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Congratulations to California SoS Bowen - Online Voter Registration

Congratulations to California's Secretary of State Deborah Bowen, and the whole State Elections group, and their technology providers and operators! Today Bowen's office announced the launch of the state's new online voter registration system, which enables paperless online voter registration for those citizens of CA who already have a current driver's license with a paper-based signature digitally recorded by the DMV. Today's Sacramento Bee has plenty more information, but I'll just mention a couple items that have been points of concern in the past.

  • This new system does not change the CA state election law that requires that election officials gather both personal information and a signature as part of the voter registration process. With online registration, the personal information is gathered online, and used to obtain from the DMV a signature that the user already provided, along with the personal information, to the DMV, on a paper application form.
  • Good old fashioned paper applications with a wet ink signature are still acceptable -- and indeed are required for people for whom there DMV doesn't have a matching record with a signature on file.
  • This new system does not change election law regarding proof of identity. For those registering to vote for the first time, Federal law may require showing proof of identification for first-time voters, using current valid photo identification, utility bill, bank statement, or similar. Federal law does not require proof of identification at the polling place, if the voter's registration form has been verified by an election official. Election officials have the same responsibility -- whether registration is online or on paper -- to verify voter registration forms.

To some, it might seem barely notable that people can fill out a form online, to submit a voter registration application -- after all, we fill out forms online for lots of things, and manage a great of personal business online. But online voter registration, underneath the covers, requires a lot work to maintain compliance with existing election law, adhere to the same model of protecting against fraud, go through all the bureaucratic and regulatory hoops to permit one part of the state government to get personal information from another part of the government (and one of them is the DMV!) ... and to do a lot of pesky system integration with legacy systems, to get the new system running as quickly as possible without re-implementing a lot existing I.T. systems.

Instead, I can tell you from personal experience, it is a lot of work, in more areas technical and non-technical than would seem believable at the outset. Kudos to CA and Bowen!

-- EJS

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Risk Limiting Audits: progress

An interesting bit today from UC Berkley about a trial of so-called "Risk Limiting Audits", advocated by Philip Stark. Apparently it went well, well enough that:

"Stark's technique passed the test and five others, impressing California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state’s chief elections officer, and spurring her to sponsor a bill, AB 2023, to conduct in 2011 a statewide experiment of this kind of "risk-limiting audit." (from UCBerkeleyNews)

The article is a breezy summary of the approach and the pilot, with lots of endorsements and quotes, but not too much detail about the actual trial, other than it was successful:

"Although the canvass (we do today) is a comforting thing, and it's certainly necessary, it is not state-of-the-art," said Freddie Oakley, the county clerk recorder of Yolo County and the person responsible for double-checking voting machine counts as well as certifying the final results. "We will be close to state-of-the-art with the bill that the secretary of state is sponsoring." (from UCBerkeleyNews)

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