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PCEA Report Finally Out: The Real Opportunity for Innovation Inside

PCEACoverThis week the PCEA finally released its long-awaited report to the President.  Its loaded with good recommendations.  Over the next several days or posts we'll give you our take on some of them.  For the moment, we want to call your attention to a couple of under-pinning elements now that its done.

The Resource Behind the Resources

Early in the formation of what initially was referred to as the "Bauer-Ginsberg Commission" we were asked to visit the co-chairs in Washington D.C. to chat about technology experts and resources.  We have a Board member who knows them both and when asked we were honored to respond.

Early on we advised the Co-Chairs that their research would be incomplete without speaking with several election technology experts, and of course they agreed.  The question was how to create a means to do so and not bog down the progress governed by layers of necessary administrative regulations.

I take a paragraph here to observe that I was very impressed in our initial meeting with Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg.  Despite being polar political opposites they demonstrated how Washington should work: they were respectful, collegial, sought compromise to advance the common agenda and seemed to be intent on checking politics at the door in order to get work done.  It was refreshing and restored my faith that somewhere in the District there remains a potential for government to actually work for the people.  I digress.

We advised them that looking to the CalTech-MIT Voting Project would definitely be one resource they could benefit from having.

We offered our own organization, but with our tax exempt status still pending, it would be difficult politically and otherwise to rely on us much in a visible manner.

So the Chairs asked us if we could pull together a list -- not an official subcommittee mind you, but a list of the top "go to" minds in the elections technology domain.  We agreed and began a several week process of vetting a list that needed to be winnowed down to about 20 for manageability  These experts would be brought in individually as desired, or collectively  -- it was to be figured out later which would be most administratively expedient.  Several of our readers, supporters, and those who know us were aware of this confidential effort.  The challenge was lack of time to run the entire process of public recruiting and selection.  So, they asked us to help expedite that, having determined we could gather the best in short order.

And that was fine because anyone was entitled to contact the Commission, submit letters and comments and come testify or speak at the several public hearings to be held.

So we did that.  And several of that group were in fact utilized.  Not everyone though, and that was kind of disappointing, but a function of the timing constraints.

The next major resource we advised they had to include besides CalTech-MIT and a tech advisory group was Rock The Vote.  And that was because (notwithstanding they being a technology partner of ours) Rock The Vote has its ear to the rails of new and young voters starting with their registration experience and initial opportunity to cast their ballot.

Finally we noted that there were a couple of other resources they really could not afford to over-look including the Verified Voting Foundation, and L.A. County's VSAP Project and Travis County's StarVote Project.

The outcome of all of that brings me to the meat of this post about the PCEA Report and our real contribution.  Sure, we had some behind the scenes involvement as I describe above.  No big deal.  We hope it helped.

The Real Opportunity for Innovation

But the real opportunity to contribute came in the creation of the PCEA Web Site and its resource toolkit pages.

On that site, the PCEA took our advice and chose to utilize Rock The Vote's open source voter registration tools and specifically the foundational elements the TrustTheVote Project has built for a States' Voter Information Services Portal.

Together, Rock The Vote and the TrustTheVote Project are able to showcase the open source software that any State can adopt, adapt, and deploy--for free (at least the adoption part) and without having to reinvent the wheel by paying for a ground-up custom build of their own online voter registration and information services portal.

We submit that this resource on their PCEA web site represents an important ingredient to injecting innovation into a stagnant technology environment of today's elections and voting systems world.

For the first time, there is production-ready open source software available for an important part of an elections official's administrative responsibilities that can lower costs, accelerate deployment and catalyze innovation.

To be sure, its only a start -- its lower hanging fruit of an election technology platform that doesn't require any sort of certification. With our exempt status in place, and lots of things happening we'll soon share, there is more, much more, to come.  But this is a start.

There is a 112 pages of goodness in the PCEA report.  And there are some elements in there that deserve further discussion.  But we humbly assert its the availability of some open source software on their resource web site that we think represents a quiet breakthrough in elections technology innovation.

The news has been considerable.  So, yep, we admit it.  We're oozing pride today. And we owe it to your continued support of our cause. Thank you!

GAM | out

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Crowd Sourcing Polling Place Wait Times

Long lines at the polling place are becoming a thorn in our democracy. We realized a few months ago that our elections technology framework data layer could provide information that when combined with community-based information gathering might lessen the discomfort of that thorn.  Actually, that realization happened while hearing friends extol the virtues of Waze.  Simply enough, the idea was crowd-sourcing wait information to at least gain some insight on how busy a polling place might be at the time one wants to go cast their ballot.

Well, to be sure, lots of people are noodling around lots of good ideas and there is certainly no shortage of discussion on the topic of polling place performance.  And, we’re all aware that the President has taken issue with it and after a couple of mentions in speeches, created the Bauer-Ginsberg Commission.  So, it seems reasonable to assume this idea of engaging some self-reporting isn’t entirely novel.

After all, its kewl to imagine being able to tell – in real time – what the current wait time at the polling place is, so a voter can avoid the crowds, or a news organization can track the hot spots of long lines.  We do some "ideating" below but first I offer three observations from our noodling:

  • It really is a good idea; but
  • There’s a large lemon in it; yet
  • We have the recipe for some decent lemonade.

Here’s the Ideation Part

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody could use an app on their smarty phone to say, “Hi All, its me, I just arrived at my polling place, the line looks a bit long.” and then later, “Me again, OK, just finished voting, and geesh, like 90 minutes from start to finish… not so good,” or “Me again, I’m bailing.  Need to get to airport.”

And wouldn’t it be great if all that input from every voter was gathered in the cloud somehow, so I could look-up my polling place, see the wait time, the trend line of wait times, the percentage of my precinct’s non-absentee voters who already voted, and other helpful stuff?  And wouldn’t it be interesting if the news media could show a real time view across a whole county or State?

Well, if you’re reading this, I bet you agree, “Yes, yes it would."  Sure.  Except for one thing.  To be really useful it would have to be accurate.  And if there is a question about accuracy (ah shoot, ya know where this is going, don-cha?) Yes, there is always that Grinch called “abuse.”

Sigh. We know from recent big elections that apparently, partisan organizations are sometimes willing to spend lots of money on billboard ads, spam campaigns, robo-calls, and so on, to actually try to discourage people from going to the polls, within targeted locales and/or demographics. So, we could expect this great idea, in some cases, to fall afoul of similar abuse.  And that’s the fat lemon.

But, please read on.

Now, we can imagine some frequent readers spinning up to accuse us of wanting everything to be perfectly secure, of letting the best be the enemy of the good, and noting that nothing will ever be accomplished if first every objection must be overcome. On other days, they might be right, but not so much today.

We don’t believe this polling place traffic monitoring service idea requires the invention of some new security, or integrity, or privacy stuff.  On the other hand, relying on the honor system is probably not right either.  Instead, we think that in real life something like this would have a much better chance of launch and sustained benefit, if it were based on some existing model of voters doing mobile computing in responsible way that’s not trivial to abuse like the honor system.

And that lead us to the good news – you see, we have such an existing model, in real life. That’s the new ingredient, along with that lemon above, and a little innovative sugar, for the lemonade that I mentioned.

Stay tuned for Part 2, and while waiting you might glance at this.

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The 2013 Annual Elections Verification Conference Opens Tonight

If its Wednesday 13.March it must be Atlanta.  And that means the opening evening reception for the Elections Verification Network's 2013 Annual Conference.  We're high on this gathering of elections officials, experts, academicians and advocates because it represents a unique interdisciplinary collaboration of technologists, policy wonks and legal experts, and even politicians all with a common goal: trustworthy elections. The OSDV Foundation is proud to be a major sponsor of this event.  We do so because it is precisely these kinds of forums where discussions about innovation in HOW America votes take place and it represents a rich opportunity for collaboration, debate, education, and sharing.  We always learn much and share our own research and development efforts as directed by our stakeholders -- those State and local elections officials who are the beneficiaries of our charitable work to bring increased accuracy, transparency, verification, and security (i.e., the 4 pillars of trustworthiness) to elections technology reform through education, research and development for elections technology innovation.

Below are my opening remarks to be delivered this evening or tomorrow morning, at the pleasure of the Planning Committee depending on how they slot the major sponsors opportunities to address the attendees.  We believe there are 3 points we wanted to get across in opening remarks: [1] why we support the EVN; [2] why there is a growing energy around increased election verification efforts, and [3] how the EVN can drive that movement forward.....

Greetings Attendees!

On behalf of the EVN Planning Committee and the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation I want to welcome everyone to the 2013 Elections Verification Network Annual Conference.  As a major conference supporter, the Planning Committee asked if I, on behalf of the OSDV Foundation, would take 3 minutes to share 3 things with you:

  • 1st, why the Foundation decided to help underwrite this Conference;
  • 2nd, why we believe there is a growing energy and excitement around election verification; and
  • 3rd, how the EVN can bring significant value to this growing movement

So, we decided to make a major commitment to underwriting and participating in this conference for two reasons:

  1. We want to strengthen the work of this diverse group of stakeholders and do all that we can to fortify this gathering to make it the premier event of its kind; and
  2. The work of the EVN is vital to our own mission because there are 4 pillars to trustworthy elections: Accuracy, Transparency, Verification, and Security, and the goals and objectives of these four elements require enormous input from all stakeholders.  The time to raise awareness, increase visibility, and catalyze participation is now, more than ever.  Which leads to point about the movement.

We believe the new energy and excitement being felt around election verification is due primarily to 4 developments, which when viewed in the aggregate, illustrates an emerging movement.  Let’s consider them quickly:

  1. First, we’re witnessing an increasing number of elections officials considering “forklift upgrades” in their elections systems, which are driving public-government partnerships to explore and ideate on real innovation – the Travis County Star Project and the LA County’s VSAP come to mind as two showcase examples, which are, in turn, catalyzing downstream activities in smaller jurisdictions;
  2. The FOCE conference in CA, backed by the James Irvine Foundation was a public coming out of sorts to convene technologists, policy experts, and advocates in a collaborative fashion;
  3. The recent NIST Conferences have also raised the profile as a convener of all stakeholders in an interdisciplinary fashion; and finally,
  4. The President’s recent SOTU speech and the resulting Bauer-Ginsberg Commission arguably will provide the highest level of visibility to date on the topic of improving access to voting.  And this plays into EVN’s goals and objectives for elections verification.  You see, while on its face the visible driver is fair access to the ballot, the underlying aspect soon to become visible is the reliability, security, and verifiability of the processes that make fair access possible.  And that leads to my final point this morning:

The EVN can bring significant value to this increased energy, excitement, and resulting movement if we can catalyze a cross pollination of ideas and rapidly increase awareness across the country.  In fact, we spend lots of time talking amongst ourselves.  It’s time to spread the word.  This is critical because while elections are highly decentralized, there are common principles that must be woven into the fabric of every process in every jurisdiction.  That said, we think spreading the word requires 3 objectives:

  1. Maintaining intellectual honesty when discussing the complicated cocktail of technology, policy, and politics;
  2. Sustaining a balanced approach of guarded optimism with an embracing of the potential for innovation; and
  3. Encouraging a breadth of problem awareness, possible solutions, and pragmatism in their application, because one size will never fit all.

So, welcome again, and lets make the 2013 EVN Conference a change agent for raising awareness, increasing knowledge, and catalyzing a nationwide movement to adopt the agenda of elections verification.

Thanks again, and best wishes for a productive couple of days.

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Temporarily Missing, But Still in Action

Happy "Holidaze"

On the eve of 2012 we so need to check in here and let you know we're still fighting the good fight and have been totally distracted by a bunch of activities.  There is much to catch you up on and we'll start doing that in the ensuing days,  but for now we simply wanted to check in and wish everyone a peaceful and prosperous new year.  And of course, we intend that to "prosper" is to enrich yourself in any number of ways, not simply financially, but intellectually, physically, and spiritually as well... how ever you chose to do so ;-)

Looking back while looking ahead, as this afternoon before the new year urges us all to do, we are thankful for the great headway we made in 2011 (and we'll have much more to say about those accomplishments separately), and we are energized (and resting up) for the exciting and intense election year ahead.  And that brings me to two thoughts I want to share as we approach the celebration of this New Year's Eve 2011.

1. A Near #FAIL

First, if there was one effort or project that approached "#fail" for us this year it was our intended work to produce a new open data, open source elections night reporting system for Travis County, TX, Orange County, CA and others.  We were "provisionally chosen" by Travis County pending our ability to shore up a gap in the required funding to complete some jurisdiction specific capabilities.

We approached prospective backers in addition to our current ones and unfortunately we could not get everyone on board quickly enough, and tried to do so on the eve of their budgetary commitments being finalized for other 2012 election year funding commitments, mostly around voter enfranchisement (more on that in a moment.)  We were short answers to 2 questions of Travis County, the answers to which well could have dramatically reduced the remaining fund gap requirement and allowed us to accelerate toward final selection and be ready in time for 2012.

For unexplained reasons, Travis County has fallen silent to answer any of our questions, respond to any of our inquiries, or even continue to advance our discussions.  We fear that something has happened in their procurement process and they simply haven't gotten around to the courtesy of letting us know.  This is frustrating because we've been left in a state of purgatory -- really unable to determine where and how to allocate resources without this resolved.  The buck stops with me (Gregory) on this point as I should've pushed harder for answers from both sides: Travis on the technical issues and our Backers on the funding question.

I say this was a "near #fail" because it clearly is unresolved: we know Orange County, as well as other jurisdictions, and media channels such as the AP remain quite keen on our design, the capabilities for mobile delivery, the open data, and of course the open source alternative to expensive (on a total cost of ownership or "TCO" basis) proprietary black-box solutions.  Moreover, the election night reporting system is a "not insignificant" component to our open source elections technology framework, and its design and development will continue.  And perhaps we'll get some clarity on Travis County, close the funding gap, and get that service launched in time for next Fall's election frenzy.  Stay tuned.

So, that is but one of several distractions that allowed this vital blog to sit idle for the last half of summer and all of the Fall.  We'll share more about the other distractions in  upcoming posts as we get underway with 2012.  But I have a closing comment about the 2012 election season in this final evening of 2011.

2.  The 2012 Battles on the Front-lines of Democracy Will Start at the Polling Place

Millions of additional Americans will be required to present photo ID when they arrive at the polls in four states next year.  Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas will require voters to prove their identities, bringing the total number of States to 30 that require some form of voter identification, this according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This is an issue that has reached the boiling point and we predict will set off a storm of lawsuits (and they are happening already).  It ranks very close to redistricting in terms of its impact on voter enfranchisement according to one side of the argument.  Opponents also argue that such regulations impose an unfair barrier to those who are less likely to have photo IDs, including the poor and the elderly.  The proponents stand steadfast that the real issue is voter fraud and this is the best way to address it.  Of course, the trouble with that argument is that after a five-year U.S. DoJ probe lasting across two different administrations found little (53 cases) discernible evidence of widespread voter fraud.   And yet, there are also reasonable arguments suggesting that regardless of voter fraud, there seems to be no difficulty in our elderly, disabled or poor obtaining ID cards (where required) in order to enable them to obtain Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.

To be clear: the Foundation has no opinion on the matter of voter ID.  We see arguments on both sides.  Our focus is simply this: any voter identification process must be fair, not burdensome, transparent, and uniformly applied.  We're far more vested in how to make technology to facilitate friction-free access to the polling place that produces a verifiable, audit-ready, and accountable paper trail for all votes.  We do believe that implementing voter ID as a means to restrict the vote is troublesome... as troublesome as preventing voter ID in order to passively enable those who are not entitled as a matter of citizenship to cast a ballot.

Regardless of how you come down on this issue, we believe it will be where the battles begin in the 2012 election season over enfranchising or disenfranchising voters begins.

And with that, we say, 2012: bring it.  We're ready.  Be there: its going to be an interesting experience.  Here we go. Cheers Greg

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On the NYT Article: "Voting Early, but Not So Often"

We've been paying attention to early voting in this election cycle, because it is both an increasing trend, and also a form of voting that has significant impact on some our next-stage election technology efforts around polling-place -- or early voting place -- operations and technology. As we were told by MN SoS Mark Ritchie (reflecting on the high vote-by-mail turnout in 2008), one reason for election officials' interest in early voting is that it may increase participation overall, but decrease reliance on vote-by-mail (VBM). VBM is another way of voting early, but one that places significant burden on local election officials (remember the "Lizard People" ballot?) that some might prefer to shift to early voting.

That made sense to me personally, but there is more than meets the eye, as reported by the New York Times: "Voting Early, but Not So Often"

Apparently, the availability of early voting, by itself, appears to actually decrease total participation. However, when combined with same-day registration, the net effect is positive. But don't take it from me, read the article and see what Professors Burden and Mayer of U. Wisconsin found out.

The connection with same-day registration brings up a tricky policy question, though. Because until recently, there was not a lot of early voting, the phrase "same-day registration" has typically been understood in the context of election day: you go to what you think is your proper polling place, fill out a voter registration form, vote (or vote provisionally) and hope that everything gets sorted out correctly in the election-day flurry and that you actually voted.  (I've certainly heard first hand cases where this didn't actually work out exactly right.)  Same-day registration is a bit controversial because of some folks' concern for abuse and voter fraud; and also because of other folks concern about proper follow-through and enfranchisement or lack thereof.

But in the context of early voting, same day registration might be less concerning on both counts, and more amenable to public transparency than your typical volunteer-run polling place -- with some assistance by appropriate election technology. :-) That's one reason for our interest in furthering our work on voter-registration technology, and polling-place technology, and maybe even coming up with a chocolate/peanut butter-like combo that hits the spot.

There's certainly more to learn about what's required, but the good news is that in this election cycle, we have many sources for that learning.

-- EJS

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UOCAVA Remote Voting Workshop Makes a Strong Finish

24 hours ago I, along with some others, was actually considering asking for a refund.  We had come to the EAC, NIST, and FVAP co-hosted UOCAVA Remote Voting Systems 2 Day Workshop, expecting to feast on some fine discussions about the technical details and nuances of building remote voting systems for overseas voters that could muster the demands of security and privacy.  And instead we had witnessed an intellectual food fight of ideology. That all changed in a big way today.

The producers and moderators of the event, I suspect sensing the potential side effects of yesterdays outcome -- came together, somehow collectively made some adjustments (in moderation techniques, approach, and topic tweaking), and pulled off an excellent, informative day full of the kind of discourse I willingly laid down money (the Foundation's money no less) in the first place to attend.

My hat is off; NIST and EAC on the whole did a great job with a comeback performance today that nearly excused all of what we witnessed yesterday.  Today, they exhibited self deprecating humor, and even had elections officials playing up their drunk driver characterization from the day before.

Let me share below what we covered; it was substantive.  It was detailed.  And it was tiring, but in a good way.  Here it is:

Breakout Session – Voter Authentication and Privacy

--Identified voter authentication and privacy characteristics and risks of the current UOCAVA voting process.

--Identified potential risks related to voter authentication and privacy of remote electronic absentee voting systems. For example, the group considered:

  • Ballot secrecy
  • Coercion and/or vote selling
  • Voter registration databases and voter lists
  • Strength of authentication mechanisms
  • Susceptibility to phishing/social engineering
  • Usability and accessibility of authentication mechanisms
  • Voter autonomy
  • Other potential risks

--Considered measures and/or criteria for assessing and quantifying identified risks and their potential impacts.

  • How do these compare to those of the current UOCAVA voting processes?

--Identified properties or characteristics of remote digital voting absentee voting systems that could provide comparable authentication mechanisms and privacy protections as the current UOCAVA voting process

--Considered currently available technologies that can mitigate the identified risks. How do the properties or characteristics of these technologies compare to those of the current UOCAVA voting process?

--Started to identify and discuss emerging or future research areas that hold promise for improving voter authentication and/or privacy.  For example:

  • Biometrics (e.g., speaker voice identification)
  • Novel authentication methods

--Chatted about cryptographic voting protocols and other cryptographic technologies

Breakout Session – Network and Host Security

--Identified problems and risks associated with the transmission of blank and voted ballots through the mail in the current UOCAVA voting process.

--Identified risks associated with electronic transmission or processing of blank and voted ballots.  For example, the breakout group considered:

  • Reliability and timeliness of transmission
  • Availability of voting system data and functions
  • Client-side risks to election integrity
  • Server-side risks to election integrity
  • Threats from nation-states
  • Other potential risks

--Considered and discussed measures and/or criteria for assessing and quantifying identified risks and their potential impacts.

  • How do these compare to those of the current UOCAVA voting process

--Identified properties or characteristics of remote digital absentee voting systems that could provide for the transmission of blank and voted ballots at least as reliably and securely as the current UOCAVA voting process.

--Discussed currently available technologies that can mitigate the identified risks and potential impact.

  • How do the properties and characteristics of these technologies compare to those of the current UOCAVA voting process?

--Identified and discussed emerging or future research areas that hold promise for improving network and host security.  For example:

  • Trusted computer and trusted platform models
  • End point security posture checking
  • Cloud computing
  • Virtualization
  • Semi-controlled platforms (e.g., tablets, smart phones, etc.)
  • Use of a trusted device (e.g., smart card, smart phone, etc.)

As you can see, there was a considerable amount of information covered in each 4 hour session, and then the general assembly reconvened to report on outcomes of each breakout group.

Did we solve any problems today?  Not so much.  Did we come a great deal forward in challenge identification, guiding principles development, and framing the issues that require more research and solution formulation? Absolutely.

Most importantly, John Sebes, our CTO and myself gained a great deal of knowledge we can incorporate into the work of the TrustTheVote Project, had some badly needed clarifying discussions with several, and feel we are moving in the right direction.

We clarified where we stand on use of the Internet in elections (its not time beyond anything but tightly controlled experimentation, and there is a lacking of understanding of the magnitude of resources required to stand up sufficiently hardened data centers to make it work, let alone figuring out problems at the edge.)

And we feel like we made some small contributions to helping the EAC and NIST figure out the kind of test Pilot they wish to stand up as a guiding principles reference model sometime over the next 2 years.

Easily a day's work for the 50-60 people in attendance over the two days.

Back to the west coast (around 3am for my Pacific colleagues ;-)

Its a wrap GAM|out

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San Francisco Voting Task Force Public Hearing

Tomorrow night starting at 4:30PM the San Francisco Voting Systems Task Force is holding a Public Hearing to intake testimony and public comment on its draft prospective recommendations topics.  [Disclosure: I am a member of this Task Force, appointed by the S.F. City & County Board of Supervisors.] We encourage everyone who can make it to attend and give us your input on these draft proposed recommendations.  This is an early stage document and does not represent any final recommendations of the VSTF.  The Agenda and description can be found here.  The location of the meeting is:

SFCitySeal1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 34 Lower Level San Francisco, California

If you can't make it in person, no worries as we're accepting written input through the 24th of February, which you can submit digitally if you wish to: voting.systems.task.force@sfgov.org or by U.S. Mails (address details on site here).

For those interested in some details; I submitted a letter to the Task Force Chair with some comments of my own on our Draft recommendations under consideration document, and you may wish to have a look at them here.

Cheers GAM|out

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OSDV Testifies (sort of) at CA Voting Systems Hearing

Greetings- So, I've taken a couple of days to decompress after a marathon of preparation for the Hearing this past Monday held by the CA Secretary of State.  Unfortunately, Secretary Bowen could not attend and preside over this important hearing as she was a victim of the global weirding that is dumping snow in multiple feet on Washington, D.C.  Somehow, I have to believe that had the Secretary presided as planned, things might have gone a just bit differently.

I took a couple of days before posting this because [a] I wanted to take in all of the kind messages we received from so many of you regarding our participation and the Hearing itself and weigh what others had perceived in watching online; and [b] give myself a chance to ensure that I wouldn't whine (too much) about how it went.  And the reason for that: whining is a waste of energy and the fact of the matter is the Hearing was a very important opportunity for everyone.

As to the way the Hearing went, the goodness of the digital world means all of it is recorded, archived, and on the public record.  So, I will not waste your gracious time reading our blog, nor my precious time writing posts completely regurgitating the turn of events.  However, I provide a couple of things here for your consideration.

First, my take is the CA Secretary of State needs to conduct another Hearing that is strictly focused on the challenges and opportunities of open source technology in elections systems.  Even had I been afforded the same amount of time as the other panelists (or even just the amount of time originally allocated) there is no way we could have had any sort of intellectually honest discussion about the many aspects of this increasingly popular topic. 

Sincerely, the fact that the topic made the agenda is an important step in the right direction.  However, there were just three questions fired at me in the midst of my providing some background on our project, and they reflect the reason I believe another Hearing is necessary.  Here they are/were, roughly paraphrasing (its on the record; you could look it up):

  1. When will your project have anything to deploy?
  2. Will your technology really be free?
  3. Is open source really better than closed, and why?

You'd probably concur that answering those questions alone should engage more than five minutes of discussion; well at least the 3rd question.  As I reflect, I goofed up the 1st answer leaving the Dias unimpressed (I suggested 2016 is when we anticipate our full system will be ready to deploy, although we have deliverables as early as, like, now) but there was simply no follow-up from the Dias, rather they fired a 2nd question as to whether our technology would be "free."  And my 2nd answer appeared to be met with doubt (at least two of the County Registrars on the Dias shook their heads in disbelief), because I answered, Yes.  But then I honestly conditioned it by adding,

If what you require is what we provide out of the box, then certainly.  If, however, you require some modification or tuning for your particular jurisdiction and you do not want to do so yourself, we ask for a donation to the Foundation to keep the project alive and defray the costs of work.

It appears I had them at "free" and lost them at "If."  Perhaps that's the challenge of a sound-bite world.  Let me just make this point at the risk of launching down a rat-hole of discussion like a Luge pilot *:

Just because the software is developed or deployed on an "open source" basis doesn't mean its free of development cost.

OK, on to my second point.  Rather than blather on about what we had to (or attempted to) say, you can read our prepared written testimony from which I derived my planned oral remarks here.  Please spend 20 minutes to give it a read because it will:

  1. Provide an overview of our motivation, charter, and project and explain clearly why (regardless of what the detractors are beginning to suggest about the potential of open source in elections) our project is viable, sustainable, adoptable, and deployable (sic, but you get the idea);
  2. Summarize our achievements, accomplishments and milestones for 2009;
  3. Offer some insight to how we believe what we're working on can help the State of California; and
  4. Present our perspectives on [a] the market transformation that can occur through open sourcing the underlying software technology of voting machinery, [b] the sustainability of the technology once our work here is complete, [c] describe 4 prospective deployment models for elections jurisdictions deciding that an open source based solution is right for them, and [d] present some thoughts on the simmering issue of re-thinking the process and model of certification.

Here's the bottom line: please indulge me, I'm really trying not to whine, because again, this was an important meeting regardless of time management issues)

What we're working on is very real, viable, sustainable, adoptable, deployable, and not disappearing any time soon.

We have over 200 hundred members in our Stakeholder Community representing a dozen States and its growing.  We're feeling increasingly validated about what seemed like a pie-in-the-sky notion three years ago.  And maybe we're starting to feel just a tiny bit justifiably irreverent towards those who insist on believing that what we're doing can't possibly be the kind of change agent we believe.

We took this Hearing pretty seriously.  So, OK, I guess I'm a wee bit miffed that after all of the hard work a number of our team members like Matthew Douglass and John Sebes put into preparing for this Hearing, and the number of Advisers who graciously took time to provide their two-cents on our prepared testimony, that I had the worst performance of my life in a regulatory testimony setting.

As one individual who was watching online sent to me in a text, I was essentially "run" after just less than 12 minutes of participation, when legacy vendors had earlier been afforded 2x or more time allotment to make their case for what: a promise of an endless supply of spare parts?  A promise of thinking about maybe considering the possibility of some common data formats for interoperability, someday?  For  a bunch of buzzword compliant hand-waving phrase dropping about transparency and open (read: disclosed) source?  Really?

Don't get me wrong, its on the public record: we support a healthy viable commercial industry for voting systems.  We believe our open source technology can pave a new road to a more competitive, customer-centric market.

But for the moment, if we're to have an intellectually honest discussion about the future of voting in California: the people, the equipment, and the costs, then surely the topic of open source technology deserves equal time to the well over an hour afforded the vendors, rather than barely 12 minutes and three questions of which the answer to the last was aborted mid-sentence.

That's weird.  And that's not the technically adept and pragmatic California Secretary of State office I've come to know.  Seriously, I refuse to believe there was any malice, just simply a series of fumbles on time management and facilities (e.g., how is it that the guy helping with AV disappears just when I'm trying to light up the LCD projector with my Mac connection?)

Again: I know the Secretary and her Deputy of Elections (at least) are committed to exploring the opportunities of innovation and new technology approaches just as much as they are intent on working with vendors to improve current offerings.  I remain convinced of this. However, we had an opportunity to provide some insight to our work and educate the Dias and the audience on the challenges and opportunities of open source, and that didn't happen as hoped... this time.

Cheers GAM|out

Oh yeah, for those of you who made it this far and wondered about my red asterisk, I promised myself I'd find a way to weave in the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, opening Friday evening. Snap. ;-)

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OSDV Foundation Called to Testify on State of CA Voting Systems Future

Gregory Miller of the OSDV Foundation will be provide testimony during State of California Hearings on Future of Elections Systems next Monday, February 8th. CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen requested elections and voting systems experts from around the country to attend and testify, and answer questions about the current election administration landscape and how California can best prepare for the future.  The Secretary noted in a prepared statement:

Demands for increased transparency and services, shrinking government budgets, and technological advances that outpace elections laws and regulations have combined to challenge what many thought were ‘permanent’ solutions developed as part of the 2002 Help America Vote ActMany in California and across the nation are ready to move in a new direction.  The question is, what should Californians seek in the next generation of voting equipment and how can new products truly serve the interests of voters?

Secretary Bowen will preside over the Hearing, joined by county elections executives from Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz and Madera counties. In addition to the testimony from OSDV, wide-ranging testimony will come from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Pew Center on States, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, representatives from every major voting system manufacturer with contracts in California, and more.  The complete agenda is available here.

California has a strong record of thoughtful analysis of its voting systems. In 2007, Secretary Bowen led a top-to-bottom review of certified voting systems. Bowen asserted from the outset that the review:

Ensure that California’s voters cast their ballots on voting systems that are secure, accurate, reliable, and accessible.

And following the top-to-bottom review, on August 3, 2007, Secretary Bowen strengthened the security requirements and use conditions for certain systems.

So its no surprise to us that continuing developments in the elections technology industry as well as legislative initiatives are leading the Secretary to conduct this Hearing next Monday.  Part of that change is best evidenced by the MOVE Act.

We'll discuss more about the MOVE Act in other posts, but in summary, President Obama signed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in October 2009.  The most immediate impact of the law from the State perspective has to do with the provision that establishes a 45-day deadline for States to provide ballots to voters. Because Primary results need to be certified and General ballots need to be constructed and conveyed, additional time (beyond 45 days) is required to meet the new federal guideline.  And the largest impact on elections technology, processes, and practices is two principle provisions of the Act that mandate States shall provide:

  1. A digital means by which overseas voters can verify and manage their voter registration status; and
  2. A digital means by which an overseas voter can receive a digital, download ready, blank ballot (think PDF).

Success in implementing these mandates will reduce lost participation of overseas voters, which studies have shown result in approximately 1 out of every 4 overseas  ballots not being counted because of failure to arrive in time.

But if it were only that easy.  You see, in 2008, many States changed their Primary dates by several months to allow their voters to more heavily impact the presidential nomination process.  And additional moves are likely in 2010 because 11 states and the District of Columbia have Primaries so close to the General Election that ballots may not be produced in time to comply with the new MOVE Act law.  California has a very large overseas and military voting contingent, and you can imagine MOVE Act mandates are on the minds of CA elections officials, State legislatures, and the Secretary.

Of equal interest, Los Angeles County, the largest election jurisdiction in the United States, is engaged in a process known as the Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP) to determine the design of their next generation voting system.

Serving over 4 million registered voters, the County is examining the ways in which it can modernize its voting systems.  Dean Logan, the County Registrar and Ken Bennett, the County IT Director are working to analyze the ways in which technology can ensure their ability to meet operational mandates and better serve their voters.  With the VSAP underway (a project the OSDV Foundation is participating in), our "take" is that more (and possibly dramatic) change in elections technology in the great State of California is all but assured.

Stepping back, the current voting technology used in Los Angeles County and elsewhere is provided by private companies; they offer election jurisdictions proprietary technology solutions that need to be certified by the CA Secretary of State. While there is oversight at a State level, and mandates at the Federal level, each jurisdiction must purchase their own technology and do the very important business of conducting elections. Consequently, jurisdictions find themselves in multi-year contracts for technology.

This gives a jurisdiction continuity, but impairs their ability to innovate and collaborate, learning from neighboring or similar jurisdictions elsewhere in the state or country.

With L.A. County -- the largest elections jurisdiction in the nation -- considering the future of elections technology for their voters, the mandates of the MOVE Act implementation bearing down, and the complexities of the largest States' processes and regulations for selection and implementation of elections technology, the Secretary's Hearing next week is of a near essential nature.

So we are honored to be asked to testify next week.  And the timing is good.  As a means to developing a holistic architecture for next generation systems, one of the imperative elements is a common data format for the exchange of election event data.  This is one particular element we're working on right now.  In fact, we will shortly be collaborating with a group of States and jurisdictions on the testing of several framework components including: election event management, ballot preparation, and automated generation of printable ballots (watch for this announcement shortly).

Here’s the cool thing: It turns out that all of this work currently underway in the TrustTheVote Project which is leveraging this common data format and some other innovations, provides a ready-made open source freely available solution to implement the mandates of the MOVE Act.

So, we hope that this work will prove to be relevant and purposeful for the Hearings.  Our opportunity to testify is timely because we believe our work is in line with the agenda driving the hearing: What do next generation systems look like and how do states like CA comply with Federal mandates? How can we develop quickly to adapt to changing needs on the ground from elections officials, voters, and federal requirements?

We're excited to participate; go Greg!

For interested viewers, there will be a webcast available here.  And the event will likely be carried live on Cal Channel Television.

Stay tuned; more to come. -Matt

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OSDV Responds to FCC Inquiry about Internet Voting

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asked for public comment on the use of the Internet for election-related activities (among other digital democracy related matters).  They recently published the responses, including those from OSDV.  I'll let Greg highlight the particularly public-policy-related questions and answers, but I wanted to highlight some aspects of our response that differ from some others.

  • Like many respondents, we commented on that slippery phrase "Internet voting", but focused on a few of the specific issues that apply  particularly in the context of overseas and military voters.
  • Also in that context, we addressed some uses of the Internet that could be very beneficial, but are not voting per se.
  • We contrasted other countries' experiences with elections and the Internet with the rather different conditions here in the U.S.

For more information, of course, I suggest reading our response. In addition, for those particularly interested in Internet voting and security, you can get additional perspectives from the responses of TrustTheVote advisors Candice Hoke and David Jefferson, which are very nicely summarized on the Verified Voting blog.

-- EJS

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Government 2.0: Shouldn't elections also be on the list?

I caught this post by Mark Drapeau of O'Reilly about where so-called Government 2.0 is headed in the next year or 2.0. It's an interesting list, agree with it or not. It does seem to be the case that usually when folks are talking about Gov2.0 they don't seem to be thinking about what can be improved in the way we run elections. From the post: Government 2.0: Five Predictions for 2010-12(from O'Reilly Radar - Insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies.:

"So, here are some non-exhaustive, somewhat creative, and entirely debatable trends and ideas that I foresee taking shape in the next three years or so. Why the next three years? Well, it's hard to predict what will happen within a year - there are too many strange short-term factors, like natural disasters and Congressional behavior (but I repeat myself). Plus, the next three years is the remainder of Obama's current term in office, so these are things we can expect to see either before his second term, or before the new President's first term. So, that said, here are my five predictions for 2010-12:" (from: Government 2.0: Five Predictions for 2010-12)

Here is the list of predictions: Government 2.0: Five Predictions for 2010-12

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The Future of Voting Systems in Los Angeles County

ole0This past week I was privileged to be invited to an engaging and very informative  event hosted by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project on Caltech's Pasadena campus.  Turns out that L.A. County is in the early stages of figuring out "where to from here" for their next generation elections systems technology, and this event was the launch of "VSAP" their Voting Systems Assessment Project.  And they cleverly* asked the Caltech/MIT VTP to assist them in this process, framing their assessment and search in terms of "Technology, Diversity, and Democracy." My Take Away: With all due respect to the innovative thinking stirring in States working with the TrustTheVote Project, such as North Dakota, New York, New Hampshire, Oregon or Washington, to name a few, Los Angeles County stands to become the benchmark for what can be done, if for no other reasons than:

  1. they are far and away the largest voting district in the nation,
  2. they have unspent HAVA funds and CA bond measure proceeds they must invest in voting and elections technology improvements (or run the risk -- however remote, but politically disastrous -- of losing these appropriations), and
  3. they are acting in a manner I see as impressively innovative.

So, let me share why I believe this, what I learned last Wednesday, and how I see this impacting the work of the TrustTheVote Project (and vice-versa).

The Tail Wagging the Dog

Los Angeles County is the largest and most diverse election jurisdiction in the nation, serving more than four million registered voters of a wide range of race, ethnicities, national origins, age groups, and socio-economic status. The sheer physical size of their jurisdiction is impressive covering over 4080 square miles, encompassing 88 cities and over 500 political subdivisions, with 4,883 precincts and 4,394 polling locations supporting the casting of over 3.3M ballots in six languages in the last general election cycle.  That's ridiculous in size and complexity.

I refer to this as the tail wagging the dog (still a funny visual), because while the State of CA is the largest the state of the union and one of the most significant global economic powers in its own right, it is LA County that represents the single largest elections jurisdiction of the State and the nation.  This is, from what I could ascertain, a significant point because I believe LA County is dead-set on exercising forethought, visionary leadership, and setting the bar for not only election systems complexity, but possibly excellence in choice, implementation, and operation.   Ultimately, LA County may be the standard (and trend) setter, and I am certain they will be a significant influence on the work of the TrustTheVote Project.

Show Us the Money

And we all know how money talks.  There is a -- let's just say "non-trivial" --  amount of financial resource at their disposal.  And this isn't a matter of indiscriminate spending in harsh economic times.  No, these are previously allocated dollars courtesy of State and Federal programs directed at specifically upgrading and improving elections systems and processes.  And so one can expect the herds rushing to the trough in hopes of relieving LA County of some of that purse.  And that's where this could get interesting.

The elections & voting systems industry (if we can call it that) is a wreck; consolidation continues, there are essentially 2 vendors left and very possibly there will be only one remaining by next year.  Frankly, I would be shocked if ultimately LA County chose yet another legacy vendor's monolithic solution of yesteryear technology with draconian service agreement commitments as their "next generation."    And there is no love-loss on their current ES&S InkaVote Plus system.   Moreover, voting systems certification remains a confusing hurdle.   All indications from this event are that decision makers are finished with any notion of proprietary or black box solutions.

Yet, there is no doubt, none at all, that the complexities, scale, and integration requirements for LA County will be too difficult and rich a prospect for a start-up, some well intentioned fly-by-night project, or advocates' wishful thinking about an opportunity to bring in wholesale revolution to a solution, born of either an academic, philanthropic or entrepreneurial vision.

However, the work of the TrustTheVote Project, Caltech/MIT VTP, and other efforts will certainly have a role to play in assisting LA County in its assessment, prototyping, and ultimate selection of a new platform or (more likely) components thereof.

But the financial wherewithal means one more important thing: the opportunity to do things carefully and correctly.  That leads me to point three.

Evolve -- Immediately

LA County officials understand that innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity and not a threat.  While Ken Bennett, L.A. County's IT Director in charge of elections systems made a compelling case that any upgrades or improvements must be evolutionary in order to protect operational continuity, Dean Logan, L.A. County Registrar, set an imperative tone about the importance of taking this perhaps once in a generation opportunity to make every effort to be as innovative as possible, and with little delay given their financial and operational mandates.

And with the remainder of this post I want to speak a little to how it appears that's going to happen in L.A. County.

The Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for L.A. County used the event as a launch pad for an ambitious and unprecedented Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP) to determine the current and future needs to be address through the modernization of the County's voting system.

L.A. County's approach is a marked departure and new arrival in the effort to improve a jurisdictions' elections and voting systems technology.  For myself, I find it a stark contrast to the approach taken by the City and County of San Francisco where I am seated as a member of their "San Francisco Voting Systems Task Force."

L.A. County immediately sought out the CalTech/MIT VTP to facilitate a process which I will explain in further detail in a follow-up post, and side-stepped (for now) the incredible bureaucratic overhead of a formal Board of Supervisors empowered Task Force.

While the City of San Francisco has good reasons and laudable goals for their far more formal approach, the downside is that the very regulations (1953 Brown Act and Sunshine Ordinances) put in place to ensure transparency, we're created in the Industrial Age, with IMHO arguably Agrarian Age thinking, and now are actually stifling the potential transparency, agility, and capabilities of the Digital Age.

Bottom line: the SF-VSTF has spent three months essentially organizing itself due to the highly restrictive nature of the regulations that inhibit if not outright prohibit any communications -- even for organizational purposes -- between the Task Force Members (including notably eMail) if the number of recipients to those communications constitutes what would be construed as a quorum.

And honestly, L.A. County accomplished more in a single day of 6 hours last week than we've done in 8 hours worth of meetings across 3 months at the S.F. Voting Systems Task Force.  Ouch.

The result for the SF-VSTF: a highly lethargic process that although intended to ensure transparency to the processes, is actually not as transparent as possible in this era of social media.  Although a Twitter account exists for the SF-VSTF, it has remained silent.  And talks of Wikis, Blogs, or public online repositories have been all but shut down at mention.  The City Attorney's argument is that not everyone has online access and this approach would aggravate a digital divide.  Maybe so.  Maybe so.  But I have to believe there are ways to meet the Sunshine needs of those few remaining citizens with no way to reach a web browser, while leveraging the power and capability of the Digital Age to empower San Francisco to advance their imperative agenda.

Enough.  I'm writing about the Future of L.A. County Voting Systems.

So, contrast this (S.F. County efforts)  to L.A. County.  The VSAP seeks to establish a new participatory approach that initiates the process with public input to ensure the "people" element is well balanced with those of the "technology" and "regulatory" elements.  And how are they doing it?  With Symposiums as they held last week, for sure.  And through focus groups.  And through citizen's committees to gather and ingest this input.

And perhaps most importantly (as explained to me by one of their officials): they will use every appropriate aspect of the Internet and digital media to advance their efforts, engage the public, and ensure the widest access to their work and research of others -- globally.

And that just makes such sense -- especially if you're going to lead in the digital age.

And while L.A. County's approach (my volunteer efforts there) invigorates both my sense of the importance of what we're trying to do on the SF-VSTF and the work the TrustTheVote Project with several States and jurisdictions, the L.A. County effort also frustrates me in witnessing how the very ordinances designed to ensure transparency on process are likely going to stymie the best intentions of the San Francisco City & County Voting Systems Task Force.

I campaigned for and earned a seat on the SF VSTF with visions of San Francisco -- in the heart of the world's leading technology center -- leading the digital democracy and "we.gov" movement because of the opportunity to leverage the very best that social media, technology, and the Internet can provide to large-scale public collaborative efforts to invigorate the modernization of its elections and voting systems.  Well, for San Francisco, maybe not so much after all.

Perhaps at some point, someone with the wherewithal to modernize the Brown Act and related Sunshine Ordinances, will do so by realizing (as LA County has) that innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity and not a threat.

In the mean time, here is to the real leader in California.  Hail to the vision, determination to innovate, and thought leadership of the Los Angeles County Recorder-Registrar.  They are, after all the largest voting jurisdiction in the nation; if their challenges can be met, they will be the de-facto benchmark for all other jurisdictions.

So, somewhat unexpectedly, innovation and leadership in modernizing elections technology may not emanate from the Silicon Valley, but in Southern California instead.

That observed, I still believe there is learning to be had, that this is a (bear with me) a "teachable moment" for the SF-VSTF, and we would do well in San Francisco to track L.A. County's progress.

Meanwhile for the work of the TrustTheVote Project here, I see enormous synergies and opportunities to assist L.A. County.  They are thinking about technology transparency; they are considering how to evolve (but quickly); they are leaving nothing off the table; and they are interested in exploring, examining, and study.  They understand the importance of prototyping, the process of design for usability, the imperative of design for accessibility, and making damn certain they make the best informed decisions possible.  And they know they need to leverage the power of the Internet, social media, and the digital age to do all of this.

In my next post I'll detail how L.A. County is proceeding with VSAP and offer some more about how the TrustTheVote Project will likely be of high value to them.

GAM|out

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* I wrote "cleverly" above because L.A. County might well have taken S.F. County's formal approach to creating a Task Force, but in casual conversation with LA County officials and folks at Caltech/MIT VTP, what I learned was they made a conscious decision to avoid formalization at this juncture.  And in fact they wished to avoid the very bureacratic complexities that would be wrought by the formality of a sanctioned Task Force.   Instead, they creatively reached out to the Caltech/MIT VTP and asked for their assistance in producing the Symposium, holding it on their Campus, and enabling the Registrar-Recorder to move very quickly in an agile fashion.  This was not -- they stressed -- in effort to avoid public participation or side-step government processes to ensure transparency, but rather to jump-start a process and use it as an information gathering vehicle.  Then, they will utilize citizen committees to advance the important efforts of public input.  I call that clever.

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A Lion of Voting Rights

I resisted rushing to the keyboard to post  something about  Senator Edward Kennedy Tuesday evening, preferring to simply absorb the loss.  Having been through a string of family losses myself years ago, I knew well what the remaining members of the Kennedy family surely must have felt. Kennedy

As a child I recall my Father coming home from work early, and us starring at the TV during lunch break from School as news began pouring from Dallas TX that Friday morning in November 1963.  I was only five years old, but knew something really terrible had happened as my Mother openly sobbed on the couch.  Then nearly five years later on June 6 1968, it happened again; this time to his brother Bobby.   Finally, the passing point -- one we knew was inevitable due to the scourge of cancer -- arrived Tuesday evening for Ted.  And there really wasn't much I could add in a blog post, tweet, or anything that would have done the moment any justice.  It just needed time to digest.

Today, with some distance from that moment, I simply want to point out that for me personally, Kennedy will always stand for many things good about the dream of democracy, regardless of political stripes.

For our own dream, and the good fight we wage here at the OSDV Foundation and the TrustTheVote Project, I want to point out that Senator Kennedy was a lion for voting rights.

And rather than regurgitate a compilation of his accomplishments, I point you to a posting at the blog of our respected friends of Why Tuesday which does a nice job of recompiling all the efforts Ted did for voting rights.

If you find a moment, have a look at this wonderful site to the legacy of the Lion of the Senate, tedkennedy.org

In closing, perhaps Sen. Kennedy's words are well heeded by us here at the TrustTheVote Project:

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

GAM|out

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Policy-Driven Design

Live from NASED, want to pass along a comment about the engineering realities of a Digital Public Works Project, in the midst of listening to Congressional staffers discuss what's up on the Hill regarding election reform legislation.  I just tweeted about the likelihood of making election day a federal holiday (its real and that should make our friends happy), but related comments on the panel sparks another observation.

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Re-inventing How America Votes -- Now More Relevant Than Ever

In a previous post, I noted two things we've learned from this election. The first (and subject of that post) is to what extent the Internet has changed the way elections are conducted. The second, and the focus here, is to what extent the election taught us anything about the need to re-invent HOW America votes.

In the past two days, I've been asked several times whether the election, as it turned out, reduces the importance of our Project or not. Seriously.

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