Tagged voting system

To Trust or Not to Trust, That is the Question

I thought I’d share a comment and response I got about trusting software to count votes. The comment was a very sensible one, though a mis-perception: that TTV is suggesting that software should be trust to count vote correctly. Not so! Here is the true but less simple story.

  • Many election officials want to conduct elections with paper ballots.
  • Most of those election officials want to count paper ballots using optical scanning and analysis software.
  • Most of those election officials conduct statistical audits, in order to mitigate risk that the tabulation software malfunctioned in a way could have effected the election result.

In other words, the latter group of election officials don’t trust the software to do the vote counting right, and use selective hand-count audit in addition to software counting.

  • TTV development of scanning/tabulation software does not depend on the election officials’ choices on how to conduct audits as part of an optical scan/tabulation method.

In other words, we don’t make any assumptions about whether or how people trust software, and what additional non-technological steps they take to mitigate risk. To repeat what you may have heard me say before, we just make the technology; we don’t tell the administrators how to deal with the risks that they manage, but we do listen to them to make sure that we’re making technology that they can manage in the way that they want to. If their audit scheme can be improved by new features of the software, then we want to learn enough to provide features that are truly helpful.

— EJS

Sequoia Announces Published Source Code

Sequoia Voting Systems announced today that they will be moving towards a disclosed-source model in which they will soon begin publishing their source code.

I must say that the tone and language of the press release is gratifying, especially that they thought to say that the product is also open-data, which is critical for the goal of transparency of operation of a voting system. But perhaps the most satisfying is the about-face on security by obscurity. Sequoia’s VP of R&D, Eric D. Coomer, PhD, was quoted:

Security through obfuscation and secrecy is not security. Fully disclosed source code is the path to true transparency and confidence in the voting process for all involved.

I couldn’t agree more! Even though the product is still proprietary (disclosed-source not open-source), it’s nice to see a vendor come around to the idea that open is not weak, and indeed to have taken the leap to do R&D to make a product that they say was intended from the beginning to be disclosed.

— EJS

Tales From Real Life: Testing

Another in our series of real life stories … how it actually works for real election officials to test a new voting system that they might be adopting for use in the state.

The backplot is that New York State has been unwilling to give up its admittedly no-longer-legal*  lever machines, until the the state Board of Elections is confident that they have a replacement that not only meets Federal standards, but also is reliable and meeting similar requirements met by the old lever machines. There have been several setbacks in the adoption process, but the latest phase is some detailed testing of the candidate systems. (For the real voting tech geeks, what’s being tested is a hybrid of the Dominion ImageCast scanner/Ballot Marking Device and the ES&S DS200 scanner with the Automark BMD.)

Bo Lipari is is on the Advisory Committee for this process, and has reported in detail on the testing process. You don’t have to be a complete election geek to scan Bo’s tales, and be impressed with the level and breadth of of diligence, and the kinds of kinks and hiccups that can occur. And of course the reportage is very helpful to us, as a concrete example of what kind of real life testing is needed for any new voting system, open or closed, to be accepted for use in U.S. elections.

— EJS

* No-longer-legal means that NY state law was changed to require replacement of lever machines. In the initial release of this note I erroneously said that the replacement requirement was driven by HAVA. Thanks again to alert readers (see comments below) for the catch, and for providing many resources on the vexed question of “HAVA compliant” generally and lever machines specifically.

The Future of Voting Systems in Los Angeles County

ole0This past week I was privileged to be invited to an engaging and very informative  event hosted by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project on Caltech’s Pasadena campus.  Turns out that L.A. County is in the early stages of figuring out “where to from here” for their next generation elections systems technology, and this event was the launch of “VSAP” their Voting Systems Assessment Project.  And they cleverly* asked the Caltech/MIT VTP to assist them in this process, framing their assessment and search in terms of “Technology, Diversity, and Democracy.”

My Take Away: With all due respect to the innovative thinking stirring in States working with the TrustTheVote Project, such as North Dakota, New York, New Hampshire, Oregon or Washington, to name a few, Los Angeles County stands to become the benchmark for what can be done, if for no other reasons than:

  1. they are far and away the largest voting district in the nation,
  2. they have unspent HAVA funds and CA bond measure proceeds they must invest in voting and elections technology improvements (or run the risk — however remote, but politically disastrous — of losing these appropriations), and
  3. they are acting in a manner I see as impressively innovative.

So, let me share why I believe this, what I learned last Wednesday, and how I see this impacting the work of the TrustTheVote Project (and vice-versa).

The Tail Wagging the Dog

Los Angeles County is the largest and most diverse election jurisdiction in the nation, serving more than four million registered voters of a wide range of race, ethnicities, national origins, age groups, and socio-economic status. The sheer physical size of their jurisdiction is impressive covering over 4080 square miles, encompassing 88 cities and over 500 political subdivisions, with 4,883 precincts and 4,394 polling locations supporting the casting of over 3.3M ballots in six languages in the last general election cycle.  That’s ridiculous in size and complexity.

I refer to this as the tail wagging the dog (still a funny visual), because while the State of CA is the largest the state of the union and one of the most significant global economic powers in its own right, it is LA County that represents the single largest elections jurisdiction of the State and the nation.  This is, from what I could ascertain, a significant point because I believe LA County is dead-set on exercising forethought, visionary leadership, and setting the bar for not only election systems complexity, but possibly excellence in choice, implementation, and operation.   Ultimately, LA County may be the standard (and trend) setter, and I am certain they will be a significant influence on the work of the TrustTheVote Project.

Show Us the Money

And we all know how money talks.  There is a — let’s just say “non-trivial” —  amount of financial resource at their disposal.  And this isn’t a matter of indiscriminate spending in harsh economic times.  No, these are previously allocated dollars courtesy of State and Federal programs directed at specifically upgrading and improving elections systems and processes.  And so one can expect the herds rushing to the trough in hopes of relieving LA County of some of that purse.  And that’s where this could get interesting.

The elections & voting systems industry (if we can call it that) is a wreck; consolidation continues, there are essentially 2 vendors left and very possibly there will be only one remaining by next year.  Frankly, I would be shocked if ultimately LA County chose yet another legacy vendor’s monolithic solution of yesteryear technology with draconian service agreement commitments as their “next generation.”    And there is no love-loss on their current ES&S InkaVote Plus system.   Moreover, voting systems certification remains a confusing hurdle.   All indications from this event are that decision makers are finished with any notion of proprietary or black box solutions.

Yet, there is no doubt, none at all, that the complexities, scale, and integration requirements for LA County will be too difficult and rich a prospect for a start-up, some well intentioned fly-by-night project, or advocates’ wishful thinking about an opportunity to bring in wholesale revolution to a solution, born of either an academic, philanthropic or entrepreneurial vision.

However, the work of the TrustTheVote Project, Caltech/MIT VTP, and other efforts will certainly have a role to play in assisting LA County in its assessment, prototyping, and ultimate selection of a new platform or (more likely) components thereof.

But the financial wherewithal means one more important thing: the opportunity to do things carefully and correctly.  That leads me to point three.

Evolve — Immediately

LA County officials understand that innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity and not a threat.  While Ken Bennett, L.A. County’s IT Director in charge of elections systems made a compelling case that any upgrades or improvements must be evolutionary in order to protect operational continuity, Dean Logan, L.A. County Registrar, set an imperative tone about the importance of taking this perhaps once in a generation opportunity to make every effort to be as innovative as possible, and with little delay given their financial and operational mandates.

And with the remainder of this post I want to speak a little to how it appears that’s going to happen in L.A. County.

The Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for L.A. County used the event as a launch pad for an ambitious and unprecedented Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP) to determine the current and future needs to be address through the modernization of the County’s voting system.

L.A. County’s approach is a marked departure and new arrival in the effort to improve a jurisdictions’ elections and voting systems technology.  For myself, I find it a stark contrast to the approach taken by the City and County of San Francisco where I am seated as a member of their “San Francisco Voting Systems Task Force.”

L.A. County immediately sought out the CalTech/MIT VTP to facilitate a process which I will explain in further detail in a follow-up post, and side-stepped (for now) the incredible bureaucratic overhead of a formal Board of Supervisors empowered Task Force.

While the City of San Francisco has good reasons and laudable goals for their far more formal approach, the downside is that the very regulations (1953 Brown Act and Sunshine Ordinances) put in place to ensure transparency, we’re created in the Industrial Age, with IMHO arguably Agrarian Age thinking, and now are actually stifling the potential transparency, agility, and capabilities of the Digital Age.

Bottom line: the SF-VSTF has spent three months essentially organizing itself due to the highly restrictive nature of the regulations that inhibit if not outright prohibit any communications — even for organizational purposes — between the Task Force Members (including notably eMail) if the number of recipients to those communications constitutes what would be construed as a quorum.

And honestly, L.A. County accomplished more in a single day of 6 hours last week than we’ve done in 8 hours worth of meetings across 3 months at the S.F. Voting Systems Task Force.  Ouch.

The result for the SF-VSTF: a highly lethargic process that although intended to ensure transparency to the processes, is actually not as transparent as possible in this era of social media.  Although a Twitter account exists for the SF-VSTF, it has remained silent.  And talks of Wikis, Blogs, or public online repositories have been all but shut down at mention.  The City Attorney’s argument is that not everyone has online access and this approach would aggravate a digital divide.  Maybe so.  Maybe so.  But I have to believe there are ways to meet the Sunshine needs of those few remaining citizens with no way to reach a web browser, while leveraging the power and capability of the Digital Age to empower San Francisco to advance their imperative agenda.

Enough.  I’m writing about the Future of L.A. County Voting Systems.

So, contrast this (S.F. County efforts)  to L.A. County.  The VSAP seeks to establish a new participatory approach that initiates the process with public input to ensure the “people” element is well balanced with those of the “technology” and “regulatory” elements.  And how are they doing it?  With Symposiums as they held last week, for sure.  And through focus groups.  And through citizen’s committees to gather and ingest this input.

And perhaps most importantly (as explained to me by one of their officials): they will use every appropriate aspect of the Internet and digital media to advance their efforts, engage the public, and ensure the widest access to their work and research of others — globally.

And that just makes such sense — especially if you’re going to lead in the digital age.

And while L.A. County’s approach (my volunteer efforts there) invigorates both my sense of the importance of what we’re trying to do on the SF-VSTF and the work the TrustTheVote Project with several States and jurisdictions, the L.A. County effort also frustrates me in witnessing how the very ordinances designed to ensure transparency on process are likely going to stymie the best intentions of the San Francisco City & County Voting Systems Task Force.

I campaigned for and earned a seat on the SF VSTF with visions of San Francisco — in the heart of the world’s leading technology center — leading the digital democracy and “we.gov” movement because of the opportunity to leverage the very best that social media, technology, and the Internet can provide to large-scale public collaborative efforts to invigorate the modernization of its elections and voting systems.  Well, for San Francisco, maybe not so much after all.

Perhaps at some point, someone with the wherewithal to modernize the Brown Act and related Sunshine Ordinances, will do so by realizing (as LA County has) that innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity and not a threat.

In the mean time, here is to the real leader in California.  Hail to the vision, determination to innovate, and thought leadership of the Los Angeles County Recorder-Registrar.  They are, after all the largest voting jurisdiction in the nation; if their challenges can be met, they will be the de-facto benchmark for all other jurisdictions.

So, somewhat unexpectedly, innovation and leadership in modernizing elections technology may not emanate from the Silicon Valley, but in Southern California instead.

That observed, I still believe there is learning to be had, that this is a (bear with me) a “teachable moment” for the SF-VSTF, and we would do well in San Francisco to track L.A. County’s progress.

Meanwhile for the work of the TrustTheVote Project here, I see enormous synergies and opportunities to assist L.A. County.  They are thinking about technology transparency; they are considering how to evolve (but quickly); they are leaving nothing off the table; and they are interested in exploring, examining, and study.  They understand the importance of prototyping, the process of design for usability, the imperative of design for accessibility, and making damn certain they make the best informed decisions possible.  And they know they need to leverage the power of the Internet, social media, and the digital age to do all of this.

In my next post I’ll detail how L.A. County is proceeding with VSAP and offer some more about how the TrustTheVote Project will likely be of high value to them.

GAM|out

______________

* I wrote “cleverly” above because L.A. County might well have taken S.F. County’s formal approach to creating a Task Force, but in casual conversation with LA County officials and folks at Caltech/MIT VTP, what I learned was they made a conscious decision to avoid formalization at this juncture.  And in fact they wished to avoid the very bureacratic complexities that would be wrought by the formality of a sanctioned Task Force.   Instead, they creatively reached out to the Caltech/MIT VTP and asked for their assistance in producing the Symposium, holding it on their Campus, and enabling the Registrar-Recorder to move very quickly in an agile fashion.  This was not — they stressed — in effort to avoid public participation or side-step government processes to ensure transparency, but rather to jump-start a process and use it as an information gathering vehicle.  Then, they will utilize citizen committees to advance the important efforts of public input.  I call that clever.

Voting Machine Monopoly?

It looks like the largest U.S. voting system company will acquire the second-largest, creating a potential monopolist controlling about three quarters of the market nationally, and 100% in some regions. I could explain why that might seem like a bad idea to many people, but the New York Times’ The Business of Voting Machines already said it better than I. Likewise, one of our election integrity colleagues, Rob Ritchie of FairVote has already explained some of the details and implications in the HuffPost’s Diebold’s End: Consolidation of Largest Voting Companies Shows Need to Reform Elections.

What I’d like to point out instead is how the pricing of the deal shows that there is in fact no real market for voting systems in the U.S. — not in the typical entrepreneurial sense of “healthy market” in which players with superior value can effectively compete. This deal basically shows that Dieboild’s Premier Election Systems, Inc. (PESI) is essentially worthless. The nominal price tag on the deal is $3 million, but ES&S is paying that small sum only on the condition that Diebold retain some PESI’s liabilities.

So here is a story that should convince you — if you were seriously thinking of becoming a new vendor of voting systems in the U.S. — not to bother. Diebold/PESI was new vendor, that now after 6 years of hard work, and obtaining about a quarter market share, finds that the company’s value is essentially nil, and further bedeviled by ongoing legal wrangles with its customers. And that new vendor started with the great opportunity of states awash in Federal funds from HAVA to buy new voting systems! Today, customer budgets are tighter, certification costs are higher, there are only handful of deals on the table for new revenue on new products, and ongoing customer contracts require continuing service and support for older products.

That story tells me the U.S. market for voting systems is essentially broken. It’s still true that in that dysfunctional market, there is a basic conflict between making money and serving the public interest in elections. But now we can see that in selling voting system products in the U.S., it isn’t even possible to make money! The largest remaining vendor may retain a healthy U.S. business, but I suspect it will be based on the strengthened ability to structure some profitable service and support contracts as the largest player — and in some cases the only player.

Lastly, why do I keep saying “U.S. market”? Because Diebold is staying in the elections business in Brazil, and ES&S has plenty of business overseas as well — mostly in countries that unlike the U.S., have elections run by the national government. Back here in the 50 states and thousands of elections boards, there is still plenty of work to do, to figure out how to effectively deliver the needed election and voting technology to the many government organizations that need it. What we do know now is that “the market” has not done so and likely will not in the future.

— EJS

Can We Really Detect Flakey Voting Machines?

That’s a catchy blog headline, I hope, or at least an important issue. But I’ve fooled you because while answering the question, I am going to discuss “audit” again. I wrote earlier that one kind of audit is performed by election officials to detect errors in voting machines, or to put it another way, to ensure that election results weren’t garbled by the computers used to create them. That sounds like a good thing to detect, and ensure, but how can we understand whether the detection is effective? Today’s post is the beginning of an answer to that question.

And it’s a very relevant question, because we know from last year’s experience in Humboldt County CA that malfunctions do occur. In fact, with just the right bad luck in the locales affected, perhaps only half a dozen Humboldt-sized, Humboldt-style glitches would have been required to swing MN’s close Coleman-Franken race.  And recall that each county has hundreds of opportunities for such a glitch! Five or ten malfunctions per thousands, across a medium-sized state, may not sound like a lot, but its enough to swing a major contest every few years.

To take a specific example, let’s look at the voting method of paper ballots, counted by machine partly  in polling places and partly in a central facility. (Similar issues apply to other voting methods including those using touch-screens or other direct-record devices.) One audit procedure is essentially a hand-count “spot check” or partial “re-do” of the machine count. Precincts are randomly selected to get a set of precincts with enough combined ballots to exceed some threshold percentage of the vote, say 1%. Then each of these precinct’s ballots are re-counted, for each contest, and the hand-count results compared to the machine count. There are often small variances — different interpretations by people and software — and these are scrutinized and documented to ensure that are in fact borderline interpretation cases or due to some other procedural, non-technical issue. Any substantial variation would be a sign of some potential machine malfunction, and would trigger further hand counts until the rules for the audit process are complete, or a full re-count is triggered by the audit procedure rules.

Fair enough, but in the typical case where 1% of a county’s paper ballots have been audited with no errors detected, what do we actually know? How confident can we be that the remaining unaudited ballots were correctly  machine-counted? What if a race is pretty darn close, say 2% margin of error, but not so close as to trigger a recount; if 1% of ballots were audited, what can we expect about the other 99% of ballots, and the chance that machine counting errors might change the election result?

Yes, I started a general question, and answered it with some more specific questions. But at least I didn’t bore you with too much more of the A-word. Coming soon, another post that answers the questions remaining from today, by explaining in simple terms what a “risk limiting audit” is, how it is different from the flat-percentage audit discussed today, and, finally, how you can tell for any election you want, whether the election officials were able to test whether election results were garbled by the computers used to create them.

— EJS

Twisted Logic: How Ballots Get Counted in the Real World

Today I’m going to give a flavor of the pretzel logic that applies to the way ballots are counted in the U.S. An alternative title for this post might be “Welcome to the real world of Federal Democracy” because several states have their own different pretzel. You can have 2 marked ballots, each in a different state, but very very similar; but in one case the ballot is completely kosher, while in the other place some votes won’t count. The reason, of course, is variations in states’ election law and regulation, and in local jurisdiction’s practices in applying the law and regs.

Probably the classic case, or perhaps the most infamous, is the “straight-party vote”. This is a voting method available in some states, where the ballot design contains a “convenience” (exercise for the reader: who it’s convenient for, and who benefits) for filling one bubble in order to indicate a vote for several candidates — all the candidates for a single political party. However, when a voter marks a straight-party bubble on a ballot, they are not finished! In most cases, there are non-partisan elections as well (city council, school board, water district, …) and ballot measures or referenda. To complete the ballot, a voter must make a mark for these other items on the ballot. Now, the straight-party voting option might be convenient, but it also raises the question of interpretation of subsequent “unnecessary” marks for candidates in partisan offices. These may be construed as meaningful to the voter — so-called “emphasis votes” or “over-rride votes” — or as an accident, mistaking a partisan election for a non-partisan one that is not covered by the straight-party option.

Let’s look at some of the cases, in a hypothetical election where:

  • the top of the ticket is the U.S. Presidential election including candidates
    • A. Beaucoup of the Peace-and-Freedom party, and
    • B. Yovon of the Conservative-Independent party;
  • there are other Federal and state offices with partisan elections, including a state assembly contest in the middle of the ballot, including candidates
    • C. Bonichose for Peace-and-Freedom, and
    • D. Yamhill for Conservative-Independent.

Now, suppose a voter marks a ballot this way:

  1. She selects the Conservative-Independent option for a straight-party vote.
  2. It seems odd to her, though, to just leave blank the ballot item for U.S. President. Just to make sure her vote counts, she also makes a selection for Yovon for President (even though she has already made a vote for Yovon, by doing the straight-party vote).
  3. The voter then turns over the page of the 2-sided ballot, and makes a mark to select Bonichose for state assembly, in an attempt to “over-ride” the straight-party vote in this one case where the voter does not favor the Conservative-Independent party candidate.

Step 2 is an example of a so-called “emphasis vote” that is not uncommon for top-of-the-ticket contests in “big elections.” Step 3 is an example of an “over-ride vote” that can also be interpreted as a oversight where the voter didn’t notice the party of the candidates.

But what does this ballot mean? Cases like this require rules for human and machine interpretation of these marks as valid votes, or overvotes. Both an “emphasis” and “over-ride” vote could be construed as an over-vote, a case where the voter voted in a race once, by straight-party, and again in an individual race. This might seem odd, given that in the “emphasis” case, both votes were for the same candidate! And in the “over-ride” case, some might view the vote as quite meaningful. But the meaning is (or should be) established in election law, which is specific to each state, and states with straight-party voting, what may be valid in one state is an over-vote in another, i.e., the emphasis or over-ride vote invalidates the voter’s selection for the contest, and no vote for that contest should be recorded for that ballot.

So what we really have, from the point of view of voting system software requirements, is a crazy-quilt of state rules. What is a voting system developer to do? That’s another twisted logic story for another day.

— EJS

New Voting System Vendors Enter the Certification Fray

Here are a couple interesting news tidbits to ponder today, showing the breadth and depth of openness to changes to current U.S. voting methods.

First, some news from the EAC, the part of the Federal government that runs the program for Federal certification of voting systems — certification that in many states is effectively a pre-requesite for legal use of a voting system in the state. The EAC announced that there are 2 new vendors who have joined the certification program — both of them vendors of products that are often called “Internet voting systems”.

It’s very much worth noting that this does not mean that Scytl and EveryoneCounts have certified products! Far from it, though no doubt some approximate language might be misleading on that point. It just means that the companies have qualified with EAC, and may at some point choose to engage with an EAC-certified test lab to evaluate their products. But it is still interesting that this announcement gives the appearance that Internet voting systems might someday be legal for use in the U.S.

Second, some news from Wisconsin about that state’s 5-year mission to figure out what would be a better way to run voting in WI, with pretty much all options on the table to investigate, including a switch to paper ballots solely like MN, all vote by mail like OR, even Internet voting as in a few local election organizations in WA and HI.

It’s gratifying to see how serious people are about the fact that current election approaches need serious improvement, and the improvements have to be undertaken carefully and thoughtfully.

EJS

Arizona: a New Definition of “Sufficiently” Mis-Counted?

There’s a fascinating nugget inside of a fine legal story unfolding in Arizona. I know that not all our readers are thrilled by news of court cases related to election law and election technology, so I’ll summarize the legal story in brief, and then get to the nugget. The Arizona Court of Appeals has been working on case that considers this interesting mix:

  • The State’s constitutional right of free and fair elections;
  • The recognition that voting systems can mis-count votes;
  • The idea that a miscounted election fails to be fair;
  • The certification for use in AZ of voting system products that had counting errors before;
  • The argument over whether certified systems can be de-certified on constitutional grounds.

For the latest regular press news on the case, see the Arizona Daily Star’s article “Appeals court OKs group’s challenge to touch-screen voting.”

Now let’s look at what Judge Philip Hall actually said in the decision: (Thanks to Mark Lindeman for trolling this out). The judge refers to a piece of AZ law, A.R.S. § 16-446(B)(6), that says: “An electronic voting system shall . . . [w]hen properly operated, record correctly and count accurately every vote cast.” That “every” is a pretty strong word! Judge Philip Hall wrote:

We conclude that Arizona’s constitutional right to a “free and equal” election is implicated when votes are not properly counted. See A.R.S. §16-446(B)(6). We further conclude that appellants may be entitled to injunctive and/or mandamus relief if they can establish that a significant number of votes cast on the Diebold or Sequoia DRE machines will not be properly recorded or counted.

As election-ologist Joe Hall pointed out, “Of course, I’m left wondering ‘what is significant?’ here. Sounds like a question we’ll hear a lot about in the future of this case!” Indeed we will. Of course neither AZ law nor the legal ruling provides a pre-scription for “significant” but note also that “significant” may be a relative concept, depending on how close a race is. (Thanks again to Mark Lindeman for the point.) We know it’s pretty easy for today’s voting systems to miscount modest numbers (hundreds) of votes, and escape the notice of humans; and we know that contests that close will occur. Does that mean we can’t use these voting systems?

I guess the argument is going to continue, both on “significant” in Hall’s decision, and on “properly operated” in the AZ law. And as we saw in Humboldt County and many other places, “operator error” is often in the eye of the beholder.

— EJS

Hasty Innovation: the Kind We Don’t Need

Today’s posting landed in my lap in the form of a note from election tech colleague and Pitt researcher Collin Lynch, as part of a discussion about the role of the Federal government (specifically the Election Assistance Commission, or EAC) in “fostering innovation” in the market for voting systems, and ensuring a “healthy market”. Well, of course, we think that there is plenty of room for improvement in voting systems, but there is a big difference between (for example) improved usability or reliability, and innovative changes voting system administration that require election officials to change how they do their job. But Collin hit the nail on the head:

Speaking as a software developer I think the cry for “supporting innovation” comes from two mistaken impressions.

  1. The mistaken impression that voting laws should somehow be concerned with the “health of the market”, that is, the EAC’s responsibility includes not only the stability of our democracy (difficult enough as it is) but also maintaining “healthy market” for the products of voting system vendors. This is a view that has caught on to some extent in defense spending and other areas but in my view a market exists soley to serve some need and artificially inflating that need, at best, tilts the market to no good end.
  2. The mistaken impression that the technology development process can be “stimulated,” especially when the market has real needs for problems to be fixed, problems that appear simple and therefore should be fixed quickly. For voting systems in particular, this is not true.

These are fundamental misunderstandings of how good systems development works and how it can be made to work. In the extreme I have seen purchasers of systems assume that programmers “can just work faster” without considering the costs of quality and stability this brings. This is a view encouraged by the (seemingly) breathless pace of .com development which of course ignores the long lead time many of these overnight successes have and the stability problems that result from alphas being rushed to market.

I couldn’t agree more. The last thing that we need in voting systems is encouraging vendors’ already-existing bent for innovative bell/whistle features that customers (election officials) didn’t ask for, and/or pushing for updated systems to be developed quickly and rushed through the regulatory certification and accreditation process. And while we at the TrustTheVote project are hardly in favor of foot-dragging, we do also recognize that quality, reliability, simplicity, integrity, and many other important qualities, fundamentally start with understanding what the customers need, and making sure that we build to those needs — and with the attention to quality and reliability that is needed to make it through the regulatory process as well.

— EJS