Monthly Archives: August 2007

Dan Rather on Touch Screen voting

From the Brad Blog comes this news that Dan Rather reports presents conclusive evidence of touch screen voting machine failures. To air Tuesday, August 14 at 8:00 p.m. ET and 11:00 p. m. ET.

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Why Tuesday on the Redistricting Game

Redistricting Game

The folks at Why Tuesday have made a 5 minute video segment where they visit Chris Swain, director of the University of Southern California’s Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab to discuss The Redistricting Game.

View the segment.

While you are at it, you can visit the Redistricting Game blog

A predictable outcome

Most single winner districts are extremely predictable in that one can predict with very high probability who will win an election long before the actual election occurs.

This certainly occurs with gerrymandered single winner districts and is possibly inherit to single winner districts that use the conventional plurality voting system (vote for one, whoever gets the most votes wins).

Only a few factors can lead to a very solid prediction of who will win. Incumbency is one such factor. Incumbents almost never lose.

Take the 2006 midterm elections as an example. This is viewed as ‘a great change election’. In that election over 94% of incumbents remained in power. And this, indeed, was a shake-up. Normally an incumbent will win an election 98% of the time.

To see just how predictable elections are, consider the projections that FairVote makes in it’s Monopoly politics report. They make their predictions 2 years ahead of the elections and have had an accuracy rate of 99.8% in projecting winners in the 1,613 races the called between 1996-2004 (for 552 races they did
not make predictions but instead labeled these races as competitive or vulnerable). The only data that they use in predicting the winner for a district is the results from recent federal elections in the district and the incumbent’s party and seniority.

So incumbents win 98% of the time and 75% of US legislature elections are predictable with 99.8% accuracy more than one year ahead of the elections. In other words, we don’t really have a two party dominated political system. Instead each voter is effectively dominated by one party.

An open question:

The ‘one party’ article references the ‘political oddsmaker’ site by Ron Faucheux. However, the link to it is broken. Is this still online? What is the link?

shortest splitline algorithm vs voting rights act?

When we first discussed the shortest-splitline algorithm for eliminating gerrymandering, Warren D. Smith had commented on the potential issue that current law mandates majority-minority districts.

The “issue” that gerrymandering to make majority-minority districts is required by law… sounds interesting. I encourage you to actually look at the law and inform us what the heck you are talking about.

Alas, I never did do that research. I had originally suspected that this might be so from the redistricting game.

It looks like Warren has now heard the same message from CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen while attending the Electronic Voting technology Workshop in Boston.

Here is what Warren has said on the matter:

CA secretary of state and heroine D. Bowen was there listening to the talks. I sat next to her at lunch and tried my best to give her the goods. But she’s very knowledgeable. I’m impressed. She said shortest splitline would be illegal under the voting rights act. Basically her argument was that gerrymandering is mandated by the VRA to create “majority minority” districts and splitline would prevent that hence is illegal, QED.

I suppose that I (or someone) should do the legwork to read the voting rights act to see what it has to say on the matter.

The 2007 Electronic Voting Technology Workshop

(I’m continuing my tradition of blogging about conferences I have not attended.)

The 2007 Electronic Voting Technology Workshop was held on Aug 6 in Boston. A lot of interesting people were there.

Here is Ben Adida‘s writeup:

Joe Hall kicked off the post-lunch session with a discussion of election contracts and how they may prevent proper oversight. This is dry stuff, but it is likely incredibly important. He pointed out specific clauses in vendor contracts that prevent any analysis of the equipment and software. Some contracts even declare “unit pricing” to be trade secret, which, as Joe points out, is in conflict with normal government public budget reviews. Funny thing: the restrictions are so strict that the contracts then specifically carve out “permission for the voter to use the equipment for voting.” And of course, the contracts themselves are often considered confidential.

Amnon Ta-Shma presented an approach to cryptographic voting that does not reveal the plaintext of the vote to the voting machine, yet remains “bare-handed.” He provided some background on Chaum, Neff, and Ryan’s schemes. He then explained the conflict between preparing a ballot in the booth (privacy), and preparing a ballot at home (coercion). Amnon concurs with Josh that privacy cannot be fully guaranteed, only made more likely. His scheme involves the voter bringing an encrypted ballot for each candidate, and having the booth
reencrypt the one he wants. That way, the booth doesn’t know the plaintext (privacy), and the voter doesn’t predict the ciphertext (no coercion). There were numerous questions about whether it’s workable to use cryptography in the first place when voters may not be very
tech savvy.

Overall, a fantastic day with lots of high quality talks. EVT is shaping up to be the de-facto conference for voting developments. I remain a little bit disheartened by the continuing gap between the crypto and applied security crowds. The crypto folks (me included)
need to do a better job pitching this stuff, especially now that there’s an opening to improve the technology in places like California.

Here is Warren D Smith’s writeup:

Some interesting and talented people were there. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, there also were a lot of bad talks (I did not like Rivest’s talk about my own work, a fact which particularly grated) and the press did not show up. That’s a pity sonce there were several things that really deserved press.

Also very good talks were those showing how to hack voting machines and demonstrating the absolutely awesome level of incompetence among their manufacturers/designers. (It is so hard to be that bad…)

There are also a few posts about EVT 2007 at the election technology blog.

9th Circuit Says California Can’t Prohibit “VoteSwap” Web Pages

From the Ballot Access News:

On August 6, the 9th circuit ruled in favor of and against the state of California.

In 2000, had been created to let pro-Gore and pro-Nader voters help each other. It was widely known that the 2000 election would be very close, and yet most states were secure for Bush or for Gore. The purpose of the website was to let Nader voters in close states find Gore voters in states that were not close. The webpage helped such individuals find each other. Then, assuming the pair decided that his or her “partner” could be trusted, the Gore voter in the non-close state would promise to vote for Nader, and the Nader voter in the close state would promise to vote for Gore.

Ice rocket blog trends

(As I mentioned, I am reviewing a couple of online tools to track the popularity of ideas over time. Please forgive this segway away from voting reform issues.)

Icerocket’s blog trends tool is a service to track the popularity of search terms over time based on how many blogs mentioned them recently. Their instructions are simple:

Enter item(s) to see mentions trended over time. Enter up to three queries under Trend Term(s). Type in the label you would like associated with each query under Display Label(s).

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