D.C. Resets Timeline for Digital Vote By Mail Service

With the September Primary looming for the District of Columbia, they did the right thing yesterday, and hit the “reset button” on their project to pilot an alternative form of remote balloting exclusively for qualified overseas voters, as part of their MOVE Act compliance effort.  The project has been given some breathing room and will launch during the general election in November as publicly announced this morning.

Gentle readers, before you’re tempted to freak out that a new election service is being launched during a general (mid-term) election rather than a primary consider the unusual reality of the District of Columbia elections: the Primary is the most important Election Day where key decisions (e.g., the next Mayor) are decided.

As the Washington Post reported at lunch today:

There’s no Republican seeking the post in a city where three-quarters of voters are Democrats, so whoever wins the Sept. 14 Democratic primary has a lock on the general election in November.

Meanwhile the D.C. Elections Executive Director Rokey Suleman stated earlier this morning:

We are delaying this project to take the time to properly configure the hardware and software, conduct a public evaluation and feedback period, and educate overseas voters about their choices.

So, the District’s decision to reschedule the launch of their digital vote by mail service is sound.  It takes a bunch of pressure off their effort to launch a responsible, well thought out solution that employs the best possible efforts (given current technology) to maintain the secrecy of a remotely submitted ballot, and protect its content… in the middle of a hotly contested (local) election.  And it gives all parties involved in the technical effort (the TrustTheVote Project included) more time to make sure every detail has been considered.

And it does one more, I think, essential thing: it ensures there will be a proper public review and comment period for the solution.  To that end, we know that the D.C. Board of Elections Chief Technology Officer, Paul Stenbjorn is days away from releasing a Design Review & Rationale document, which we have been reviewing this week, commenting on, and contributing to (in the application design around the integration of our Ballot Design Studio and Elections Manager).  The paper is extensive, detailed (complete with threats analysis), and as far as I can tell, one of the most significant efforts of its kind to ever be published by a public elections administration.

At the end of the day, I see this decision, their forthcoming paper, and all of the efforts of the D.C. BOEE as demonstrating a commitment to elections integrity.  Although we may not all agree with some choices made in how overseas voters are digitally empowered to participate in elections (and the OSDV Foundation for one, remains against widespread application of remote online voting services), I believe that when the efforts of the District are fairly examined, there will be consensus that Rokey Suleman and his team are making a decent effort to do the right thing.


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