Apart from my other jobs, I moonlight as a wonk. In particular, for the last 6 years or so, I’ve been involved with a group called the Open Voting Consortium, much of that on its board and as its CTO. With that hat on, I am enormously excited that Los Angeles County is likely to get much better voting systems in the relatively near future.
Let me give the brief plug: we want to make sure that no one has to vote on proprietary DRE voting machines (or ever does voluntarily, for that matter). There are two glaring flaws in these systems: the source code is secret (so-called trade secrets), and both accidental flaws and deliberate vote tampering is both possible and has likely happened; a voter has no means to inspect the recorded vote before casting it (other than a machine telling them, “trust us, we’ll put the right electrons somewhere”). The right system is an Electronic Ballot Printer, which is basically to say just a computer-assistive device to help mark a ballot that a voter can inspect physically before casting. The paper is crucial because voters and poll workers can easily and reliably understand both that and why they are secure and accurate. Using computers is also important though, because it enables independent and anonymous voting by persons with disabilities (especially, but not only, blind and visually impaired voters), enables multi-lingual ballot presentation, and reduces overvoting, undervoting, and other errors in capturing voter intent.
The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Dean Logan, held an all-day symposium yesterday, entitled Technology, Diversity, Democracy: The Future of Voting Systems in Los Angeles County. This was a really wonderful effort that shows the best of our government officials. Registrar Logan has a commitment to getting input from the range of stakeholders in this process, while simultaneously understanding well the technical and political issues involved. The meeting was composed of… well, lots of wonks like me, but ones from the right range of walks of life. The disability rights community was well represented; as were LA-based voter groups (such as advocates for diverse ethnic and linguistic groups that need ballot access); and a good number of the nation’s top cryptography and political science thinkers about voting were in the mix for good measure.
The Registrar-Recorder staff, many of whom I had the chance to speak with, were well prepared and well-informed in their role of facilitating the symposium. Unfortunately, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, although scheduled to participate, was unable to attend–it’s too bad because she is really one of the good guys in relation to openness and transparency in government. It was also nice to hear Election Assistance Commissioner Donetta Davidson speak though, and I was delighted that I happened to have the chance to talk with her at breakfast, before the formal sessions.
This is all a bit technical, as good news goes. And nothing is announced (or developed) yet, in any case. But I encourage readers to become informed on this, and bring with the process a dose of optimism that hasn’t been possible for a few years. Read OVC’s site for background information, and also take a look at the Registrar-Recorder’s website. Provide feedback to the Registrar-Recorder as this process unfolds (information will be posted over time, and voter feedback is essential to our future democracy).
Addendum: In response to a reader comment below, I think it is worth exhibiting a sample ballot produced for a demonstration election using the OVC Ballot Printer Architecture design. Something like this would serve as the official ballot that is inspected by a voter, stored for recounts and audits, and so on.