Monday, March 14, 2005

The Week Ahead: Legislative hearings on Secretary of State confirmation, voter privacy

On Tuesday, March 15, the Assembly Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on California voter privacy issues. The hearing will be chaired by my local Assemblymember, Dave Jones of Sacramento, and was prompted by an article by San Francisco Chronicle business writer David Lazarus, who reported last week that the political firm organizing signature-gathering efforts for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's initiatives had outsourced the petition signature verification process to an overseas company in India.

I'll be providing testimony to the committee about the California Voter Foundation's findings from our nationwide voter data privacy survey, "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age". The hearing starts at 9 a.m. and will be held in Room 4202 of the State Capitol.

Then on Wednesday, March 16, the California State Senate's Rules Committee kicks off the Bruce McPherson confirmation process. The Assembly Rules Committee has also set a date for its confirmation hearing, scheduled to take place on Thursday, March 17.

Last month, the Governor announced McPherson as his nominee for the office of Secretary of State, left vacant after Kevin Shelley's February 4 resignation. Before McPherson can formally take office, both houses of the Legislature must confirm him by a majority vote. Word around the Capitol is that there are ample votes in the Assembly to ensure McPherson's confirmation. Senate leaders said from the get-go that they would confirm McPherson, and it appears at this point that there will not be a confirmation battle.

Thursday's previously scheduled Voting Systems and Procedures Panel meeting has been postponed. The next scheduled hearing of this panel, which certifies California voting equipment, takes place on April 21. Many county registrars will likely be watching the agenda of that meeting closely to see what voting systems are up for certification. Several vendors are reportedly working to get new systems certified, such as ES&S' Automark and Hart's paper record component. California counties are racing to meet two deadlines -- the HAVA accessibility deadline and the voter verified paper trail deadline, which both kick in starting in 2006.

None of those systems were included in the March 17 meeting agenda. That agenda focused on Sequoia's optical scan system components and grandfathered systems.

An activist with the Democratic Underground web site posted an alert relating to the March 17 meeting which was widely recirculated online. Unfortunately, it included erroneous information that said the paper trail requirement was going to be challenged at this meeting. The Secretary of State's office was flooded with messages from worried and outraged voters. I checked with the author of the message and confirmed that he had erred on this point. In any event, the meeting has been postponed, and anyone who wants to keep track of the meeting agendas can do so via the Secretary of State's web site.

In Other News....there are two stories from last week on voting technology worth noting. One was the news that Sequoia has been purchased by Smartmatic, the company that provided Venezuela's electronic voting equipment, including a voter verified paper record component. The second news item comes out of New York, reporting that VoteHere, an electronic voting system company based in Bellevue, WA, that promotes electronic over paper verification systems, has hired a lobbyist to oppose a voter verified paper record requirement in New York State.

Note (3/15/05) -- Jim Adler from VoteHere contacted me to provide some corrections to this post. He notes that VoteHere is not an "electronic voting system company", as I wrote, but rather a company that offers "election audit software". He also informs me that VoteHere is not against voter-verified "paper records" but rather "paper ballots" as the only acceptable audit mechanism.

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