Integrating two solutions (related to the Calif. bill thread)

From: Jim March <1_dot_jim_dot_march_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Wed Jan 21 2009 - 11:30:59 CST

Folks,

Let's step back a sec and look at the landscape here.

There are four reform solutions on the table right now:

1) Improve the oversight process (mostly meaning Federal level - EAC,
ITAs, NIST, etc.). This is doomed, no further discussion needed I
don't think...it flat out can't work, nowhere near enough eyeballs on
the code even if the eyeballs are honest.

2) Hand-count paper ballots. Not "as" doomed, but still difficult and
with crap like solvent washing or ballot switcheroos, not totally safe
either.

3) Open-source vs. closed-source systems (OVC's thing). As is being
thrashed out now, even with open source there are issues related to
firmware hacking (a significant threat!), falsified code in the field
and how you block that, etc. To reiterate: right now OVC's top
potential customer in LA (Dean Logan) is as far as I'm concerned a
confirmed crook who at *best* covered up criminal wrongdoing in
Seattle...and at worst outright stole the WA governor's race. Still
and all, OVC's proposed solution is way better than the
Diebold/Sequoia/Hart/ES&S/etc retards.

4) Post-election public scanning - now and forever likely to be called
"The Humboldt Solution". In this model paper ballots are used, and
then publicly scanned on high-speed standard commercial scanners.
CDs/DVDs/whatever of the ballot images are handed out to observers
right there AND shipped up to the Internet so that in case an election
looks wonky, we can gather the necessary eyeballs from across the
country or even world and do a distributed hand-count after the fact.
There are some very basic rules that have to be applied: for starters,
the system that produces the scans must be totally standalone and NOT
contain any Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software or hardware,
or any pre-programmed information on ballot layouts/styles/contents.
This is an example of "artificial stupidity": the scanning station
can't be rigged to cheat in software or hardware because it doesn't
know enough about the ballot graphic images to cheat. This worked
spectacularly well in Humboldt County, where hundreds of dropped votes
and a new Diebold bug were discovered via this process. Hardware
costs are surprisingly low: a station about to scan over 100 ballots a
minute double sided can be set up for around $16k tops...two or three
of these in a big county would offer enough performance plus some
failure redundancy.

Both 3 and 4 are really tied into general openness principles, and
hence could be supported in the same bill as they're not only "not
mutually exclusive", they're mutually supporting - both work better
with both present.

What I'm asking is, can we integrate the Humboldt solution with OVC's
overall gameplan, maybe going so far as to code it into the proposed
bill? Now, I'm not saying this is a demand, it's a suggestion and
please take it that way. But I will tell you Black Box Voting is
going to be pushing "Humboldt scanning" as "part of the complete
package" of necessary reforms (including more transparency) and very
likely the most important bit even over and above open source itself.
Properly run and monitored, with touchscreens totally out of the
picture, this type of post-processing scan could in theory allow a
county to continue running crapola gear (even Diebold!) safely -
without tossing out their investment in existing junk.

In the case of a county like LA that really needs a whole new set of
kit anyways, the combination of OVC gear as currently proposed *plus*
separate scanning gear will still blow the doors off of Diebold or the
like in terms of cost efficiency.

Would we rather see an OVC solution combined with post-processing
scanning, versus a "Diebold or whatever and scanning" solution? Well
I know *I* would, and while I haven't asked Bev Harris about that
particular point I suspect she'd agree.

Humboldt-style scanning is actually part of a bigger issue:
transparency and open government principles in general. This has to
be more closely aligned with election processes.

A section of the bill supporting Humboldt-style scanning (adding on to
what Alan Dechart has already written) might look something like this:

----
All systems approved under this legislation must meet the following
additional requirements:
1) The official ballot of record must be paper, and of either "legal"
or "letter" size formats.
2) Paper ballots will be subjected to a secondary scanning process
under which graphic "snapshots" of each ballot image will be preserved
electronically.  Copies of the ballot images shall be made available
immediately on write-once media such as a CD or DVD to members of the
parties, citizen groups or press who request them, where such
requestors would otherwise meet the requirements for enhanced election
observation Election Code 15004.  Standard public record pricing for
electronic media shall apply, with no "preparation charges" allowed.
Copies of the same ballot image graphics shall be uploaded to the
Internet as quickly as practical, either via the county's systems or
by websites operated by the California Secretary of State, at the
county's option.  The systems used to scan ballot images shall be
subject to pre-election inspection under Election Code 15004, shall
not be connected to any other system (election specific or otherwise),
shall not contain any "optical character recognition" ("OCR") software
or hardware and shall not be pre-programmed with ballot layout or
definition information of any sort.  The sole purpose of the scanning
system shall be to make a public record of the conduct of the election
so as to allow a "double check" of these systems.  The hardware and
software for performing this post-processing scan can be standard
commercially available parts; open source solutions are preferred
where practical but are not required.
3) Counties running state-approved open source voting solutions must
pay particular attention to public records and related transparency
measures, including Election Code 15004.  An open-source solution
offers improvements in system transparency only so long as such
transparency is supported by the county government.
----
Jim's notes: for those not aware, California Election Code 15004 sets
up rules to have parties, citizen groups and the press do "system
inspections" before and during elections.  There is also a cap on the
number of inspectors, with political parties having "first pick".
This limits the number of noses poking in, and by following that here
we end up limiting the number of CDs/DVDs the elections staffers have
to burn on election night.
Jim
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Received on Thu Jan 7 00:09:48 2010

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