Monthly Archives: September 2007

California Republican Initiative Gives Up

The partisan Republican attempt to “fix” California’s contribution to the electoral college is apparently being abandoned.

Citing Donald Lathbury:

The Los Angeles Times has learned that the electoral college “reform” funded by out of state Republican donors has been dropped due to a lack of cash and support. Says the Times:

“In an exclusive report to appear on this website late tonight and in Friday’s print editions, The Times’ Dan Morain reports that the proposal to change the winner-take-all electoral vote allocation to one by congressional district is virtually dead with the resignation of key supporters, internal disputes and a lack of funds.

The reality is hundreds of thousands of signatures must be gathered by the end of November to get the measure on the June 2008 ballot.””

More thoughts on Rasing the E2E Profile in the Public Eye

A bit more brainstorming about ways to aid the end-to-end verifiability meme. Other suggestions are welcome.

  • Have a forum for discussing E2E verifiable systems. For example a yahoo group or a google group. Initially I would suggest an open all-purpose forum covering both technical discussion and general advocacy and discussion.
  • Have a website promoting the general idea of E2E verifiable systems – not just specific systems
  • Each E2E project should have a website dedicated to it with clear descriptions of how it works intended for non-academic readers. (It should of course also include sections targeting academic readers) The Punchscan web site does very well here. But many others do not – even projects involving the same people.
    Some examples:

Rasing the E2E Profile in the Public Eye

Aleks Essex of Punchscan, prodded by one of my comments, posted his thoughts about raising the profile of end-to-end verifiable systems in the public eye:

The allaboutvoting suggestion was to establish an outreach to the broader public about E2E. Of course this is a good idea, and something that’s overdue. But that’s going to be tough. As for Punchscan, our approach to raising its profile has always been by “doing.” First we designed and built it. Then we debuted it in a binding election. Then we won an international competition. I think that these milestones were all necessary; people need things they can “touch.” Pictures and movie of real voters using Punchscan I think helped “make it real” to people, because it was real. Winning the ten thousand dollars sure got people interested. So I’d say it’s these “press” moments that will see E2E find its way into “normal” conversation, if only for a moment.

My prodding comment was:

Unfortunately much of the talk about E2E is pretty off.
I’ve seen:
* “there is no problem”
* “your solution is something only geeks can understand”
* “your solution is to just ‘trust us’”
* hijacking of E2E potential as a call to inaction with respect to the use voting machines without any verification
* lots of heavily technical bureaucratic jargon that I don’t quite follow yet

Does the E2EV movement have any umbrella outreach and discussion place? My perception of it right now is that it is gaining momentum academically but that there is little advocacy intended for a general audience. What little there is seems to be partitioned into individual E2E projects (like punchscan) rather than movement wide.

An active yahoo group might be a helpful start.

I’m thinking of just starting an E2EV yahoo group myself but I’m not yet sufficiently committed to research and invite all the people needed to jump start a community.

ITIF’s eVoting report: point-by-point

Here is my point-by-point review of Daniel Castro’s ITIF eVoting report.

This is a long post. I recommend that you first read a summary of my views.

I am basic agreement with the thesis of the report which is that the debate about eVoting should move beyond voter-verified paper audit trails to include systems that can prove to a voter that their vote was counted as cast. However, I found the tone and focus of the report disagreeable and I disagreed with much of the material in the report advocating for eVoting and against voter-verified paper audit trails.

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summary of ITIF’s eVoting report

I’m writing up a full point-by-point review of the ITIF eVoting report. [Update 9/20/07: It’s written. Here is the point-by-point review]

For now, here is a quick summary of my impressions.

I agree with the basic premise of the report that the debate about electronic voting needs to be broader and include other verification technologies than voter-verified paper audit trails. I am in basic agreement with the policy recommendations of the paper but I feel that these recommendations need some caveats. I discuss the recommendations below.

I disagree with much of the setup of the report. The susceptibility to fraud of electronic voting machines is downplayed too much as is the ability of voter-verified paper audit trails to mitigate that. The tone of the report when talking about organizations promoting voter verified audit trails or promoting distrust of eVoting is absolutely poisonous and Mr. Castro should be ashamed. I suspect that much of the poor reception this paper is getting is due to that.
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Buzz about ITIF’s eVoting report

[Update 9/20/07: I have read the report and review it here: summary and points-by-point]

I just got an interesting comment from Daniel Castro, the author of an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) report on electronic voting. Castro’s comment:

I just wanted to make sure you were aware of the report we just released on electronic voting. We discuss the limitation of paper audit trails, alternative technologies (to paper) that can be used for audit trails, and suggest that we should focus the national discussion not on whether or not we should have paper trails, but rather on how to implement universally verifiable (or end-to-end verifiable) voting systems.

From the report’s teaser:
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Update on Modesto and CA voting rights act

Speaking of the case by Modesto disputing the CA voting rights act, the Ballot Access News reports this update:

Both Sides Have Now Filed U.S. Supreme Court Briefs in Modesto Case

The city of Modesto, California, is trying to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate a California election law that will force Modesto to elect its city councilmembers by district. The California law is somewhat like the federal voting rights act, only it is stronger. Modesto will be forced to use districts to elect its city council because under the at-large system, virtually no Hispanics have ever been elected. Here is the brief of the organization opposed to the city. The case is City of Modesto v Sanchez, no. 07-88.

CA voting rights act only applies to at-large voting systems

(Yes, yes, I know that I still need to research the federal voting rights act and it’s impact on gerrymandering. Now I’ll also need to be aware of it’s impact on proportional representation systems.)

California has a voting rights act enacted in 2002. You can read about it at fairvote and at National Demographics Corporation (NDC) Research (and here is a pdf: NDC Research).

The act can cause local governments that use at-large methods of elections (as opposed to single-winner districts) and that have under-representation of minorities to have court enforced remedies imposed on them. The act implies that those remedies are typically the imposition of a single-winner districting solution.

The city of Modesto was sued in 2004 under this act and lost. They have a 25% Hispanic population but since 1911 one Hispanic city council-member has been elected for their at-large 5 member council. The city is counter suing and argues that the California Voting Rights Act violates the U.S. Constitution. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

The CA voting rights act seems to have a bias that at-large elections are the only source of distorted representation and that single winner districts is the preferred remedy. These assumptions should be questioned.

fixing the Electoral College

Back in August, Bob H. commented:

Btw, Slate has a new article on problems with trying to fix the Electoral College.

I’d be interested to get your take on it. Cheers.

Quoting from the Slate article now:
Slate; splitting CA electorial college votes for partisan gain

It’s hardly news at this point that, as it works today, the Electoral College undermines American democracy. It does so in three fundamental ways: First, it betrays the principle of majority rule, threatening every four years to deliver the White House to the popular-vote loser. Second, it reduces the general election contest to a matter of what happens in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states, leaving most Americans (who live in forsaken “red” and “blue” states) on the sidelines. This in turn depresses turnout and helps give us one of the worst rates of voter participation on earth. Third, because of its proven pliability, the Electoral College invites partisan operatives, legislators, secretaries of state and even Supreme Court justices to engage in constant strategic mischief and manipulation at the state level.

This last problem is about to make things much worse, as strategic actors try to exploit spreading discontent with the system by pushing “reform” proposals for purely partisan advantage. Thus, in California, top Republican strategists are now proposing a ballot initiative that would “reform” the system by awarding the state’s electoral votes by congressional district. Its real purpose is to break up the state’s 55 electors, which typically go to the Democrats in a bloc as inevitably as Texas, Georgia, and Oklahoma give their 56 combined electors to the Republicans. Following the proposed division of California’s well-gerrymandered blue and red congressional districts, it is likely that the 2008 GOP nominee under this plan would carry away about 20 electors. In one fell swoop, this would ruin the Democrats’ chances for winning the presidency.

This is very plainly not reform. It is tactical gamesmanship.

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seeking clarity on ‘Software independence’ in voting systems

In response to the Timothy Ryan op-ed “A Damaging Paper Chase In Voting”, Rick Carback (one of the punchscan developers) wrote about HR811:

…the article makes an excellent point — mandating a specific technology (which has been known to be problematic since the inception of voting) is a bad idea. By contrast, the authors of the bill could have taken the approach of Software Independence, where the outcome of an election can be determined independently of a piece of software. Any software independence approach would rule out paperless DREs, a hidden audit trail printout, and other ill-conceived technology. DREs with unreliable printers for a VVPAT approach could also be excluded, but you would need to add a reliability requirement (not hard to do). Our system, and similar systems like PAV, would more easily fit into such a definition.

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