Tagged MOVE Act

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:

  1. MOVE Act Compliance Pilot Programs – titled: “Technology Pilots: Pros and Cons, Blessing or Curse
  2. 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:

  1. Digitally enable remote voter registration administration so an overseas voter can verify and update (as necessary) their voter registration information;
  2. 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…
  3. 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 [1] managing voter registration data, and [2] 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!


MOVE Act Implementation: Call For Participation

The TrustTheVote Project issued its first formal “Call For Participation” (“CFP”) to its Stakeholder Community last evening, and five elections jurisdiction have already indicated interest.

The CFP is inviting collaboration from elections jurisdictions all over the country who need to determine how to comply with the mandates of the new federal MOVE Act — particularly the requirement to provide a digital (online) means to deliver a download-ready blank ballot for any overseas voter wishing to participate in an election in their jurisdiction, and particularly one that has any federal contest included.

The TrustTheVote Project has developed a sufficient amount of its overall elections systems framework to be able to deliver a solution today for this requirement (pending any adjustments, modifications, or “tweaking” required to meet local requirements.) 

Really, this is a big deal.  You see, digitally serving anyone the official ballot for their district of residence is deceptively simple.  In fact, its non-trivial.  And yet, every jurisdiction where there are permanent residents stationed overseas either in the military or in some other NGO including simply an employer assignment needs to (and by federal law must) be able to cast an absentee ballot.  But how to get the ballot to them in time for them to prepare it and return to be counted?  We first presented a solution for this in a White Paper in December 2009.

To back up a bit, the MOVE Act was signed into law in November by the President, and essentially is intended to update and bring into the 21st century digital society the UOCAVA law from decades ago. For readers unfamiliar with these terms, here’s a quick tutorial.

In 1986, Congress passed the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (“UOCAVA”).  The UOCAVA requires that the states and territories allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices. In addition, most states and territories have their own laws allowing citizens covered by the UOCAVA to register and vote absentee in state and local elections as well. United States citizens covered by the UOCAVA include: members of the United States Uniformed Services and merchant marine; their family members; and United States citizens residing outside the United States.

After the 2008 elections cycle it was determined that up to 1 in 4 military and overseas voters were disenfranchised because they didn’t receive their ballots in time.  In the autumn of 2009, Congress passed the new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which is a complement and update to UOCAVA.  Among other provisions, the MOVE Act mandates that States shall provide a digital (online) means for a UOCAVA voter to manage their voter registration status and to receive a download ready blank ballot for the elections jurisdiction of their registered permanent residence.

Of course, there are those out there who shrill at the prospect that somehow, someway this could lead to Internet voting.  Very unlikely, and please don’t get me started down that rat hole either.  Let me stay trained on the important point here.

The work of the TrustTheVote Project, to bring innovative open source digital voting technology to the public, already addresses the mandates of the MOVE Act.  And we’ve reached a point where issuing the CFP just makes sense to enlarge the pool of jurisidictions testing and evaluating our solution, and positioning themselves to acquire the tools when they are ready.

And of course, the really nice part: the software tools are free — that’s the benevolent point of the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation and the TrustTheVote Project.  Yes, we appreciate and encourage donations to the Foundation to defray the development costs (particularly if a jurisdiction desires the assistance of our technology development team to tailor the software to their exacting requirements), but the source code is free and will be theirs to do with as they wish (especially for software that does not require certification for voting systems purposes.)

Interested?  Great!  Get started by downloading the CFP here.  And get in touch with us.


FCC Wanders into the Internet Voting Quagmire

Why, oh why?” you’re wondering (given our teaser title, that is).  Well, at first we were we also wondering why.   This all began about a month ago, and it’s a bit clearer now.  With some breathing room made possible by the holiday, I want to explain how the FCC and online elections could be even remotely connected (no pun intended), but first, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah (belated), and Merry Christmas (today) to those celebrating.

Two weeks ago we responded to an FCCrequest for comment;” an agency process with far more regulatory structure than the kind of “RFC” we’re used to.  But being the organization we are, with the mission we have, we felt we had to weigh in.

To be sure, we knew there would be tons of submissions from every “Who-Dog and their Larry” (and apparently we weren’t far off).  So the request was simply this: the FCC wanted input on the role of broadband in civic participation in the age of digital democracy.  And they divided that inquiry into two categories:

  1. the so-called digital town hall and related online civic interaction services (the meat and potatoes of the emerging “digital democracy”), and
  2. (wait for it) …elections.

Of course, the activists quickly decoded the FCC inquiry about broadband in the process of elections to read: “Internet Voting” and acted accordingly.  Although we’re not advocates of using the public Internet for casting and counting of ballots any time soon, we were a bit more circumspect in our addressing the FCC’s inquiry.

You see, we’ve been rhythmically bombarded with inquiries about whether our open source voting systems development efforts include the Internet, what we think of Internet-based public elections, and when will people be able vote from their Droid or iPhone, etc.  And we tread gently on that issue because, while we’re excited by the enthusiasm we’re seeing for bringing real innovation into voting systems, frankly, there is far more to do to bring about trust, transparency, accuracy, and security in computers used in elections than we have resources to address as quickly as we’d like, let alone looking at a public, largely insecure transport layer for the critical data involved.  I’m sure there is some alluring if not downright techno-sexiness to that concept, but the gap between here and reality would’ve downright inspired Moses at the shore of the Red Sea.

So, we looked at the FCC inquiry when it was launched in mid-November and at first, shrugged it off as someone playing on subway rails.  Then it dawned on us: this was a chance to go on record with our position and make sure that we’re part of that conversation before someone attempts something silly like piloting an election across the cloud (OMG).

On a more serious note, we were catalyzed to comment by [1] some reality about why the FCC is wandering into this quagmire when Lord knows they have plenty to do with spectrum auctions, net neutrality, universal access fees, etc., and [2] important work we’re involved in through our partnership with the Overseas Vote Foundation and MOVE Act implementation.  I’ll have more to say about the MOVE Act in a separate post, but suffice it to note here that the Act, recently signed into law, is designed to enfranchise military and overseas voters in elections by requiring States to provide online methods for overseas voters to transmit absentee applications and voter registration information and download blank ballots for mark and return by surface postal mail.

For those readers who want to cut to the chase and see what we had to say in response to this curious FCC inquiry, have at it here.  For the rest who remain amused by our fuzzy insight, read on.

So that “reality check” is that the Obama Administration is leaning on the FCC to fashion a strategic plan for widespread broadband adoption and growth in the U.S. as part of its Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.  And in the course of doing that, the FCC has been looking into the needs of citizens to access the Internet through reasonably speedy means (read: broadband).  So, civic participation would certainly constitute a valid reason for the FCC wandering into the free market’s territory of broadband build-out, right?  And if the FCC could determine the utility of broadband access to foster civic participation, then a whole bunch of justification for crafting this strategic broadband plan could be made.  Thus, the FCC needed to pose a public inquiry, and someone (we aren’t sure who, but have a theory) put the proverbial bug in the FCC collective ear that “elections” are one such “civic engagement” to be examined.  Thus the FCC waded into this quagmire (or firmly gripped the 3rd rail; choose the metaphor that paints the preferred picture) of Internet voting.

I note as an aside that one of our esteemed Sr. Members of Technical Staff, Pito Salas, posted a comment here recently about the notable absence of elections on the agenda of “open government.”  Well, it appears that while it may not have appeared on that agenda, it seems to be on the Administration’s agenda vis-à-vis the FCC inquiry.

And so we responded.

What’s the sum and substance of our position?  Well here it is in short, and you can read more if you dare.  I’ll summarize with the synopsis followed by a Technology Point and a Policy Point.

For starters, The OSDV Foundation and TrustTheVote Project were pleased to have had an opportunity to provide comment on an increasingly vital aspect of broadband in the United States: its use in civic participation and the processes of democracy.

Technology Point: The use of the Internet as an element of critical democracy infrastructure is here to stay.  The ‘Net is inherently insecure, but affords citizens a vital means of communication and information sharing.  Continued availability and accessibility to real broadband requires continued development of the capabilities of packet-switched networking.

Policy Point: The Internet is becoming critical infrastructure and its role in a digital democracy is sufficiently vital enough to build broadband policy around the ability of American citizens to participate in the processes of democracy in a digital age.

We encouraged the Commission to develop a comprehensive national broadband plan that particularly includes a plan for the use of broadband infrastructure and services to advance civic participation.

Technology Point: The processes of civic participation will require services that are transparent, trustworthy, accurate, and secure.  This means continued innovation in a service layer that is inherently insecure.

Policy Point: A national broadband public policy will necessarily entail a yin-yang relationship with private enterprise.  Ensuring civic engagement is a clear matter for government and a solid reason to have a broadband public policy in place, which can inform many debates and legislative initiatives.  And yet, clear roles and responsibilities between government and the privates sector in delivering this critical infrastructure is imperative.

To the extent their Plan includes consideration of broadband infrastructure for election processes and services, we advised careful consideration of what the architecture for a broadband-based voting system should look like and called upon experts and stakeholders to facilitate that understanding.  Clearly, the digital age and increasingly mobile society can benefit from digital means for such civic participation services.  However, the extent to which the challenges discussed in their inquiry can be adequately addressed remains unclear.

Technology Point: There is much to be worked out in terms of technically ensuring accuracy, transparency, trust and security in relying upon the Internet or broadband infrastructure to conduct civic engagement.

Policy Point: Fashioning this policy cannot occur in a vacuum void of competent technical input.

Nevertheless, any such Plan should consider the possibility that broadband infrastructure may be called upon in the future to support and sustain elections services in some capacity, whether strictly for back-office functions or all the way out to ballot casting and counting services.

Technology Point: If this cat is out of the bag, considerable research, development, and innovation is required before broadband infrstructure (read: Internet) can be reasonably relied upon for the level of civic engagement contemplated in the FCC inquiry.

Policy Point: Any broadband policy must consider this inevitable move toward a digital democracy.  Accordingly, issues such as digital divide, network neutrality, final mile, and quality of service assurances must be considered.

We do not recommend reliance on home or personal broadband connected digital devices for citizen-facing voting services for the foreseeable future or until such time as the challenges discussed herein are resolved to the satisfaction of the public.

Technology Point: The Internet is inherently insecure; home and personal computers are inherently insecure.  And a whole bunch of technical innovation is required to change that, and even then, these problems are likely to persist.

Policy Point: Disciplined thought leadership is imperative.  Sure we’d all like to simply cast our ballots from wherever we are with whatever device we have access to.  And some no longer consider the privacy element and vote-sale concern to be issues.  But many still do and will for some time to come.  The benefits of speeding towards a fully digital, online democracy continue to be outweighed by the risks of doing so.  That does not mean policy should forbid such, but it does compel policy makers to provide guidelines for cautiously proceeding.

That advised, we did encourage the Commission to take a citizen-centric approach to fashioning its broadband policy with regard to civic participation in terms of voting and elections services.  By “citizen-centric” we were referring to an approach that considers the wants and needs of an increasingly mobile society in a digital age.  As one simple example, we suggested the FCC consider the typical citizen voting situation wherein the voter is employed sufficiently far away from their home precinct such that it is logistically impossible for them to reach their polling place in time before or after their work day to cast their ballot, while fulfilling their responsibilities to their employer.

Technology Point: America is the consummate mobile society; whether its our propensity to relocate or our requirements of travel, the 21st century requires information services to put consumers at the center and appreciate and respect their mobility.

Policy Point: While there remains tremendous value in the traditional concepts of the polling place and election day, the fact is our 21st century society is now passing from the industrial age into the information age.  And we’re in a transition period between ages.  The best policy will afford a spectrum of options, supporting everyone from those who are content to taking a day off to cast their ballots, to those who need to cast it remotely in a time shifted manner.

If there are any “best-practices” we can identify at this juncture with regard to broadband deployment of election services, two were particularly clear to us:

  1. personal or home connected devices should not be permitted to be utilized for ballot casting; and
  2. broadband connected ballot marking devices should be restricted to government authorized polling places.

Technology Point: The technical challenges to allow such are mountainous hurdles at this point, unless the venue can be controlled (and even then, issues will abound, but may be more readily addressable)

Policy Point: Respect must be sustained for the privacy imperative of casting ballots, and providing a means and venue where such can be done in a private and secure manner, while leveraging the benefits of technology requires political pragmatism.

Finally, we advised that the overseas voting challenges combined with the MOVE Act signed into law offer an opportunity to incrementally approach leveraging of broadband infrastructure to improve participation of overseas citizens, military, and diplomatic personnel in U.S. elections.  And that should begin with the delivery of blank ballots.

So, that’s our position, and we’re sticking with it.

Happy Holidays!