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UOCAVA Summit Provides a Bit of Munich Flavor

The loveliest part of the 2010 UOCAVA Summit being held in Munich has been the city itself. Layered in history, the beauty of Munich is evident even from a quick glance at the conference venues. As unofficial photographer for the trip I thought I would post a few quick highlights. New Town Hall in Munich, Germany

This is the new Munich Town Hall, famous for the glockenspiel that chimes and dances at 11 am, noon, and 5 pm daily. The OSDV team had the fun of watching it perform on our first day in Munich. Underground in this building is where OVF (Overseas Voting Foundation) hosted both our opening night reception as well as the Thursday night conference dinner and awards.

UOCAVA 2010 attendees dining in the Ratskeller Restaurant, Munich This is a picture from the Thursday night dinner event. UOCAVA Summit participants gathered for a traditional Bavarian meal, some excellent local Munich beer, and lots of good conversation. UOCAVA Internet Voting Debate Panel 2010 As a follow up to Gregory Miller's post regarding the "Great Internet Voting Debate" I wanted to be sure to post a picture of our illustrious panel of participants. From left to right they include: Andrew Appel, Constanze Kurz, Tarvi Martens, Harri Hursti, Thad Hall, Alexander Trechsel, Pamela Smith, Gregory Miller, and our own John Sebes (who was apparently distracted when I snapped the shot, sorry John!)



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 Foundation to Co-Sponsor 2010 UOCAVA Summit

2010SummitToday, the OSDV Foundation announced it will co-sponsor the 2010 UOCAVA Summit and serve as the Conference's Technology Tract Co-Host for this important Overseas Vote Foundation premier event.  This fourth annual event will be held in Munich, Germany 17-19 March. Summit 2010 will constructively address overseas and military voting issues and challenges that we face today.  And in light of the MOVE Act legislation, mandating a digital means by which overseas and military voters can verify and update their voter registration and (importantly) download a blank ballot for an up-coming election, the discussions, panels, and sessions will be livelier than usual and promise engaging important discourse on the implementation details of this new Federal mandate.

The event is open to all interested overseas citizen voters, members of the military and foreign services and their families, students, advocates, technologists, innovators, members of congress, election officials, secretaries of state, academics and members of the press.

There will be critical discussions and debates on pressing issues, new technologies, innovative outreach and more; and several TrustTheVote and OSDV Foundation officials and developers will be on hand.  Topics will include:

  • Impact of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act
  • Military and Overseas Voter Outreach Strategies for Success
  • Experts Debate on the Issues around Online, Internet-based Voting for Overseas and Military Voters: Debate
  • Focus on the States: Secretaries of State Speak Out on Overseas and Military Voting
  • Reaching-out to New Overseas and Military Voters: Strategies and Actions for 2008
  • New Strategies for the Future from the Federal Voting Assistance Program
  • Invited Keynote Speaker: Senator Jim Webb, Virginia

Summit 2010 is a forum for collaborative innovation intended to stimulate the creative intellect of a diverse network to address the pressing challenges facing the millions of overseas and military voters today in ways that will bring real tangible outcomes. We believe it is a very important venue where attendees will have opportunities to see, touch, and try TrustTheVote technology under development to address the needs of UOCAVA voters.

Cheers Gregory

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Barbara Simons on Voter Registration

We have a special treat today with a guest blog from Barbara Simons, an eminent computer scientist who is on the Board of Advisors of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. (More on Barbara: her bio.) She has an excellent account of part of the story about where voter registration came from, and why it is controversial that U.S. citizens must proactively request permission to vote, and then pass muster w.r.t. eligibility requirements as evaluated by an election official.  The controversy, in a nutshell, is that registration can be a way of preventing people from voting, including via the practice of disenfranchising felons.  So where did the practice of registration, and the controversy, come from? Barbara: take it away ... [Ed. Note:  The following commentary from Barbara Simons incorporates for referential, historical, and explanatory purposes only quotations that by any standard today would be considered controversial, inappropriate, and simply reprehensible.  They are only quotes pulled from history to explain the point and are not the opinions or positions of Ms. Simons, the TrustTheVote Project, or the OSDV Foundation.]

Felon disenfranchisement was introduced in the South after the Civil War as a way of disenfranchising the newly freed slaves. Southern whites even invented new felonies that were applied almost exclusively to African Americans. Here are some quotes from that era.

From a Mississippi Supreme Court decision upholding the state's disenfranchisement law (Ratliff v. Beale): "The [constitutional] convention swept the circle of expedients to obstruct the exercise of the franchise by the negro race.  By reason of its previous condition of servitude and dependence, this race had acquired or accentuated certain peculiarities of habit, of temperament and of character, which clearly distinguished it, as a race, from that of the whites -- a patient docile people, but careless, landless, and migratory within narrow limits, without aforethought, and its criminal members given rather to furtive offenses than to the robust crimes of the whites.  Restrained by the federal constitution from discriminating against the negro race, the convention discriminated against its characteristics and the offenses to which its weaker members were prone."

The following is from John Field Bunting, who introduced disenfranchisement legislation in Alabama in 1901: "The crime of wife-beating alone would disqualify sixty percent of the Negroes." Perhaps the bluntest acknowledgment of the purpose of the felon disenfranchisement laws was provided by Carter Glass, a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1902.  Glass stated that Virginia's felony disenfranchisement scheme

... will eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than 5 years, so that in no single county will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.

The end of Reconstruction marked the beginning of disenfranchisement for the newly freed slaves.  In the South during the Jim Crow era that followed, African Americans were prevented from registering by a combination of poll taxes, literacy tests, felon disenfranchisement, and threatened or real violence.  For example, there were 130,334 African American voters in Louisiana in 1896, but only 1,342 in 1904.

According to "Registration of Voters in Louisiana": "Six pages of [the Constitution of 1898] are devoted to suffrage and elections.  The object of the convention was, of course, to establish white supremacy by reducing the number of Negroes voting to a minimum.  The qualifications to vote as well as

the entire system of registration were written in such a way that most Negroes could be disenfranchised.

Other clauses were incorporated to permit the poor white to vote and yet not admit the Negro to the ballot."

Felon disenfranchisement laws still have a disproportionate impact on African Americans.  Only Maine and Vermont (both of which have small African American populations) have no felon disenfranchisement laws.  Felons can vote from prison in those states.  Southern states are disproportionately represented among states with the extensive felon disenfranchisement laws, as are states with large non-white prison populations.  African American males have been significantly impacted, with roughly one in six disenfranchised in the early 21 century because of felony convictions.

It seems likely that if the U.S. didn't engage in felon disenfranchisement that a number of election results, including at the presidential level, would have had different outcomes. The U.S. is the only democracy that has lifetime felon disenfranchisement.  We are still living with the legacy of slavery.

-- Barbara Simons

PS: Thanks again to Barbara for a valuable history lesson of background for our work at TTV to  include registration as a legally required part of a broader effort voter record management technology, that also includes some of the changes contemplated by the "election modernization" efforts in Congress.  -- John Sebes, CTO TrustTheVote Project



More Good News for Military Voters

We're certainly seeing a "holiday rush" from Bob Carey and crew at the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which provides voting assistance to military and overseas voters. Following the announcement that I wrote about recently, we now hear that the DoD has agreed to make a major contribution to military voter enfranchisement - details at article: All Military Installations to Aid in Voter Registration. Kudos to FVAP and DoD! And at TTV of course, we be staying tuned to learn what types of technology support can strengthen this aid. -- EJS



Federal Government to Build Overseas Voting System

There is some very interesting news today out of the U.S. government organization, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which provides voting assistance to military and overseas voters. FVAP announced their intent to embark on a path to the creation of software tools to help voters abroad with obtaining ballots, specifically:

FVAP Director Bob Carey recently announced a need for the development of more online applications for Uniformed Services and overseas civilian voters. Specifically, FVAP will submit a request for quotes on how vendors could develop two key products: a tool to guide the voter through the UOCAVA registration and absentee ballot request process and another tool to guide them through receiving, marking, printing and sending an absentee ballot.

I've already heard from folks who see some Internet voting lurking there, but I see a great opportunity to do something much more feasible, and quite rapidly: use the Internet to distribute blank ballots to voters abroad. For those who wish more info on that approach and its relation to Internet voting, we have a pretty good explanation on our wiki: Optimizing the Impact of the Internet to Assist Overseas and Military Voters. It's a first draft on some larger tech/policy issues, but might provide some useful background. (Feedback welcome!)

But most interesting to me is that the announcement is about steps toward the Federal government paying some bidder to build some technology that helps voters abroad to vote. Even if the tools are for use in a limited pilot, that's some serious activity at the Federal level, more than has been typical so far. It's especially promising because the technology required for these tools is actually pretty familar -- as the wiki article explains, some of it has already been used by many people in Google search, courtesy of Google's and Pew's VIP project. Much of the rest consists of data management tools that we're already working in the TTV Project. It's a rare day when I feel aligned with both Google and the U.S. Federal Government!

-- EJS



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,

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.




"Adoptability" and Sustainability of the TrustTheVote Project

Ok, so rumors of my being radio silent for months due to my feeble attempts to restore my software development skills are greatly unbounded.  I've been crazy busy with outreach to States' elections officials, as our design and specification work is driven by their domain expertise.   In the midst of that, I received a question/comment from a Gartner analyst, Brian Prentice, who I consider to be very sharp on a number of topics around emerging technologies, trends, and open source.  If you have a chance you should definitely check out his blog. In any event, I thought it would be interesting to simply post my reply to his inquiry here, to potentially shed some light on our strategy and mindset here at the OSDV Foundation and the TrustTheVote Project in particular.  So with that, here it is...

Greetings Brian I am replying directly (as Marie requested).   Please let me train on your specific question with regard to the TrustTheVote Project and States' participation to ensure viability, "adoptability" (sic) and of course, sustainability.   Quickly, if I may, I owe you a background brief in ~150 words...

I can understand if you're wondering "Who are these guys, and if they matter, why haven't I heard of them?" Fair enough.  Backed by the likes of Mitch Kapor, a team of notable Silicon Valley technologists have been (intentionally) quieting plowing away on a hard problem: restoring trust in America's voting technology by producing transparent, high assurance systems... and helping it to be freely deployed as "public infrastructure."  To avoid the trouble with announcing vaporware (and because we have no commercial agenda wrapped up in a competitive first-mover advantage stunt), we've remained under the PR radar (except for those avid OSS folks who have been following our activities on the Net.)  Now we're being pressed by many to go public given the level of work we're accomplishing and the momentum we're achieving.  So, here we are.  Now, to your question:

To what extent has the TrustTheVote Project displaced bespoke state-specific VR efforts. The success of any open source project is directly related to the vitality of the community that supports it.  As I would see it, TTV needs states to move away from their own software solutions and instead to contributing to TTV project.

1. All states who register voters are under a HAVA mandate to provide for a centralized voter registration database, and to varying extents are either self-vending or looking to outside (expensive) proprietary solutions.

2. Early on in our nearly 3 year old project we recognized that we did not want to build the ideal "Smithsonian solution" (i.e., an elegant solution that no one adopted, but made a perfect example of how it could've and should've been done).  Therefore, we realized that amongst all stakeholders in America's elections systems, the States' Elections Directors and local elections jurisdictions officials are the front lines and arguably have the most at stake -- they succeed or fail by their decisions on what technology to choose and deploy to manage elections.   So, we created a stakeholder community we affectionately call the "Design Congress," comprised of States' elections directors.   Ideally, at full implementation, we will have all 50 states and 5 territories represented.   Currently, 18 states have expressed interest at some level, and about 12-15 are committed, on board, and advising us.  In many cases, we even have Secretaries of States' themselves involved.

3. The TTV Project's voter registration system is part of a larger elections management system we're designing and building -- under the advice and counsel of those very States' elections directors and other domain experts who are actively "weighing in."  We use a process very similar to that of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) called the "RFC" or "Request for Comment."

4. In the case of our Voter Registration Design Specification, we were encouraged by a number of States to freely adopt specs of their own, and in fact, CA encouraged us to look closely at theirs as a basis. We did.  In other cases (such as for our work on Ballot Design Studio, Ballot Casting/Counting services, Tabulators, etc.), some States are freely contributing to our overall code base (their "IP" is generally paid for by taxpayer dollars and they necessarily cannot sell, but can give it away, so they are eager to contribute to this public digital works project.)

5. So, you are 110% correct in your observations, and the TrustTheVote Project is already fully on track with you in building a strong stakeholder community to drive the design and specifications of all parts of the voting technology ecosystem we're examining, re-thinking, designing, developing, and offering in an open source manner.

Our goal is simple: create accountable, reliable, transparent, and trustworthy elections and voting systems that are publicly owned "critical democracy infrastructure."

And our work is gaining the attention of folks from the U.S. DoJ, the Obama Administration's OSTP, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institute, several universities, States' Secretaries, and of course, folks like Rock The Vote, and the Overseas Vote Foundation.

I (and our CTO or anyone here appropriate) would love an opportunity to brief you further; not because we have anything to promote or sell in the commercial sense, but because a growing group of some of the best in technology and public policy sectors are working together in a purely philanthropic manner, to produce something we think is vitally important to our democracy.

Cheers Gregory Miller, JD Chief Foundation Development Officer Open Source Digital Voting Foundation


Dispute Settled in Minnesota - the Recipe for Success

The legal disputes are finally finished in the Coleman-Franken Senate election in Minnesota, with the ruling by the MN Supreme Court. Though it was a torturous path, we can say today that the recount and following resolution was a success -- and ask what the recipe for success was, and whether it is a recipe for others to use in the future. It's particularly important to look at that recipe because of views like this one:

Coleman v. Franken will set the governing standard for analysis of Equal Protection claims in post-election disputes over which candidate won, and Bush v. Gore will constitute a narrow exception to that governing standard.

(For more, see the MN Post's analysis.)

So what exactly is that election process recipe that enabled MN to actually resolve an incredibly close election? Here is my version, drawn from remarks of MN's Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and other MN election officials:

  • statewide use of paper ballots, counted using optical scan tabulators;
  • hand marking of paper by ballots by those able and willing to do so;
  • electronic ballot marking devices available as an alternative to hand marking;
  • vote by mail for voters who expect not to be able to vote in person;
  • vote by mail also available as a form of early voting;
  • a statewide voter registration system including same-day voter registration;
  • uniform state-wide standards for conducting same-day registration procedures for identification and reporting;
  • a statewide practice of each county automatically auditing the machine count, using common standard procedures;
  • county-level procedures for determining the admissability of vote-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots.

Though the last element was the focus of much of the legal wrangling, the net effect of this entire recipe was an election process, including the recount part of it, that was highly transparent and credible. The transparency was the result of the public conduct and reporting of the election process. The credibility resulted in part from the benefits of the hybrid system (see earlier posts for more info) and partly because citizens felt that they knew enough to form their own opinions about the recount. This latter point is illustrated by a story from Mark Ritchie, based on the publication on the Internet of images of disputed ballots. Ritchie reported that a proverbial irate elderly woman stopped him on the street and showed him a printout of one of these images, complaining that they didn't record that ballot's votes correctly; but aside from that one mistake, she said, the election folks were doing a fine job, keep up the good work!

Of course, I love this story because it's an illustration of technology fostering transparency, citizen awareness, and ultimately, confidence. But the story is also a great illustration of the public benefit that derives from that particular recipe using in that particular election in MN. It may not be the best recipe -- certainly there is room for improvement -- and it may not be right for every state, but the result of using that recipe is an outcome that sets a great goal for other states.

-- EJS

PS: Tomorrow: an improved recipe for less controversy in recounts!


Minnesota: Five 9s of Success

I'd like to set the record straight on Minnesota's handling of their November 2008 close election for U.S. Senate. It's not a debacle, it's a miracle. And it's no longer a recount, it's a series of court cases.



No "Security By Obscurity" for Voting, Please

I have to confess to being appalled by the number of times recently that I have heard people talk about potential benefits of "security by obscurity" for voting systems. It's one of those bad old ideas that just won't die: if you hide the inner workings (source code) of a complex device (a voting system), that makes it harder for an adversary to break (hack, steal elections).



Mini-Minnesota in Virginia

I'd like to call your attention to this week's electile dysfunction news, which is about a mini-Minnesota situation in Fairfax County, Virginia. I think it's instructive because it illustrates how some problems with "paperless" voting are actually quite similar to a more old-fashioned form of voting, "paper only" voting, and a mooted new-fangled kind of voting, Internet voting.



"How Do I Know that This Voting Machine is the Good One?"

It never ceases to amaze me how often, and in what varied circumstances, I meet people who are not only quite clued in about election technology reform, but also surprising aware of some of the devils that lurk in the details. Today's devil: "field validation" of voting devices, or: if I went to vote in a precinct, and someone told me I was about to vote on the wonderful new trustworthy voting system that I had heard about, how would I know that that was the device I was about to use?



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.