Re: Draft Proposal Concept for California Secretary of State -- Feedback Wanted

From: Jim March <jmarch_at_prodigy_dot_net>
Date: Tue May 10 2005 - 12:08:50 CDT

Here's my proposal for the "Why are current products inadequate?"
section. I agree with an earlier poster in that it should be short.
They mentioned one page, I think it can be chopped down below that.

The text below is more "brainstorming" than anything else. Chunks of it
are probably useful as-is, some may be "over the top". I have less
experience than Arthur or others with proposals such as this and I
suspect the level of emotion I've put in is a bit much in places.

Call it a starting point for comments, or mine it for bits'n'pieces.



The Problem
Why are current products inadequate?

The design goal of this tabulator project is to build a system to be
used at a county election office's headquarters that can read paper
ballots from a variety of incoming sources and hence leverage existing
infrastructure currently used to create absentee ballots, precinct
optical scan systems and similar hand-marked paper ballots.

We don't believe a long discussion of the credibility issues faced by
current closed-source solutions is necessary here. They have been
correctly referred to as "black boxes" - questions about the integrity
and corporate ethics of several of the vendors has already been noted,
especially Diebold Election Systems but others as well. It is now well
understood that professional evaluations such as the RABA report called
for a "complete code rewrite" of Diebold's entire product line over a
year ago and no such effort has been noted by any observer. Bizarre
offshore financial interests have been noted in at least two cases;
current US law forbids overseas campaign finance in Federal elections so
there is legitimate public concern that having foreign corporations with
questionable overseas political connections count votes is just as improper.

In at least one case a California county paid over $400,000 to Diebold
to escape their contract due to the persistent poor public perception of
the vendor's honesty and by extension, that of the county elections
process. This drive to do "publicly clean elections" will only accelerate.

Our goal is to produce a system that can "bootstrap" onto existing
infrastructure quickly, allowing greater transparency and auditability,
increasing public confidence in the process and reducing costs.

Even if not universally used, the existence of truly transparent and
trustworthy election-specific data processing systems will spur
competition along the same lines by other vendors. When counties have
the option of purchasing a "transparent box system" instead of a "black
box", public pressure towards transparency will increase and as it
occurs, so will public trust.

It is the opinion of the authors of this proposal that it is this lack
of public trust that is causing an alarming increase in election-related
violence. This last election cycle featured vandalism and theft
directed at campaign offices and resources on an unprecedented scale.
We are horrified at this development. Nobody has died yet, and we pray
to various deities that the situation doesn't get to that point. But we
sincerely fear a future in which election transparency is tossed aside
on a whim as has been the case to date.

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Received on Tue May 31 23:17:30 2005

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