Election Technology Reform: Top Ten

Thanks to the Alert Reader that pointed me to http://change.org, the "Top Ten Issues" contest (winners to be presented in briefing to the new administration), and the issue about election technology reform at "Move The Country Towards Transparent Election Systems". (Check it out! You might want participate in the poll yourself.)

After casting my vote for this issue, I thought I should write on the issue’s comment stream, about why the issue is important to me. I thought that I should share my answer to the question: why is election technology reform one of the top ten most important political change issues? Here goes with my opinions – soapbox alert! soapbox alert!

I think that election reform broadly might be a top ten issue in terms of importance, but it is politically very difficult to make real progress, despite the  erosion confidence in our electoral system, which could be reversed by any of several election reforms. As part of election reform, election technology reform is actually more important in the short to medium term, for two reasons: (a) substantial progress on election technology is much more feasible, and (b) almost every potentially high-impact area of election reform would be bedeviled by technology issues. So if there is to be beneficial change in election reform broadly, we technologists need to pick up the pace on better election technology. (By the way "pick up the pace" is the slogan of the month here at OSDV; more later!)

However, election technology reform is not just a matter of "making voting machines that don’t stink" — though it is in fact important to create replacements for current voting systems, using technology that can demonstrate high integrity and be worthy of trust. It’s not just correcting negatives of mis-applied technology; to impact public confidence, anti-negative changes need to be coupled with positive changes. To sum up in one word what that positive should be: "transparency." Election technology can and should work to fully disclose to the public all the information about all the activities that all public servants have been doing as they use election technology in ALL its various forms.

But the need for reliability, integrity, trust — and transparency! — is not limited to voting machines. It applies across the board to all kinds of election technology: yes, voting machines, but also the voting systems of which they are a part, and the election management systems that comprise the back-office component, especially the tabulation component of the backend systems, and the voter registration systems than govern access to voting (quality voting systems are a joke if you’re barred from using them), and ballot design facilities out of which we occasionally have seen such embarassingly  confusing ballots, and … it’s a broad range, but all need to be trustworthy, and all have a role in delivering to the public a degree of disclosure that enables citizens and public interest groups to really see what’s going on — transparency.

When I understood this, and realized that much progress on these goals was quite feasible, that’s when I got really fired up about election tech reform, and OSDV’s ability to make tangible progress. That’s why I think that these technical efforts towards these goals need to happen in parallel with the public policy side of election reform — and not only need to happen, are happening now. One tangible part of this progress is OSDV’s open-source model state digital voter registration system, which we are demonstrating for a Congressional caucus meeting this week. We should have some interesting responses to report on!


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