Setting a Technology Agenda for Overseas Voting
I have arrived in Munich, reached my hotel and actually caught a nap. It was a sloppy slushy day here from what I can tell; about 30 degrees and some wet snow; but spring is around the corner. On the flight over the Pole last evening (I’m a horrible plane sleeper) I worked on final preparations for our Technology Track at this year’s UOCAVA Summit (which I wrote about yesterday). I thought I’d share some more about this aspect of the Conference. This is another long post, but for those who cannot be in Munich at this conference, here are the details.
Historically, as I see it, the Summit has been primarily a policy discourse. While the Overseas Vote Foundation always has digital services to show off in the form of their latest Web facilities to support overseas voters, Summit has historically been focused on efforts to comply, enforce, and extend the UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act). This year, with the passage of the MOVE Act (something I also wrote about yesterday), a new tract of topics, discussion, (and even debate) has surfaced, and it is of a technical nature. This is in principle why the Overseas Vote Foundation approached the OSDV Foundation about sponsorship and co-hosting. We thought about it, and agreed to both.
Then came the task of actually putting together an agenda, topics, speakers, and content.
I owe a tremendous “thank you” to all of the Panelists we have engaged, and to Dr. Andrew Appel of Princeton, our Chief Technology Officer John Sebes, and our Director of Communications, Matthew Douglass, for their work in helping produce this aspect of Summit. Our Director of Outreach Strategy, Sarah Nelson should be included in here for her logistics and advance work in Munich. And of course, I would be remiss if I left out the fearless and brilliant leader of the OVF, Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, for all of her coordination, production work, and leadership.
A quick note about Andrew: I’ve had the privilege of working with Professor Appel on two conferences now. Many are aware that one of our tract productions is going to be a debate on so-called “Internet Voting” and that Dr. Appel will give the opening background talk. I intend to post another article tomorrow on the Debate itself. But I want to point out something now that certain activists may not want to hear (let alone believe). While Andrew’s view of Internet-based voting systems is well known, there can be no doubt of his interest in a fair and balanced discourse. Regardless of his personal views, I have witnessed Andrew go to great lengths to examine all sides and build arguments for and against public packet switched networks for public ballot transactions. So, although several are challenging his giving the opening address, which in their view taints the effort to produce a fair and balanced event, I can state for a fact, that nothing is further from the truth.
Meanwhile, back to the other Track events.
We settled on 2 different Panels to advance the discussion of technology in support of the efforts of overseas voters to participate in stateside elections:
- MOVE Act Compliance Pilot Programs – titled: “Technology Pilots: Pros and Cons, Blessing or Curse”
- Technology Futures – titled: “2010 UOCAVA Technology Futures”
Here are the descriptions of each and the Panelists:
Technology Pilots: Pros and Cons, Blessing or Curse
The title is the work of the Conference Sponsor, OVF, but we agree that the phrase, “Technology Pilots” trips wildly different switches in the minds of various UOCAVA stakeholders. The MOVE Act requires the implementation of pilots to test new methods for U.S. service member voting. For some, it seems like a logical step forward, a natural evolution of a concept; for others pilots are a step onto a slippery slope and best to avoid at all costs. This panel will discuss why these opposing views co-exist, and must continue to do so.
- Paul Docker, Head of Electoral Strategy, Ministry of Justice, United Kingdom
- Carol Paquette, Director, Operation BRAVO Foundation
- Paul Stenbjorn, President, Election Information Services
- Alec Yasinsac, Professor and Dean, School of Computer and Information Sciences University of South Alabama
John Sebes, Chief Technology Officer, TrustTheVote Project (OSDV Foundation)
2010 UOCAVA Technology Futures
UOCAVA is an obvious magnet for new technologies that test our abilities to innovate. Various new technologies now emerging and how they are coming into play with UOCAVA voting will be the basis of discussion. Cloud computing, social networking, centralized database systems, open source development, and data transfer protocols: these are all aspects of technologies that can impact voting from overseas, and they are doing so.
- Gregory Miller, Chief Development Officer, Open Source Digital Voting Foundation
- Pat Hollarn, President, Operation BRAVO Foundation
- Doug Chapin, Director, Election Initiatives, The Pew Center of the States
- Lars Herrmann, Redhat
- Paul Miller, Senior Technology and Policy Analyst, State of Washington
- Daemmon Hughes, Technical Development Director, Bear Code
- Tarvi Martens, Development Director at SK, Demographic Info, Computer & Network Security, Estonia
Manuel Kripp, Competence Center for Electronic Voting
The first session is very important in light of the MOVE Act implementation mandate. Regardless of where you come down on the passage of this UOCAVA update (as I like to refer to it), it is now federal law, and compliance is compulsory. So, the session is intended to inform the audience of the status of, and plans for pilot programs to test various ways to actually do at least two things, and for some (particularly in the Military), a third:
- Digitally enable remote voter registration administration so an overseas voter can verify and update (as necessary) their voter registration information;
- Provide a digital means of delivering an official blank ballot for a given election jurisdiction, to a requesting voter whose permanent residence is within that jurisdiction; and for some…
- Examine and test pilot digital means to ease and expedite the completion and return submission of the ballot (the controversy bit flips high here).
There are, as you might imagine, a number of ways to fulfill those mandates using digital technology. And the latter (3rd) ambition raises the most concern. Where this almost certainly involves the Internet (or more precisely, public packet-switched networks), the activists against the use of the Internet in elections administration, let alone voting, are railing against such pilots, preferring to find another means to comply with the so-called “T-45 Days” requirement of placing an official ballot in the hands of an overseas voter, lest we begin the slide down the proverbial slippery slope.
Here’s where I go rogue for a paragraph or two (whispering)…
First, I’m racking my brain here trying to imagine how we might achieve the MOVE Act mandates using a means other than the Internet. Here’s the problem: other methods have tried and failed, which is why as many as 1 in 4 overseas voters are disenfranchised now, and why Sen. Schumer (D NY) pushed so hard for the MOVE Act in the first place. Engaging in special alliances with logistic companies like FedEx has helped, but not resolved the cycle time issues completely. And the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t been able to completely deliver either (there is, after all, this overseas element, which sometimes means reaching voters in the mountainous back regions of say, Pakistan.) Sure, I suppose the U.S. could invest in new ballot delivery drones, but my guess is we’d end up accidentally papering innocent natives in a roadside drop due to a technology glitch.
Seriously though (whispering still), perhaps a reasonable way forward may be to test pilot limited uses of the Internet (or hec, perhaps even Military extensions of it) to carry non-sensitive election data, which can reach most of the farther outposts today through longer range wireless networks. So, rather than investing ridiculous amounts of taxpayer dollars in finding non-Internet means to deliver blank ballots, one proposal floating is to figure out the best, highest integrity solution using packet-switched networks already deployed, and perhaps limit use of the Internet solely for  managing voter registration data, and  delivering blank ballots for subsequent return by means other than eMail or web-based submission (until such time as we can work out the vulnerabilities on the “return loop.”) While few can argue the power of ballot marking devices to avoid under-voting and over-voting (among other things), there is trepidation about even that, let alone digital submission of the completed ballot. As far as pilots go, it would seem like we can make some important headway on solving the challenges of overseas voter participation with the power of the Internet without having to jump from courier mule to complete Internet voting in one step. That observed, IMHO, R&D resulting in test pilots responsibly advances the discussion.
Nevertheless, the slippery slope glistens in the dawn of this new order. And while we’ll slide around a bit on it in these panels, the real sliding sport is the iVoting Debate this Friday — which I will say more about tomorrow.
OK, back from rogue 😉
So, that this is where the first Panel is focused and where those presentations and conversations are likely to head in terms of Pilots. In my remaining space (oops, I see I’ve gone way over already, sorry), let me try to quickly comment on the second panel regarding “technology futures.”
I think this will be the most enjoyable panel, even if not the liveliest (that’s reserved for the iVoting Debate). The reason this ought to be fun is we’ll engage in a discussion of a couple of things about where technology can actually take us in a positive way (I hope). First, there should be some discussion about where election technology reform is heading. After all, there remain essentially two major voting systems commercial vendors in the industry, controlling some 88% of the entire nation’s voting technology deployment, with one of those two holding a ~76% white-knuckled grip market share. And my most recent exposure to discussions amongst commercial voting vendors about the future of voting technology suggest that their idea of the future amounts to discussing the availability of spare parts (seriously).
So, I’m crossing my fingers that this panel will open up discussions about all kinds of technology impact on the processes of elections and voting – from the impact of social media, to the opportunities of open source. I know for my 5 minute part I am going to roll out the TTV open source election and voting systems framework architecture and run through the 4-5 significant innovations the TrustTheVote Project is bringing to the future of voting systems in a digital democracy. Each speaker will take 5 minutes to rush their topic, then our moderator Manuel will open it wide up for hopefully an engaging discussion with our audience.
OK, I’ve gone way over my limit here; thanks for reading all about this week’s UOCAVA Summit Technology Tract in Munich.
Now, time to find some veal brätwurst und ausgezeichnet bier. There is a special meaning for my presence here; my late parents are both from this wonderful country, their families ended up in Munchen, from which both were forced out in 1938. Gute nacht und auf wiedersehen!