarez's research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Haynes Foundation, and the John Irvine Foundation. He has written or edited a number of books, including, most recently, the edited volume Computational Social Science, and scores of academic articles and reports.

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