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Where We Stand – Update on the D.C. Overseas Distance Balloting Project

I’ve been out on a temporary personal leave of absence due to a family crisis, but I want to weigh in on the progress of the D.C. distance balloting project where portions of the TrustTheVote Project elections technology framework are being deployed for the upcoming election in November.  And it appears that an announcement was made today by the BoEE (Board of Elections & Ethics), hopefully consistent with my remarks here. I commented on 31.August that we believed they set a new timeline in order to make sure everything is correctly in place, and to make sure a public evaluation period could be conducted.  And I wrote that we thought that was a good idea – especially to ensure that public examination period.

In light of the new timetable, however, the D.C. BoEE’s ability to conduct that public review came into question due to MOVE Act’s 45-day requirement for ballot availability and the looming November generation election.

To be clear, the Foundation is committed to verifiable elections, and we would have a difficult time supporting the project in absence of a public examination of the new technology.  The OSDV is founded on the principles of transparency and trust which enforce the organization to stand by not only governmental regulation but also the public’s best interest.  Given that the deadline appears to be upon them to meet their 45-day lead-time for ballot distribution, it would seem that they cannot meet their commitment of a public evaluation period.

That is, unless you know, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

And if you saw today’s press release from the BoEE, then you already know most of the rest of the story, but for those who haven’t …..

In fact, the District conducts its Primary on 14.September.  Given the time required to [a] certify that election and [b] produce the final ballot for the November election, it is virtually impossible for them to meet the 45-day requirement for MOVE Act compliance.  We knew this would be a problem but we remained confident they would work something out.  But then the U.S. Department of Justice denied their application for waiver of the 45-day requirement.

However, in fact, the D.C. BoEE has hammered out a separate Agreement with the United States Department of Justice to establish 04.October, 2010 as the new ballot overseas availability deadline.  That 8-page Agreement is presumably publicly available.

And finally, as I noted above, the District announced today that it would start the public examination period of the Pilot this Friday, 24.September and run it for six (6) days.

Here is what I am aware of about that: during the examination period, those who want to test and comment on the technology and usability of the service will be granted access to:

[a] the application,

[b] a complete system architectural diagram,

[c] a detailed 40 page technical white paper authored by the District’s Board of Elections CTO (and reviewed by the Foundation) and of course,

[d] access to the underlying (open) source code including source developed by the Foundation.

While we would’ve liked to have seen a longer public examination period prior to the election deployment, six days is better than nothing, at least an attempt, and potentially adequate because frankly, there just isn’t all that much “code” or that complex of an application to review.

And before someone says it, I really do not believe the BoEE will rush off to post some glowing press release on 01.October about how safe and secure the service is based on a 6-day review cycle.  If they do, I will take exception personally, here.

So, to me, the sliver of good news is there will be a public review before the DoJ stipulated ballot availability deadline.  One thing that should be of value is their CTO’s 40 page white paper -- at least to the extent of answering questions about the what, why, etc.  I also have a copy of the DoJ stipulated agreement if anyone is interested.

With all of those points in mind, we continue to support the District’s plan to run its Pilot during the general election incorporating open source elections management software built by the TrustTheVote Project.

I just hope we can have some influence in the future on the length and guidelines of review periods for applications like this – if, in fact, we see any more of them.  Frankly, we’re heads down on framework components (e.g., counters, tabulators, marking devices, poll book, etc.) and have no real interest in any other overseas distance balloting project going forward, unless it is a compelling opportunity to further deploy our publicly available source code for the ballot design studio or elections management system, and the focus is on ballot generation (and not digital return).

Nevertheless, the OSDV looks forward to continuing its support of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to provide greater integrity and efficiency in public elections.

And now you know, "the rest of the story."

I'm Gregory... ...Good Day! *

[* with apologies to the late Paul Harvey's signature sign-off]

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D.C. Resets Timeline for Digital Vote By Mail Service

With the September Primary looming for the District of Columbia, they did the right thing yesterday, and hit the "reset button" on their project to pilot an alternative form of remote balloting exclusively for qualified overseas voters, as part of their MOVE Act compliance effort.  The project has been given some breathing room and will launch during the general election in November as publicly announced this morning. Gentle readers, before you're tempted to freak out that a new election service is being launched during a general (mid-term) election rather than a primary consider the unusual reality of the District of Columbia elections: the Primary is the most important Election Day where key decisions (e.g., the next Mayor) are decided.

As the Washington Post reported at lunch today:

There's no Republican seeking the post in a city where three-quarters of voters are Democrats, so whoever wins the Sept. 14 Democratic primary has a lock on the general election in November.

Meanwhile the D.C. Elections Executive Director Rokey Suleman stated earlier this morning:

We are delaying this project to take the time to properly configure the hardware and software, conduct a public evaluation and feedback period, and educate overseas voters about their choices.

So, the District's decision to reschedule the launch of their digital vote by mail service is sound.  It takes a bunch of pressure off their effort to launch a responsible, well thought out solution that employs the best possible efforts (given current technology) to maintain the secrecy of a remotely submitted ballot, and protect its content... in the middle of a hotly contested (local) election.  And it gives all parties involved in the technical effort (the TrustTheVote Project included) more time to make sure every detail has been considered.

And it does one more, I think, essential thing: it ensures there will be a proper public review and comment period for the solution.  To that end, we know that the D.C. Board of Elections Chief Technology Officer, Paul Stenbjorn is days away from releasing a Design Review & Rationale document, which we have been reviewing this week, commenting on, and contributing to (in the application design around the integration of our Ballot Design Studio and Elections Manager).  The paper is extensive, detailed (complete with threats analysis), and as far as I can tell, one of the most significant efforts of its kind to ever be published by a public elections administration.

At the end of the day, I see this decision, their forthcoming paper, and all of the efforts of the D.C. BOEE as demonstrating a commitment to elections integrity.  Although we may not all agree with some choices made in how overseas voters are digitally empowered to participate in elections (and the OSDV Foundation for one, remains against widespread application of remote online voting services), I believe that when the efforts of the District are fairly examined, there will be consensus that Rokey Suleman and his team are making a decent effort to do the right thing.

GAM|out

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Remote Voting Technology Workshop Wanders the Edge of an Intellectual Food Fight

[Note: This is a personal opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Foundation or TrustTheVote Project.] I should have seen this coming.  What was I thinking or expecting?

I am reporting tNIST_Logohis evening from the NIST Workshop on UOCAVA Remote Voting Systems here in Washington D.C..  After a great set of meetings earlier today on other activities of the Foundation (which we’ll have more to say about soon, but had nothing to do with our contributions to the District’s UOCAVA voting Pilot) I arrived at the Wardman Park Marriott near the Naval Observatory (home of the Vice President) for the Workshop, having unfortunately missed the morning sessions.  I barely made it into the lobby, when I had my first taste of what was being served.

My first exposure to the workshop (by then on lunch break) was witnessing a somewhat heated discussion between members of the Verified Voting Foundation and Rokey Suleman, Director of Elections for the District of Columbia.  Apparently, a speaker (identity is irrelevant) of noted authority had delivered a talk before lunch in which he spoke rather condescendingly toward elections officials (likening them to “drunk drivers”).

Mr. Suleman was explaining that so far the meeting appeared to be a waste of his time (principally because of such ad hominen remarks).  Those of the Verified Voting Foundation seemed unwilling to acknowledge that this speaker had (how ever unintentionally) denigrated the hard work of elections officials (as several others later relayed to me they too perceived), emphasizing instead that this individual was, "The nicest person who would never intend such a thing."

Diplomacy 101 teaches: Perception equals reality.

Rather, they seemed to cling to the fact that this speaker was so much of an authority (which strictly speaking this person who made the drunken driving reference, is in fact a technical authority), that this comment should be overlooked.

The argument devolved from there; the substance of which is irrelevant.  What is relevant, however, is that in the very next session after lunch, another argument broke out over legal details of the letter of the UOCAVA law(s) and the related promulgated regulations enacting new aspects of overseas voting that enable (among other things) the digital delivery of blank ballots, and – arguably – the opportunity to pilot a means of digital return.

By the way: have I mentioned this workshop is supposed to be about UOCAVA remote voting which is limited to a qualified subset of that population overseas, and not the unrestricted widespread so-called "Internet voting?" But yet, an uninformed onlooker could reasonably believe that the battle lines were being drawn over the general widespread notion of Internet Voting on the basis of the so-called "slippery slope" argument.  (Note: I'll leave it to trained Philosophers to explain why that argument actually is illogical in its own right in most applications.)  So, take a look at the Workshop description and draw your own conclusions.

The issue seems to be overly-trained on possibilities/potential of compromise and nowhere near a discussion of probability.  What’s more, I’m so far hearing nothing of the discussions about the technical challenges we need to address and how if at all (only an official from the Okaloosa Distance Balloting Pilot attempted to offer any such presentation or agenda).

Instead, I kept hearing the rhetoric of avoidance – both in and outside of sessions.  But the Internet has darkened the doorstep of nearly every aspect of society today. Why does it feel like we’re fooling ourselves into believing that somehow this cloud won’t also darken the doorstep of elections in a digital age?  Unfortunately, it already is; and future generations may well demand it.  However, that's a discussion for another venue -- we're supposed to be exploring remote voting solutions for qualified overseas voters.

Let me say once again:

The Foundation and TrustTheVote Project do NOT support the widespread use of the Internet for the transaction of voting data.

That restated, as far as the Internet playing any role in elections is concerned, it seems to me that we need to look carefully at how to address this challenge, scourge, or whatever we want to call it, rather than try to abolish or avoid it.  Had this mentality been applied to sending man to the moon, this nation never would have achieved four successful lunar landings out of five attempts.

But again, arguing over what role the Internet should or should not play in elections is not why I am here.  Intellectually honest discourse on the challenges and opportunities of UOCAVA remote voting solutions is why I am attending.  And I hoped I would witness (and participate in) a healthy discussion of the technical challenges beyond encryption debates and ideas on how to address them.

So far, I have not.

Instead, what I have is a seat in an intellectual food fight.  Notwithstanding a few interesting comments, speakers, and hallway chats, this sadly so far is a near waste of time (and money).  As one election official put it to me at this evening's no-host reception:

Today reminds me of an observation by Nick Bostrom, an Oxford Philosopher: there is absolute certainty that the universe we live in is artificial.  Because that’s the only logical conclusion you can reach when you exclusively calculate possibilities without any consideration of probabilities.

Thankfully, we (at the Foundation) have much to work on regarding the use of computers in real world elections that has nothing to do with the transport layer.  Outside of these workshops, we don't intend to address Internet solutions in our work in any significant manner.

And thankfully more, we had some very positive meetings this morning that validated the potential of our work to actually deliver publicly owned critical democracy infrastructure for accurate, transparent, trustworthy, and secure elections.

Tomorrow is another day; we'll see what happens, and I'll report back. GAM|out

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EAC Guidelines for Overseas Voting Pilots

election-assistance-commissionLast Friday was a busy day for the Federal Elections Assistance Commission.  They issued their Report to Congress on efforts to establish guidelines for remote voting systems.  And they closed their comment period at 4:00pm for the public to submit feedback on their draft Pilot Program Testing Requirements. This is being driven by the MOVE Act implementation mandates, which we have covered previously here (and summarized again below).  I want to offer a comment or two on the 300+ page report to Congress and the Pilot program guidelines for which we submitted some brief comments, most of which reflected the comments submitted by ACCURATE, friends and advisers of the OSDV Foundation.

To be sure, the size of the Congressional Report is due to the volume of content in the Appendices including the full text of the Pilot Program Testing Requirements, the NIST System Security Guidelines, a range of example EAC processing and compliance documents, and some other useful exhibits.

Why Do We Care? The TrustTheVote Project’s open source elections and voting systems framework includes several components useful to configuring a remote ballot delivery service for overseas voters.  And the MOVE Act, which updates existing federal regulations intended to ensure voters stationed or residing (not visiting) abroad can participate in elections at home.

A Quick Review of the Overseas Voting Issue The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) protects the absentee voting rights for U.S. Citizens, including active members of the uniformed services and the merchant marines, and their spouses and dependents who are away from their place of legal voting residence.  It also protects the voting rights of U.S. civilians living overseas.  Election administrators are charged with ensuring that each UOCAVA voter can exercise their right to cast a ballot.  In order to fulfill this responsibility, election officials must provide a variety of means to obtain information about voter registration and voting procedures, and to receive and return their ballots.  (As a side note, UOCAVA also establishes requirements for reporting statistics on the effectiveness these mechanisms to the EAC.)

What Motivated the Congressional Report? The MOVE (Military and Overseas Voting Enhancement) Act, which became law last fall, is intended to bring UOCAVA into the digital age.  Essentially it mandates a digital means to deliver a blank ballot. 

Note: the law is silent on a digital means to return prepared ballots, although several jurisdictions are already asking the obvious question:  "Why improve only half the round trip of an overseas ballot casting?"

And accordingly, some Pilot programs for MOVE Act implementation are contemplating the ability to return prepared ballots.  Regardless, there are many considerations in deploying such systems, and given that the EAC is allocating supporting funds to help States implement the mandates of the MOVE Act, they are charged with ensuring that those monies are allocated for programs adhering to guidelines they promulgate.  I see it as a "checks and balances" effort to ensure EAC funding is not spent on system failures that put UOCAVA voters participation at risk of disenfranchisement.

And this is reasonable given the MOVE Act intent.  After all, in order to streamline the process of absentee voting and to ensure that UOCAVA voters are not adversely impacted by the transit delays involved due to the difficulty of mail delivery around the world, technology can be used to facilitate overseas absentee voting in many ways from managing voter registration to balloting, and notably for our purposes:

  • Distributing blank ballots;
  • Returning prepared ballots;
  • Providing for tracking ballot progress or status; and
  • Compiling statistics for UOCAVA-mandated reports.

The reality is, however, systems deployed to provide these capabilities face a variety of threats.  If technology solutions are not developed or chosen so as to be configured and managed using guidelines commensurate with the importance of the services provided and the sensitivity of the data involved, a system compromise could carry severe consequences for the integrity of the election, or the confidentiality of sensitive voter information.

The EAC was therefore compelled to prepare Guidelines, report to Congress, and establish (at least) voluntary guidelines.  And so we commented on those Guidelines, as did colleagues of ours from other organizations.

What We Said - In a Nutshell Due to the very short comment period, we were unable to dive into the depth and breadth of the Testing Requirements.  And that’s a matter for another commentary.  Nevertheless, here are the highlights of the main points we offered.

Our comments were developed in consultation with ACCURATE; they consisted of (a) underlining a few of the ACCURATE comments that we believed were most important from our viewpoint; (b) the addition of a few suggestions for how Pilots should be designed or conducted.  Among the ACCURATE comments, we underscored:

  • The need for a Pilot's voting method to include a robust paper record, as well as complementary data, that can be used to audit the results of the pilot.
  • Development of, and publication of security specifications that are testable.

In addition, we recommended:

  • Development of a semi-formal threat model, and comparison of it to threats of one or more existing voting methods.
  • Testing in a mock election, in which members of the public can gain understanding of the mechanisms of the pilot, and perform experimentation and testing (including security testing), without impacting an actual election.
  • Auditing of the technical operations of the Pilot (including data center operations), publication of audit results, and development of a means of cost accounting for the cost of operating the pilot.
  • Publication of ballots data, cast vote records, and results of auditing them, but without compromising the anonymity of the voter and the ballot.
  • Post-facto reporting on means and limits of scaling the size of the pilot.

You can bet this won't be the last we'll hear about MOVE Act Pilots issues; I think its just the 2nd inning of an interesting ball game... GAM|out

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Setting a Technology Agenda for Overseas Voting

I have arrived in Munich, reached my hotel and actually caught a nap.  It was a sloppy slushy day here from what I can tell; about 30 degrees and some wet snow; but spring is around the corner.  On the flight over the Pole last evening (I’m a horrible plane sleeper) I worked on final preparations for our Technology Track at this year’s UOCAVA Summit (which I wrote about yesterday).  I thought I’d share some more about this aspect of the Conference.  This is another long post, but for those who cannot be in Munich at this conference, here are the details. Historically, as I see it, the Summit has been primarily a policy discourse.  While the Overseas Vote Foundation always has digital services to show off in the form of their latest Web facilities to support overseas voters, Summit has historically been focused on efforts to comply, enforce, and extend the UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act).  This year, with the passage of the MOVE Act (something I also wrote about yesterday), a new tract of topics, discussion, (and even debate) has surfaced, and it is of a technical nature.  This is in principle why the Overseas Vote Foundation approached the OSDV Foundation about sponsorship and co-hosting.  We thought about it, and agreed to both.

Then came the task of actually putting together an agenda, topics, speakers, and content.

I owe a tremendous “thank you” to all of the Panelists we have engaged, and to Dr. Andrew Appel of Princeton, our Chief Technology Officer John Sebes, and our Director of Communications, Matthew Douglass, for their work in helping produce this aspect of Summit.  Our Director of Outreach Strategy, Sarah Nelson should be included in here for her logistics and advance work in Munich.  And of course, I would be remiss if I left out the fearless and brilliant leader of the OVF, Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, for all of her coordination, production work, and leadership.

A quick note about Andrew:  I’ve had the privilege of working with Professor Appel on two conferences now.  Many are aware that one of our tract productions is going to be a debate on so-called “Internet Voting” and that Dr. Appel will give the opening background talk.  I intend to post another article tomorrow on the Debate itself.  But I want to point out something now that certain activists may not want to hear (let alone believe).  While Andrew’s view of Internet-based voting systems is well known, there can be no doubt of his interest in a fair and balanced discourse.  Regardless of his personal views, I have witnessed Andrew go to great lengths to examine all sides and build arguments for and against public packet switched networks for public ballot transactions.  So, although several are challenging his giving the opening address, which in their view taints the effort to produce a fair and balanced event, I can state for a fact, that nothing is further from the truth.

Meanwhile, back to the other Track events.

We settled on 2 different Panels to advance the discussion of technology in support of the efforts of overseas voters to participate in stateside elections:

  1. MOVE Act Compliance Pilot Programs – titled: “Technology Pilots: Pros and Cons, Blessing or Curse
  2. Technology Futures – titled: “2010 UOCAVA Technology Futures

Here are the descriptions of each and the Panelists:

Technology Pilots: Pros and Cons, Blessing or Curse

The title is the work of the Conference Sponsor, OVF, but we agree that the phrase, “Technology Pilots” trips wildly different switches in the minds of various UOCAVA stakeholders.  The MOVE Act requires the implementation of pilots to test new methods for U.S. service member voting.  For some, it seems like a logical step forward, a natural evolution of a concept; for others pilots are a step onto a slippery slope and best to avoid at all costs. This panel will discuss why these opposing views co-exist, and must continue to do so.

  • Paul Docker, Head of Electoral Strategy, Ministry of Justice, United Kingdom
  • Carol Paquette, Director, Operation BRAVO Foundation
  • Paul Stenbjorn, President, Election Information Services
  • Alec Yasinsac, Professor and Dean, School of Computer and Information Sciences University of South Alabama

Moderator: John Sebes, Chief Technology Officer, TrustTheVote Project (OSDV Foundation)

2010 UOCAVA Technology Futures

UOCAVA is an obvious magnet for new technologies that test our abilities to innovate.  Various new technologies now emerging and how they are coming into play with UOCAVA voting will be the basis of discussion.  Cloud computing, social networking, centralized database systems, open source development, and data transfer protocols: these are all aspects of technologies that can impact voting from overseas, and they are doing so.

  • Gregory Miller, Chief Development Officer, Open Source Digital Voting Foundation
  • Pat Hollarn, President, Operation BRAVO Foundation
  • Doug Chapin, Director, Election Initiatives, The Pew Center of the States
  • Lars Herrmann, Redhat
  • Paul Miller, Senior Technology and Policy Analyst, State of Washington
  • Daemmon Hughes, Technical Development Director, Bear Code
  • Tarvi Martens, Development Director at SK, Demographic Info, Computer & Network Security, Estonia

Moderator: Manuel Kripp, Competence Center for Electronic Voting

The first session is very important in light of the MOVE Act implementation mandate.  Regardless of where you come down on the passage of this UOCAVA update (as I like to refer to it), it is now federal law, and compliance is compulsory.  So, the session is intended to inform the audience of the status of, and plans for pilot programs to test various ways to actually do at least two things, and for some (particularly in the Military), a third:

  1. Digitally enable remote voter registration administration so an overseas voter can verify and update (as necessary) their voter registration information;
  2. Provide a digital means of delivering an official blank ballot for a given election jurisdiction, to a requesting voter whose permanent residence is within that jurisdiction; and for some...
  3. Examine and test pilot digital means to ease and expedite the completion and return submission of the ballot (the controversy bit flips high here).

There are, as you might imagine, a number of ways to fulfill those mandates using digital technology.  And the latter (3rd) ambition raises the most concern.  Where this almost certainly involves the Internet (or more precisely, public packet-switched networks), the activists against the use of the Internet in elections administration, let alone voting, are railing against such pilots, preferring to find another means to comply with the so-called “T-45 Days” requirement of placing an official ballot in the hands of an overseas voter, lest we begin the slide down the proverbial slippery slope.

Here’s where I go rogue for a paragraph or two (whispering)... First, I’m racking my brain here trying to imagine how we might achieve the MOVE Act mandates using a means other than the Internet.  Here’s the problem: other methods have tried and failed, which is why as many as 1 in 4 overseas voters are disenfranchised now, and why Sen. Schumer (D NY) pushed so hard for the MOVE Act in the first place.  Engaging in special alliances with logistic companies like FedEx has helped, but not resolved the cycle time issues completely.  And the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t been able to completely deliver either (there is, after all, this overseas element, which sometimes means reaching voters in the mountainous back regions of say, Pakistan.)  Sure, I suppose the U.S. could invest in new ballot delivery drones, but my guess is we’d end up accidentally papering innocent natives in a roadside drop due to a technology glitch.

Seriously though (whispering still), perhaps a reasonable way forward may be to test pilot limited uses of the Internet (or hec, perhaps even Military extensions of it) to carry non-sensitive election data, which can reach most of the farther outposts today through longer range wireless networks.  So, rather than investing ridiculous amounts of taxpayer dollars in finding non-Internet means to deliver blank ballots, one proposal floating is to figure out the best, highest integrity solution using packet-switched networks already deployed, and perhaps limit use of the Internet solely for [1] managing voter registration data, and [2] delivering blank ballots for subsequent return by means other than eMail or web-based submission (until such time as we can work out the vulnerabilities on the “return loop.”)  While few can argue the power of ballot marking devices to avoid under-voting and over-voting (among other things), there is trepidation about even that, let alone digital submission of the completed ballot. As far as pilots go, it would seem like we can make some important headway on solving the challenges of overseas voter participation with the power of the Internet without having to jump from courier mule to complete Internet voting in one step.  That observed, IMHO, R&D resulting in test pilots responsibly advances the discussion.

Nevertheless, the slippery slope glistens in the dawn of this new order.  And while we'll slide around a bit on it in these panels, the real sliding sport is the iVoting Debate this Friday -- which I will say more about tomorrow.

OK, back from rogue ;-)

So, that this is where the first Panel is focused and where those presentations and conversations are likely to head in terms of Pilots.  In my remaining space (oops, I see I’ve gone way over already, sorry), let me try to quickly comment on the second panel regarding “technology futures.”

I think this will be the most enjoyable panel, even if not the liveliest (that’s reserved for the iVoting Debate).  The reason this ought to be fun is we’ll engage in a discussion of a couple of things about where technology can actually take us in a positive way (I hope).  First, there should be some discussion about where election technology reform is heading.  After all, there remain essentially two major voting systems commercial vendors in the industry, controlling some 88% of the entire nation’s voting technology deployment, with one of those two holding a ~76% white-knuckled grip market share.  And my most recent exposure to discussions amongst commercial voting vendors about the future of voting technology suggest that their idea of the future amounts to discussing the availability of spare parts (seriously).

So, I’m crossing my fingers that this panel will open up discussions about all kinds of technology impact on the processes of elections and voting – from the impact of social media, to the opportunities of open source.  I know for my 5 minute part I am going to roll out the TTV open source election and voting systems framework architecture and run through the 4-5 significant innovations the TrustTheVote Project is bringing to the future of voting systems in a digital democracy.  Each speaker will take 5 minutes to rush their topic, then our moderator Manuel will open it wide up for hopefully an engaging discussion with our audience.

OK, I’ve gone way over my limit here; thanks for reading all about this week’s UOCAVA Summit Technology Tract in Munich.

Now, time to find some veal brätwurst und ausgezeichnet bier.  There is a special meaning for my presence here; my late parents are both from this wonderful country, their families ended up in Munchen, from which both were forced out in 1938.   Gute nacht und auf wiedersehen!

GAM|out

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Munich: This Week’s iVoting Battleground

I am on my way to Munich, as I post this, for the 2010 UOCAVA Summit.  The OSDV Foundation is a co-host this year, and we’re coordinating the technology track of this 3-day gathering focused on the issues and opportunities for our overseas voters.  This year’s event is arguably the most important UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) gathering since the passage of the Act in 1986.  Last November, Congress and the President brought UOCAVA into the 21st century by passing the MOVE Act into law – which is somewhat like an amendment to UOCAVA. And 2 very important outcomes will be showcased this week in Munich.

2010SummitAs an aside, you may be asking why Munich and not, say, Washington D.C.?  Good question (especially as I spend 17 hours of my day traveling from the west coast to Munich).  But there is rhyme and reason here.  Every election year in the U.S. (which means every other year) the Overseas Vote Foundation produces the UOCAVA Summit in Europe to bring together all of our fellow citizens and their organizations stationed abroad to learn the latest developments in efforts to include Americans overseas in the processes of democracy state-side.  This includes large corporations with major installations in Europe and abroad, as well as NGOs and of course, the Military.  What you may not realize is [a] there are over 6 million Americans abroad, and [b] recent studies, which catalyzed the MOVE Act, indicate that as many as 1 in 4 overseas citizens are unable to participate in U.S. elections for a variety of reasons, but due mostly to verifying their registration status and/or receiving and casting a ballot in time to be counted.  So, this being a mid-term election year, the Summit is in Europe, and this time, Munich.

Now, what about those two outcomes?

The first major outcome of the MOVE Act to play prominently in this year’s conference is one of the fundamental mandates of the Act that states in relevant part, that elections jurisdictions shall provide a digital means to obtain a blank ballot for any overseas voter at least 45 days before an election.

At first glance, you might say, “Duh, of course, like, aren’t we already doing that?”  And the answer is, by and large, no.  But in this always-on digital age, making blank official ballots available for download, casting (filling out by marking choices), and then returning (through expedited mail means), seems to be the proverbial no-brainer.  And now, federal law makes it mandatory.

Of course, caution: we don’t exactly want an unchecked number of blank ballots loose in cyberspace either (I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to realize why that might be a bad idea).  So, we need to ensure that we only issue ballots to a qualified recipient, and in fact, each qualified recipient returns one, and only one completed ballot.  Yes, yes, I know it is "block and tackle" sort of stuff.  But the devil is in the digital details.

Accordingly, there will be much to discuss about implementing MOVE Act mandates, particularly blank ballot delivery by digital means (read: downloadable, probably a PDF).  And, of course, the TrustTheVote Project is excited about this, because there is an opportunity to showcase the work underway on open source solutions to design, generate, and distribute blank ballots (that would be our Ballot Design Studio component of the TTV Elections and Voting Technology Framework -- incidentally, we're moving so fast that we have yet to update a bunch of documentation on the Ballot Design Studio project component on the Wiki... yes we need more help!).

The good news for our fellow overseas citizens is that this is a funded mandate, and all states and elections jurisdictions are hard at work determining how to meet the mandate.  And there's more good news because at least a few states are already there.   Non-profit organizations (NGOs) as well as the Department of Defense through the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) are also working hard to make services available ASAP.  So, it will happen.  And perhaps the OSDV Foundation open source technology – a publicly owned asset – will have a chance to play a role in that work.

There are many who are energized to make this as easy as possible in a digital age.  And to some, providing blank ballots in a downloadable PDF is merely a start to bringing the processes of democracy into the digital age.

Therein lies the 2nd prominent outcome to be showcased this week.

You see, rightly or wrongly (and the arguments both ways are non-trivial) some believe that if the blank ballot is available digitally, there is no reason why we cannot cut the cycle time of overseas voting completely by making it possible to fill out the ballot digitally and then returning it by digital means.

The Department of Defense, for example, argues from the simple point-of-view of risk management.  To many in the military, the benefits of a far greater probability of having their ballot received and counted far outweigh the risk of a ballot being read, intercepted, or even hacked (let alone revealing the identity of the casting citizen). A military statesman, whom I have a great deal of respect for, points out that shooting with "live ballots" is nothing compared to shooting with live bullets, so this is an easy decision (i.e., to adopt as digital a process as soon as possible to ensure speedy delivery and return of ballots).

For other overseas citizens, whose mail services are far better and accessibility challenges are far fewer, the digital means to complete the “ballot transaction” represents a powerful convenience given their remote (absentee) status.

But this opens “Pandora’s Internet Voting Box” to the opponents of this proposed digital efficiency, because if digital ballot casting is extended to our military, and then expanded to include overseas voters, goes the argument, then every absentee voter on the planet (including those merely “out of town” on elections day) will cry foul if they too are not allowed to participate in this highly efficient 21st century manner.

Then the horns kick in, and my shoes start to squeak, because this is a slippery slope, and gosh darn it, this sort of thing could lead to Internet voting!  That is the 2nd outcome of this week’s conference: the great debate on whether public packet-switched networks should be used to transact ballot data in public elections.

At times, we’ve alluded to our position on that matter in blog posts and other content here on the Blog and our project Wiki.  And I will leave it as an exercise for the bored and curious to “look it up.”  What I will say is this: contrary to several concerns raised, I signed up for, and remain committed (with a fiduciary sense of responsibility) to moderating a fair and balanced debate on Internet Voting or what we’ve coined ‘iVoting.”  And I have no intention whatsoever of attempting to sway the debate in one direction or another, favour one side or another, or allow my opinions to color my commentary or line of questioning.

It promises to be a lively discussion.

To some, the use of the Internet in public elections is inevitable as we progress into the digital age.  Maybe so.  And to several European nations, this step has already been successfully achieved.  Bear in mind that there are historical and key cultural differences between the USA and Europe in matters of public elections making adoption of methods like vote-by-mail as well the Internet both palatable and plausible.

To others, this is a nightmare unfolding before their eyes.  These opponent activists have relied on academics and other domain experts’ assertions, observations, and statements, which are necessarily technically accurate.  The (valid) concerns of these technically precise professionals have fueled the fury within opponents who reasonably fear for the integrity of our elections, if they are conducted across a digital means where compromises and vulnerabilities are an inherent part of the architecture of packet-switched networks.  And caution should be exercised.

Does this mean that the notion of using the power and capability of the Internet to enable this important aspect of our digital democracy should be outlawed, forbidden, and eliminated from consideration?

Is there a middle ground that provides a way forward wherein carefully supervised experimentation, research, and further development into designs and deployments that address the persistent integrity issues?

Should we realize and respect that going forward democracies in a digital age must provide a plurality of means by which its citizens can participate in elections, whether that be by mail, in person at a polling place, partially through digital means, or entirely on-line?

Or are the integrity issues raised largely unwarranted in the face of technical capabilities, processes, policies, or procedures that are being drowned in the calls for a legislative mandate to make illegal the use of the Internet in any capacity in public elections?  (Note: keep it on the down low, but packet-switched networks have been used to back-haul aggregate election data for years.)

All of these are the questions and issues are being discussed (and debated) this week in Munich at the 2010 UOCAVA Summit.  And they are being driven by both [a] the passage of the MOVE Act into U.S. law and [b] the full throttle intent by some groups to advance all of the potential capabilities of digital delivery of ballots for (at least) overseas voters.  Stay tuned.

Cheers GAM|out

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MOVE Act Implementation: Call For Participation

The TrustTheVote Project issued its first formal "Call For Participation" ("CFP") to its Stakeholder Community last evening, and five elections jurisdiction have already indicated interest. The CFP is inviting collaboration from elections jurisdictions all over the country who need to determine how to comply with the mandates of the new federal MOVE Act -- particularly the requirement to provide a digital (online) means to deliver a download-ready blank ballot for any overseas voter wishing to participate in an election in their jurisdiction, and particularly one that has any federal contest included.

The TrustTheVote Project has developed a sufficient amount of its overall elections systems framework to be able to deliver a solution today for this requirement (pending any adjustments, modifications, or "tweaking" required to meet local requirements.) 

Really, this is a big deal.  You see, digitally serving anyone the official ballot for their district of residence is deceptively simple.  In fact, its non-trivial.  And yet, every jurisdiction where there are permanent residents stationed overseas either in the military or in some other NGO including simply an employer assignment needs to (and by federal law must) be able to cast an absentee ballot.  But how to get the ballot to them in time for them to prepare it and return to be counted?  We first presented a solution for this in a White Paper in December 2009.

To back up a bit, the MOVE Act was signed into law in November by the President, and essentially is intended to update and bring into the 21st century digital society the UOCAVA law from decades ago. For readers unfamiliar with these terms, here's a quick tutorial.

In 1986, Congress passed the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ("UOCAVA").  The UOCAVA requires that the states and territories allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices. In addition, most states and territories have their own laws allowing citizens covered by the UOCAVA to register and vote absentee in state and local elections as well. United States citizens covered by the UOCAVA include: members of the United States Uniformed Services and merchant marine; their family members; and United States citizens residing outside the United States.

After the 2008 elections cycle it was determined that up to 1 in 4 military and overseas voters were disenfranchised because they didn't receive their ballots in time.  In the autumn of 2009, Congress passed the new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which is a complement and update to UOCAVA.  Among other provisions, the MOVE Act mandates that States shall provide a digital (online) means for a UOCAVA voter to manage their voter registration status and to receive a download ready blank ballot for the elections jurisdiction of their registered permanent residence.

Of course, there are those out there who shrill at the prospect that somehow, someway this could lead to Internet voting.  Very unlikely, and please don't get me started down that rat hole either.  Let me stay trained on the important point here.

The work of the TrustTheVote Project, to bring innovative open source digital voting technology to the public, already addresses the mandates of the MOVE Act.  And we've reached a point where issuing the CFP just makes sense to enlarge the pool of jurisidictions testing and evaluating our solution, and positioning themselves to acquire the tools when they are ready.

And of course, the really nice part: the software tools are free -- that's the benevolent point of the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation and the TrustTheVote Project.  Yes, we appreciate and encourage donations to the Foundation to defray the development costs (particularly if a jurisdiction desires the assistance of our technology development team to tailor the software to their exacting requirements), but the source code is free and will be theirs to do with as they wish (especially for software that does not require certification for voting systems purposes.)

Interested?  Great!  Get started by downloading the CFP here.  And get in touch with us.

Cheers GAM|out

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