Recent News

Showtime: OSET/TrustTheVote Project Appearing at DNC Convention Strategic Forum Event

(This is a x-post from Ms. Voting Matters’ announcement on the OSET Institute’s corporate site.)

We are totally excited about an amazing opportunity tomorrow, Tuesday July 26th, to appear at an event as part of the Democrat National Convention.

The only thing that would make this truly complete is if the Republican National Convention had also invited us (we asked, and although we’re pleased to be working with several in the RNC infrastructure, making something happen was not possible.)

But the New Democrat Network (NDN) and the New Policy Institute did reach out to us and invited us to their premier Strategy Forum now being held at its 4th Democrat National Convention.  So, we’re focused on presenting to an audience estimated to exceed 1,000 per latest projections based on RSVPs as of yesterday (over 900).  This is truly an amazing opportunity for us to spread the story of our work and we’re deeply appreciative of the NDN’s invitation.

The event, “Looking Ahead: Talks on the Future of America and American Politics” is bringing together a collection of amazing thought-leaders on the future and innovation of democracy including experts such as Ari Berman, Alec Ross, Joel Gamble, Jose Antonio Vargas, and others.

The title of our presentation is: “Modernizing Our Election Technology Can Make Our Democracy Better.”

This will not be telecast, although we’re still waiting word about a webcast, video stream, or recording of the sessions.  We’ll update this as soon as we know.

However, part of our presentation will be the launch of a new 2 minute video vignette about the looming problem of obsolete voting machinery and our approach to help bring about innovation which will increase integrity, lower costs, improve participation, and rejuvenate a flagging industry with new technology to innovate the business of delivering finished voting systems. That video will be available on YouTube tomorrow afternoon, and we will add a comment to this post and update it accordingly.

OSET’s Director Citizen Outreach, Meegan Gregg, and the Foundation’s Co-Founder, Gregory Miller will deliver this “Ted-Talk” -like presentation at 12:20pm EDT at the Convention Center in Philadelphia.  It should be a great time and a huge (oops) opportunity.

But is it Safe?

The Iowa Caucuses are one of the great curiosities of presidential politics.  Famous as much for their format as their results, these contests are notoriously difficult to report in realtime. Every cycle, media outlets and politicos race to share results as quickly and accurately as possible.  This year they had help from a party sponsored reporting application created by Interknowlogy in partnership with Microsoft.

Let’s be clear, this App is both useful and beautiful. For the first time in Caucus history the media and viewers could observe results in near realtime on an easily accessible platform.  Still, while there is no doubt that this technology is a big step forward we’ve found ourselves asking — “But is it safe?”

First, a little background.  The Iowa Caucuses consist of over 1,500 contests conducted in precincts throughout the state.  Unlike most elections (even in Iowa), these contests involve in-person participation and may require multiple votes to reach a decision.  The most important results, as you might expect, are the final votes.

The major parties have used a variety of systems to aggregate votes for the Caucuses. For example, until last year the Democrats were using an automated phone system that guided the reporting official through a series of prompts to secure relevant data (e.g., “Press 1 for ______(candidate), then enter the vote total…”).  That system remains in service today as a back up to the Inteknowlogy App and a relic of a bygone era.

So, how does this new technology change the Caucuses and where do we go from here?  Let’s take a look.

What it is: The Iowa Caucuses App is a digital tool used to report unofficial results from precincts on election night.  The application allows local representatives to use party specific instances of the app to instantly report results to the central office.  The official results, however, must be submitted in writing to each county party.  These paper results are used to elect delegates to the county conventions, who in turn elect delegates to the state conventions, who in turn elect delegates to the national conventions.

What it is not: In a word, official.  In another, secure.  This App has been designed to meet a real need, but it is not a security critical component of the election administration infrastructure.  There are few, if any, security consequences to the party if this application fails and end to end encryption is not required.  In fact, there is no requirement that this App meet a publicly mandated security standard. After all, if the official paper results are submitted correctly it should all work out in the end — right?

What this analysis fails to recognize is the important, albeit unofficial, role the Iowa Caucuses play in structuring the national political debate beyond Iowa.  Unofficial election night results play a central role in shaping the public perception of candidates. They can have an existential impact on these campaigns. The existence of an informal reporting system in addition to the official results process has always presented a very real vulnerability for our democracy.  In this respect the new system is no different than the old system and but still short of some critical features.

In 2012, this issue was clearly demonstrated by the Republican party when the results from several precincts were temporarily lost.  Under pressure from the media the Republican state party reported results prematurely, declaring Mitt Romney the winner by 8 votes. When the votes from the missing precincts were found the final result was corrected to reflect Rick Santorum’s victory.

With that in mind, I still hope the 2020 presidential election sees widespread adoption of this type of technology with two key additions.  

  • First, data can and should be reported in the federally approved election results common data format overseen by the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST.) If a government or partner organization is going present election night results they should also share the raw data for public consumption. In short, if we have the data we should publish the data.
  • Second, through the implementation of this technology the official and unofficial reporting processes should be brought together to provide an accurate and timely accounting of the results.

I think we can all applaud the work of the Interknowlogy team and the success of their application in the Iowa Caucuses.  However, while this exercise marks a step towards modernizing our election reporting infrastructure, we still have work to do.

The stakes of presidential elections are too high for even the smallest margin of error.  We have to get it right and we will.

Announcing the Launch of VoteStream Beta

Over the past three years we have used this space to document our efforts to create a truly open source, standards based election reporting solution: VoteStream.  At each step we have been guided by the needs of election professional and the ideals of the OSET Foundation: that a critical democracy infrastructure should be verifiable, accurate, secure, and transparent (in process).

Today we are excited to take the next step in that process.  In partnership with the Knight Foundation, the TrustTheVote project is launching a round of beta testing for the next version of VoteStream.  This round will continue to focus on the requirements of local election officials and solicit feedback from academics, journalists, and other stakeholders.

In past tests we demonstrated the ability of VoteStream to publish election results in an easily accessible format.  This round will demonstrate the process of converting raw election data to the standard format published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The beta round will be lead by Iain Padley, our new Director of Election Professional Stakeholder Engagement.  Iain comes to OSET with experience in community and political organizing with a special emphasis on education issues.  He has spent much of the past three years working with local and state election officials to leverage public data to drive increased civic engagement among educators.

If you would like to apply for a spot in this beta round please fill out an application form or email Iain directly at iain.padley@osetfoundation.org