Monthly Archives: August 2007

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).

Continue reading

Thank You, Debra Bowen!

Bowen and HAL

Remember, you heard it here last!

You can get much better coverage of this issue at the Brad Blog.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has commissioned a ‘Top-to-bottom’ review of voting machines used in California. The reports are in and as a result of them are abysmal. As a consequence Bowen has decertified the machines and recertified some of them for very limited use.

In a dramatic late-night press conference, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified, and then recertified with conditions, all but one voting system used in the state.
Her decisions, following her unprecedented, independent “Top-to-Bottom Review” of all certified electronic voting systems, came just under the wire to meet state requirements for changes in voting system certification.

Bowen announced that she will be disallowing the use of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems made by the Diebold and Sequoia companies on Election Day, but for one DRE machine per polling place which may be used for disabled voters. The paper trails from votes cast on DREs manufactured by those two companies must be 100% manually counted after Election Day.

Many are expecting lawsuits to follow soon so this story is not over.

The top to bottom review consisted of at least 3 parts. All of the machines reviewed had significant flaws with respect to each report:

  • A ‘red team’ report of hack attempts
  • An accessibility report
  • A source code review

In short, each machine is hackable and not very accessible.

Some more resources:

Google Trends: tracking popularity of search terms

(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.)

Google Trends is a service by google that allows you to compare the popularity of keywords over time.

In their words:

With Google Trends, you can compare the world’s interest in your favorite topics. Enter up to five topics and see how often they’ve been searched on Google over time. Google Trends also shows how frequently your topics have appeared in Google News stories, and in which geographic regions people have searched for them most.

Continue reading

Meme Wars: tracking popularity of memes over time

In addition to following voting reform blogs I follow a number of real estate investing blogs. Many of the real estate bloggers periodically post a market statistics update with some pretty graphs and charts. These posts are both informative and very easy to write.

For a while I’ve been thinking of doing similar posts that discuss the popularity of different memes within the voting reform community. My thought was that ideally I could identify which reforms have momentum behind them and track how interest changes over time. This can be useful in several ways: Continue reading

42% of the popular vote, but 0 of 17 seats awarded

An excellent example of the disenfranchisement that can be caused by using single winner districts to elect members to a legislature can be seen in the 1926 Canadian federal election for the province of Manitoba.

The province of Manitoba was entitled to 17 seats. The Conservative party had 42.2% of the popular vote within Manitoba but was unable to win any of the single winner districts.

Here is the data care of :

Political party % votes Number of seats % seats
Conservative 42.2% 0 0%
Liberal-Progressive 19.5% 7 41%
Liberal Party 18.4% 4 24%
Progressive 11.2% 4 24%
Labour 8.7% 2 12%

More information about the 1926 Manitoba election can also be found on wikipedia