CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen requested elections and voting systems experts from around the country to attend and testify, and answer questions about the current election administration landscape and how California can best prepare for the future. The Secretary noted in a prepared statement:
Demands for increased transparency and services, shrinking government budgets, and technological advances that outpace elections laws and regulations have combined to challenge what many thought were ‘permanent’ solutions developed as part of the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Many in California and across the nation are ready to move in a new direction. The question is, what should Californians seek in the next generation of voting equipment and how can new products truly serve the interests of voters?
Secretary Bowen will preside over the Hearing, joined by county elections executives from Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz and Madera counties. In addition to the testimony from OSDV, wide-ranging testimony will come from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Pew Center on States, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, representatives from every major voting system manufacturer with contracts in California, and more. The complete agenda is available here.
California has a strong record of thoughtful analysis of its voting systems. In 2007, Secretary Bowen led a top-to-bottom review of certified voting systems. Bowen asserted from the outset that the review:
Ensure that California’s voters cast their ballots on voting systems that are secure, accurate, reliable, and accessible.
And following the top-to-bottom review, on August 3, 2007, Secretary Bowen strengthened the security requirements and use conditions for certain systems.
So its no surprise to us that continuing developments in the elections technology industry as well as legislative initiatives are leading the Secretary to conduct this Hearing next Monday. Part of that change is best evidenced by the MOVE Act.
We’ll discuss more about the MOVE Act in other posts, but in summary, President Obama signed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in October 2009. The most immediate impact of the law from the State perspective has to do with the provision that establishes a 45-day deadline for States to provide ballots to voters. Because Primary results need to be certified and General ballots need to be constructed and conveyed, additional time (beyond 45 days) is required to meet the new federal guideline. And the largest impact on elections technology, processes, and practices is two principle provisions of the Act that mandate States shall provide:
- A digital means by which overseas voters can verify and manage their voter registration status; and
- A digital means by which an overseas voter can receive a digital, download ready, blank ballot (think PDF).
Success in implementing these mandates will reduce lost participation of overseas voters, which studies have shown result in approximately 1 out of every 4 overseas ballots not being counted because of failure to arrive in time.
But if it were only that easy. You see, in 2008, many States changed their Primary dates by several months to allow their voters to more heavily impact the presidential nomination process. And additional moves are likely in 2010 because 11 states and the District of Columbia have Primaries so close to the General Election that ballots may not be produced in time to comply with the new MOVE Act law. California has a very large overseas and military voting contingent, and you can imagine MOVE Act mandates are on the minds of CA elections officials, State legislatures, and the Secretary.
Of equal interest, Los Angeles County, the largest election jurisdiction in the United States, is engaged in a process known as the Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP) to determine the design of their next generation voting system.
Serving over 4 million registered voters, the County is examining the ways in which it can modernize its voting systems. Dean Logan, the County Registrar and Ken Bennett, the County IT Director are working to analyze the ways in which technology can ensure their ability to meet operational mandates and better serve their voters. With the VSAP underway (a project the OSDV Foundation is participating in), our “take” is that more (and possibly dramatic) change in elections technology in the great State of California is all but assured.
Stepping back, the current voting technology used in Los Angeles County and elsewhere is provided by private companies; they offer election jurisdictions proprietary technology solutions that need to be certified by the CA Secretary of State. While there is oversight at a State level, and mandates at the Federal level, each jurisdiction must purchase their own technology and do the very important business of conducting elections. Consequently, jurisdictions find themselves in multi-year contracts for technology.
This gives a jurisdiction continuity, but impairs their ability to innovate and collaborate, learning from neighboring or similar jurisdictions elsewhere in the state or country.
With L.A. County — the largest elections jurisdiction in the nation — considering the future of elections technology for their voters, the mandates of the MOVE Act implementation bearing down, and the complexities of the largest States’ processes and regulations for selection and implementation of elections technology, the Secretary’s Hearing next week is of a near essential nature.
So we are honored to be asked to testify next week. And the timing is good. As a means to developing a holistic architecture for next generation systems, one of the imperative elements is a common data format for the exchange of election event data. This is one particular element we’re working on right now. In fact, we will shortly be collaborating with a group of States and jurisdictions on the testing of several framework components including: election event management, ballot preparation, and automated generation of printable ballots (watch for this announcement shortly).
Here’s the cool thing: It turns out that all of this work currently underway in the TrustTheVote Project which is leveraging this common data format and some other innovations, provides a ready-made open source freely available solution to implement the mandates of the MOVE Act.
So, we hope that this work will prove to be relevant and purposeful for the Hearings. Our opportunity to testify is timely because we believe our work is in line with the agenda driving the hearing: What do next generation systems look like and how do states like CA comply with Federal mandates? How can we develop quickly to adapt to changing needs on the ground from elections officials, voters, and federal requirements?
We’re excited to participate; go Greg!
Stay tuned; more to come.