Thursday, June 16, 2005

Report on today's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel hearing

Today the Secretary of State's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel (VSPP) met in Sacramento. The panel membership has changed since the last meeting. Current members of the VSPP are: Brad Clark, chief of the elections division; Caren Daniels-Meade, who is in the Secretary of State's communications office and is a veteran staffer of the agency; Bill Wood, Undersecetary of State and chair of the panel; Lee Kercher, head of Information Technology for the Secretary of State; and Daniel Gullahorn, a deputy of the state information office.

David Jefferson is no longer on the VSPP, but has been renamed as chair of the Secretary of State’s Technical Advisory Board (TAB), which will provide outside technical input to the Secretary of State on election technology issues. Other members of the TAB include UC Davis computer scientist Matt Bishop, UC Berkeley computer scientist David Wagner, and Loretta Guarino Reed, who is an expert in accessibility issues for Adobe Systems.

There was a huge, outspoken crowd at the Secretary of State’s office today. About two hundred people showed up, many traveling from around the state to attend and participate. There was a line out the door when I arrived this morning, and the meeting started late to give people time to get in and get seated.

It was quite a lively meeting, with audience members cheering, applauding and booing at various times. Several speakers represented disability rights groups, and a few registrars testified but most of the 50 or so speakers who testified were there to register their opposition to Diebold voting equipment.

Speakers were limited to two minutes, which upset many people who wanted to transfer their time to other speakers (a practice that was not allowed). On several occasions speakers went beyond their two minutes and continued talking even as the chair, Bill Wood, told them their time was up. One particularly insistent speaker was nearly escorted out by security officers.

The VSPP heard several hours of testimony. My testimony is available online, and focused on the need for the procedures that accompany Diebold’s touchscreen voting machines with a voter verified paper trail to use that paper trail, rather than printouts of electronic ballot images, to conduct the one percent manual tally required to verify the accuracy of the vote counting software. I also raised concerns about the testing proces of Diebold’s voter verified paper trail printer, specifically that Diebold supplied a machine to California for testing that was a different model than the one supplied to the federal government.

The hearing will continue tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. and Chairman Bill Wood indicated that the panel would continue to solicit written testimony from the public on the meeting's agenda items until June 30. The VSPP is not planning to make a recommendation to Secretary of State Bruce McPherson on the Diebold equipment; rather, it is gathering public input through this hearing process and through written testimony that will be presented to the Secretary of State for consideration when he makes his certification decisions.

Those who wish to submit testimony can do so by writing to Bruce McDannold, who staffs the VSPP, at

One thing is for certain -- voting security continues to be an issue of serious concern to many California voters. So many people took time out from their work day to participate in the hearing. Though the hearing was heated and unruly at times, it was inspiring to hear the many passionate comments made by speakers about how much they cherish democracy and their right to vote.

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