Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Is all mail-in balloting in California's future?

Today's Contra Costa Times features this article by Lisa Vorderbrueggen focusing on Contra Costa county's voting trends. Registrar Steve Weir says in the upcoming June Primary, more voters in his county will vote by mail than at the polls. Is all mail-in balloting in California's future? Excerpts from the story are featured below.


Contra Costans voting by mail may, for the first time, outnumber those who walk into their polling places June 6.

The trend mirrors a statewide uptick in voting by mail that hits election officials' budgets, alters campaign strategies and inches California closer to a day when it may have to choose between tradition and convenience.

"We're right now in the worst possible combination of both worlds," said Contra Costa County Registrar Steve Weir and incoming president of the California Association of Clerks and Registrars.

"We have to run a full precinct operation, and with the tremendous amount of turnout coming in the mail, I don't have the economy of either scale benefiting us."

Based on absentee ballot return rates thus far, Weir predicted Contra Costa could see mail-in voters overtake Election Day voters for the first time.

If it happens, Weir said, it may foreshadow a tipping point where most Californians vote by mail, and lawmakers may rethink whether it makes sense to deploy a massive and costly Election Day operation.

Like many California counties, the East Bay's vote-by-mail rate has risen steadily since the state's expanded permanent absentee voter program took effect in 2002.


Today, Contra Costa has more than 160,000 permanent absentee voters, and Alameda reports 280,000 on its rolls.

For most folks, registrars agree, it is a matter of convenience. No need to rush home to vote or drive aimlessly around looking for a parking space outside the polling site.

"More and more people prefer to vote by mail, and I don't see a reason why that trend won't continue," said Dave Macdonald, acting Alameda County Registrar of Voters. "Somewhere down the road, perhaps all voting will be done by mail. But for now, we have to do both."


A bill by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, that would have allowed California counties to adopt an all-mail voting system died in committee last year. At the time, Alameda and other counties faced serious problems obtaining certified voting equipment.

Hancock still likes the idea. "It's clear that people are voting by mail because they want to and in states like Oregon, it has increased turn-out," Hancock said. "Plus, it's cheaper, which would free up money for much-needed other services."

Critics of mail-in voting agree it saves money, but they dispute turnout numbers and suggest other concerns.

The turnout claim, said Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, is based on a percentage of registered voters who return ballots.

"All you have to do is purge your registration list of people who have died or moved, and you alter the percentages," Gans said.

Voting by mail is a convenience for upper- and middle-class voters, Gans said, that hurts the poor and disenfranchises people who may vote before relevant information surfaces about a candidate or an issue. Domineering family members may also exert pressure on spouses to vote their way, he added, which the voting booth privacy precludes.

The more likely outcome, said California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander, is a hybrid network of convenient, high-tech voting centers coupled with mail voting and improved security at the U.S. Post Office.

"I don't see polling places going away," Alexander said.

"For many people, voting on Election Day is one of the last remaining spaces in public life where people convene and participate in democracy."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NPR story highlights security risks with e-voting machines

On Saturday, NPR's "Weekend Edition" ran a nine-minute piece by Linda Wertheimer called Security Risk Seen in Electronic Voting Machines. The story focuses on the increased use of e-voting machines, and the new security hole recently discovered in Diebold's touchscreens. Mark Radke speaks in the story on behalf of Diebold, giving assurances that their equipment is protected, and that pollworkers make sure the systems are secure.

"I don't buy that at all," replies computer scientist Avi Rubin, who noted this security sometimes involves having pollworkers take machines home with them overnight. Rubin also says the new security hole is not only the most serious he's seen in any electronic voting system, it's also the most severe he's seen in any system.

While NPR was covering a polling place in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, an election official appeared with a Diebold pamphlet and pin number. The pollworker didn't know what to do with it, saying she was not told about a pin number or password, and that there's a lot of things she didn't know.

The piece opens up with Linda Wertheimer describing how we got where we are with electronic voting systems. The introductory text is below.


After the very, very close presidential election in 2000, when results were in doubt for weeks, Congress appropriated funds to help states modernize their voting. And companies that manufacture voting machines have rushed new computerized systems onto the market.

But there are concerns about the new machines. Apart from the inevitable glitches in new equipment, critics raise questions about machines that have no paper record of votes, and about the possibility that computerized systems could somehow be reprogrammed to change votes, perhaps even change the outcome of an election.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Radio Interview today on the June Primary

This afternoon, from 2-3 p.m. I'll be a guest on the Insight show hosted by Jeffrey Callison on Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. The show will focus on the upcoming June primary election, including topics such as voter registration and electronic voting. Those who want to listen to the show but are outside the listening area can hear a live webcast on Capital Public Radio's homepage (just click on the "listen live" link).

Monday, May 15, 2006

Secretary of State's race in the news

Today's Copley newspapers feature this story by Michael Gardner which takes a look at the office of the Secretary of State and the competitive primary contest being waged for the Democratic Party's nomination. The article spotlights the Democratic Party's two top contenders, State senators Deborah Ortiz and Debra Bowen, and discusses their positions on numerous issues. Excerpts are featured below.


They hold down the same job, belong to the same political party and even have similar first names.

So it's no surprise that state Sens. Debra Bowen and Deborah Ortiz are working to strike distinct chords with Democrats in a low-key primary campaign to be California's elections chief.

"In many respects, we are alike," said Ortiz, of Sacramento. "What distinguishes us is independence."

Bowen, of Marina del Rey, said it's her experience pushing election reforms that sets her apart.

"These are the issues I've worked on in the Legislature," Bowen said.

There are major divisions, however. The two Democrats part ways on same-day registration and whether voters should cast ballots on weekends. While Bowen has zeroed in on elections and privacy, Ortiz's career is marked more by health issues.

The survivor of the June 6 primary will go up against incumbent Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a Republican and former state senator appointed by the governor to serve out the term of Democrat Kevin Shelley, who resigned amid scandal 14 months ago.


The secretary of state is primarily responsible for upholding the integrity of the ballot box for nearly 17 million voters in 58 counties.

"The secretary of state decides whether voting systems are safe," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"It's such an important function that many states don't have it (elections) as part of the secretary of state. They have a separate elections board," she said.

Beyond the elections division, the secretary of state maintains a vast online database of campaign contributions and lobbyist earnings.

The site helps the public track where money is being spent to influence elections as well as legislation and holds a trove of elections data. The office also runs California's domestic partners registry and is the keeper of many corporate filings.

Like many other statewide races, the secretary of state campaign features a pair of entrenched Democrats about to be booted out of the Legislature by term limits. Bowen, 50, and Ortiz, 49, are in their eighth and final year in the Senate.

Bowen has used her pulpit as chairwoman of a Senate elections committee to promote legislation aimed at the Secretary of State's Office and also to improve voter confidence. She has been sharply critical of the handling of new voter registration requirements and California's compliance with a federal directive to introduce the next generation of electronic voter systems.

She has challenged McPherson's certification of some voting machines that critics say invite fraud and may be difficult for the disabled to use. And she has fought unsuccessfully to ban a secretary of state from taking sides in contested races or on ballot measures.

Some critics claim Bowen is using her position to carry measures and issue statements that attack McPherson as much as make policy. Asked if she agreed, Ortiz said, "It's appropriate for Sen. Bowen to advocate, but it's a fine line."

Bowen said she has always tried to distance policy from politics. But, she noted, "What's policy and what's political is always entwined."

While in the Senate, Ortiz has concentrated on expanding affordable health care. She fought to keep junk food out of schools, lost an effort to force insurers to cover stop-smoking aids and demanded more accountability from those in charge of the state's $3 billion stem-cell research program.

More recently, she introduced legislation to fund a biomonitoring program that would use volunteers to gauge chemical buildups in the body and the potential health effects.

On election issues, Ortiz has expressed frustration with her inability to secure additional funding for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, the agency that enforces campaign finance laws.

Bowen and Ortiz both oppose forcing voters to show identification at the polls, saying it would discourage turnout and raise discrimination issues.

"No one has yet demonstrated that the absence of voter identification has increased fraud," Ortiz said.

And they are opposed to casting ballots by e-mail.

"We're not even close to voting over the Internet. We can't solve the problems of security at polling places today," Bowen said.

"Internet voting lacks security," Ortiz agreed. "It deserves consideration, but it's not there yet."

The candidates split, however, over some other key issues.

Bowen opposes same-day registration, saying the state has struggled to process requests filed within the current deadline of 15 days before an election.

"We can't manage the system we have," Bowen said.

Ortiz said Californians should be able to register on election day as a way to stimulate interest and turnout.

"We must inspire voters -- not scare them," Ortiz said.

Bowen also rejects weekend voting, saying it could conflict with religious observances and create security headaches. Ortiz wants to explore weekend voting.

Ortiz and Bowen agree that voters should not be restricted to a particular precinct. They support allowing voters to go to the most convenient polling place.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Black Box Voting releases new Hursti study on Diebold touchscreens

Today Black Box Voting released this study by Harri Hursti describing the new vulnerabilities discovered with Diebold's electronic voting machines. What's been published is a redacted version; an unredacted version that includes more specifics about the potential attacks has also been produced but is not being widely distributed due to security concerns.

Also published today is another Oakland Tribune article by Ian Hoffman, featuring comments from prominent computer scientists and voting equipment examiners who say the security problem is the "worst ever" found in a voting system. Excerpts are featured below.


Election officials from Iowa to Maryland have been rushing to limit the risk of vote fraud or disabled voting machines since the hole was reported Wednesday.

Scientists, who have conferred with Diebold representatives, said Diebold programmers created the security hole intentionally as a means of quickly upgrading voting software on its electronic voting machines.

The hole allows someone with a common computer component and knowledge of Diebold systems to load almost any software without a password or proof of authenticity and potentially without leaving telltale signs of the change.

"I think it's the most serious thing I've heard to date," said Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin, who published the first security analysis of Diebold voting software in 2003. "Even describing why I think it's serious is dangerous. This is something that's so easy to do that if the public were to hear about it, it would raise the risk of someone doing it. ... This is the worst-case scenario, almost."

Diebold representatives acknowledged the security hole to Pennsylvania elections officials in a May 1 memo but said the "probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low."

California elections officials echoed that assessment Friday in a message to county elections chiefs.

But several computer scientists said Wednesday that those judgments are founded on the mistaken assumption that taking advantage of the security hole would require access to voting machines for a long time.

"I don't know anyone who considers two minutes lengthy, if it's that," said Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor and veteran voting-systems examiner for the state of Pennsylvania.

"It's the most serious security breach that's ever been discovered in a voting system. On this one, the probability of success is extremely high because there's no residue. ... Any kind of cursory inspection of the machine would not reveal it."

States using Diebold touch screens are "going to have to fix it because they can't have an election without having a fix to this," he said. Otherwise, states risk challenges from losing candidates while being unable to prove easily that the machines worked as designed.

At least two states - Pennsylvania and California - have ordered tighter security and reprogramming of all Diebold touch screens, using software supplied by the state and a method opened by the security hole. Local elections officials then must seal certain openings on the machines with tamper-evident tape.

David Wagner, an assistant professor of computer-science at the University of California, Berkeley and a technical adviser to the California secretary of state's office, said the new measures should minimize risks in the June 6 primary.

Elections officials in Georgia, which uses Diebold touch screens statewide, said existing state rules already are sufficient.

Bev Harris, founder of, a nonprofit group critical of electronic voting, said she isn't sure reprogramming and sealing the touch screens will fix the problem.

Voting machines often are delivered to polling places several days before elections, and the outside case of Diebold's touch screens is secured by common Phillips screws. Inside, a hacker can take advantage of the security hole, as well as access other security holes, without disturbing the tamper-evident seals, Harris said.

"Ultimately, there's no way to get rid of the huge security flaws in the design," she said.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New security glitch found in Diebold system

A new, dangerous security problem has been discovered in Diebold's electronic voting machines, as reported in this article by Ian Hoffman in the Oakland Tribune.

The problem revolves around the memory cards that are used to store electronic votes. According to computer scientists who have studied Diebold electronic voting machines, these memory cards can also be used to change the programming of an electronic voting machine. States that use Diebold's electronic voting machines are being urged to address the problem before upcoming Primary elections. In California, the risk is less severe than in other states because under California law Diebold's electronic ballots must be accompanied by a voter verified paper audit trail, which election officials must use to publicly verify software vote counts. However, other states that use Diebold's electronic voting machines, such as Maryland and Georgia, don't have paper audit trail and public verification requirements. Whether they are able to mitigate the new risks that have come to light remains to be seen.

Today's Oakland Tribune article provides more details about the new security problems and scientists' and election officials' reactions, and is featured below.


Elections officials in several states are scrambling to understand and limit the risk from a "dangerous" security hole found in Diebold Election Systems Inc.'s ATM-like touch-screen voting machines.

The hole is considered more worrisome than most security problems discovered on modern voting machines, such as weak encryption, easily pickable locks and use of the same, weak password nationwide.

Armed with a little basic knowledge of Diebold voting systems and a standard component available at any computer store, someone with a minute or two of access to a Diebold touch screen could load virtually any software into the machine and disable it, redistribute votes or alter its performance in myriad ways.

"This one is worse than any of the others I've seen. It's more fundamental," said Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer scientist and veteran voting-system examiner for the state of Iowa.

"In the other ones, we've been arguing about the security of the locks on the front door," Jones said. "Now we find that there's no back door. This is the kind of thing where if the states don't get out in front of the hackers, there's a real threat."

This newspaper is withholding some details of the vulnerability at the request of several elections officials and scientists, partly because exploiting it is so simple and the tools for doing so are widely available.

A Finnish computer expert working with Black Box Voting, a nonprofit organization critical of electronic voting, found the security hole in March after Emery County, Utah, was forced by state officials to accept Diebold touch screens, and a local elections official let the expert examine the machines.

Black Box Voting was to issue two reports today on the security hole, one of limited distribution that explains the vulnerability fully and one for public release that withholds key technical details.

The computer expert, Harri Hursti, quietly sent word of the vulnerability in March to several computer scientists who advise various states on voting systems. At least two of those scientists verified some or all of Hursti's findings. Several notified their states and requested meetings with Diebold to understand the problem.

The National Association of State Elections Directors, the nongovernmental group that issues national-level approvals for voting systems, learned of the vulnerability Tuesday and was weighing its response. States are scheduled to hold primaries in May, June and July.
"Our voting systems board is looking at this issue," said NASED Chairman Kevin Kennedy, a Wisconsin elections official. "The states are talking among themselves and looking at plans to mitigate this."

California, Pennsylvania and Iowa are issuing emergency notices to local elections officials, generally telling them to "sequester" their Diebold touch screens and reprogram them with "trusted" software issued by the state capital. Then elections officials are to keep the machines sealed with tamper-resistant tape until Election Day.

In California, three counties — San Joaquin, Butte and Kern — plan to rely exclusively on Diebold touch screens in their polling places for the June primary.

Nine other counties, including Alameda, Los Angeles and San Diego, will use Diebold touch screens for early voting or for limited, handicapped-accessible voting in their polling places.

California elections officials told those counties Friday that the risk from the vulnerability was "low" and that any vote tampering would be revealed to voters on the paper read-out that prints when they cast their ballots, as well as to elections officials when they recount those printouts for 1 percent of their precincts after the election.

"I think the likelihood of this happening is low," said assistant Secretary of State for elections Susan Lapsley. "It assumes access and control for a lengthy period of time."

But scientists say that is not necessarily true.

Preparations could be made days or weeks beforehand, and the loading of the software could take only a minute or so once the machines are delivered to the polling places. In some cases, machines are delivered several days before an election to schools, churches, homes and other common polling places.

Scientists said Diebold appeared to have opened the hole by making it as easy as possible to upgrade the software inside its machines. The result, said Iowa's Jones, is a violation of federal voting system rules.

"All of us who have heard the technical details of this are really shocked. It defies reason that anyone who works with security would tolerate this design," he said.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Riverside County activists to monitor voting equipment

Yesterday's North County Times features this article by Chris Bagley about Riverside County's voting equipment plans as well as this story about local activists' efforts to monitor their county's activities. Excerpts are featured below.


March was not a good month for the reputation of touch-screen voting machines.

In Chicago and surrounding Cook County, the nation's second-most populous, several of the machines failed in the March 21 primary elections. There were problems combining vote totals from those machines with the totals from a separate system. Losers from both major political parties later claimed that not all the votes had been counted, though elections officials disputed that.

New Mexico has decided to get rid of touch-screen machines altogether. A bill passed earlier this year will eventually require all counties in the state to use a system of paper ballots that would be marked with ink and counted electronically. Advocates insisted that voters had lost confidence in their touch-screen systems, which produced no tangible record of each vote and whose electronic counting process couldn't be double-checked by the average voter with the naked eye.

In Northern California, Alameda County, which adopted the touch screen machines five years ago, decided to put the machines aside and use inkable paper ballots for the June primary. Elections officials there said they couldn't make the machines comply with a state law requiring each voter to have a paper version of his or her vote.

In Riverside County, a pioneer in electronic voting, voters are preparing next month to use a new touch-screen voting system that is designed to allay many of these problems and concerns. Several watchdog groups fret, however, that the improvements won't be enough to save the voting and counting processes from delays and glitches like those that have cropped up in Chicago and several other communities across the nation.

Worse, the groups say, the machines could still fall victim from outright hacking attempts, though no such attempts have been conclusively documented.

"The security issues are so serious that we have doubts that the necessary measures could be put in place to ensure that the systems are bulletproof," said Tom Courbat, a member of the Temecula-area chapter of Democracy For America, which is organizing volunteers from a range of local political parties to monitor voting and vote-counting in the June 6 primary.


"The currency of democracy is much less protected than the money that people are just gambling away," Courbat said. "Does the public own this system or is it outsourced to a private company? That is the question. Who owns the common good?"

Riverside County's new machines are virtually identical to the ones they're replacing, but with a key addition: A small printer attached to the side of each new terminal creates a paper record of each vote.

The county is paying $14.9 million for the 3,700 terminals, minus a $2 million credit it received for returning the first-generation machines to Sequoia. The county is also receiving about $7.5 million in federal funds to help cover the purchase, according to Riverside County Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore.


Elections officials have long performed recounts on one precinct out of every 100, and a state law passed last year requires elections officials to use the printed paper records to double-check the electronic tally. If recounts disagree with the computers, officials can order a general recount.

Susan Marie Weber, who is vice chairwoman of the Libertarian Party of Riverside County, said she doesn't trust elections officials to select precincts on a truly random basis. The process uses computer software programs that Weber considers just as secretive as the tabulation systems inside the computerized voting system.


Riverside is one of 18 counties expecting to use Sequoia touch-screens and printers next month; several other counties expect to use similar systems made by Diebold. About 150 of the new-generation Sequoia machines were used earlier this year for city elections in Rancho Mirage and Riverside, with no major incidents reported. The county has received 1,325 of the new machines, with 2,375 yet to come, according to Dunmore.


The chief problem is that touch-screen systems are more complicated, voting activists on local, state and national levels say. Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said she believes the most secure option is a system of ballots that voters mark with ink and feed into electronic scanners, partly thanks to the relative visibility of the counting process. Such systems, like those recently chosen by New Mexico, are already in use in the counties of San Diego and Los Angeles.

"The success of every election depends on how well every election procedure is followed," said Alexander, whose nonprofit group monitors elections statewide. "You're counting on hundreds, if not thousands, of people to do that. There is a lot of new equipment being used (June 6) for the first time, and the primary is a complicated election. It will be a challenging day."

In another sense, complicated elections give touch-screen machines a chance to shine, advocates say. Unlike paper ballots, which typically have to be printed in two, three or more languages, a touch-screen user can select the appropriate language at the terminal. When considering the touch-screen system for 2000, Riverside County officials estimated it would save them some $600,000 in paper costs each election year, though Dunmore recently said that figure has to be adjusted to account for the 40 percent of voters who use absentee ballots.


Many users have praised the touch-screens as easier to use than paper ballots even as others have reported difficulty getting the right candidate to light up on the screen in front of them.

Skeptics such as Courbat and Alexander say the printers are big improvements over the paperless touch-screen machines they're replacing. Members of Courbat's group also say they've noted new security measures Dunmore has taken since taking office: For example, she has pledged to keep the vote-counting computer disconnected from the county's intranet, thus blocking a particularly wide avenue for potential hackers. But that broken connection is also one of several points that Courbat wants volunteers to monitor next month.

Skeptics in Riverside County also acknowledge the convenience and relative speed of counting votes from touch-screen computers. But they also worry that convenience and speed may have eclipsed the larger issues of security and reliability. As Alexander put it, having election results by midnight doesn't count for much if they remain in doubt afterward.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Voting equipment changes ahead for California counties

Today's Oakland Tribune features this article by Ian Hoffman about the voting equipment changes ahead for California this June. According to the article, "the share of California voters using touch screens has fallen to 32 percent, down from 43 percent in the March 2004 primary. In that election, 57 percent of registered voters lived in counties using optically scanned paper ballots and punch cards. Now, that's risen to 68 percent." More excerpts are below.


Most voters in California won't see much of a difference, but behind the scenes many counties are fielding new or upgraded voting machinery for the 2006 elections.

Gone is the punch-card ballot that until 2000 was a mainstay of California polling places, and for disabled voters especially, local elections officials are trying new blends of voting machinery to meet federal law on accessibility.

But in the biggest change, every county for the first time will have a paper ballot or backup record of votes as insur-ance against inaccuracy, fraud or breakdown of computerized voting systems. That means voters will see printers and paper, and lots of them.

In 2006, California will become the first entire state to have such a backup record, said Kim Alexander, a paper-trail proponent and president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation.

"Election officials rely on proprietary software produced by private companies to count the votes," Alexander said in a statement. "The voter verified paper trail requirement ensures that election officials have a meaningful, independent audit trail to use when they publicly verify the vote."

According to data collected by the foundation and released Thursday, 18 counties are putting new voting systems before voters in the primary this June. Most are swapping optically scanned paper ballots or punch cards for electronic, touch-screen voting machines that meet state and federal laws requiring paper trails and unassisted voting for the disabled.

Primaries are the most complex California election to run, because of the need to maintain partisan separation in ballots and tallies. Local elections officials prefer not adding to their headaches by rolling out new voting systems, so it is unusual for a third of the state to do so.

Yet most of those changes are in smaller, rural counties, and voters in most larger counties will use roughly the same kind of voting tools as in 2004, though the machines and software have been upgraded.

There are exceptions. Alameda County, for example, is leaving electronic voting largely aside for paper ballots to be carried to a central location and optically scanned. San Diego County is loaning thousands of its ATM-like touchscreens to other counties and for the better part is relying on optically scanned ballots as well.


San Mateo, Sonoma and seven other counties are doing something previously unheard of — running two different voting systems by different manufacturers, in parallel. Most San Mateo voters will cast ballots to be read and tallied on ES&S machines, while disabled voters will use more accessible HartInterCivic touchscreens at regional voting centers.

Yolo County planned to buy ES&S's accessible ballot-marking devices, known as AutoMarks and selling for about $5,000 each. But contract negotiations soured, and Yolo officials instead are using VotePad, a series of plastic ballot-marking booklets that come with an audio-cassette guide for the voter.

State elections officials question the legality of the idea, since the VotePad has not formally been certified for use in California.

"I think it's a clever work-around," said Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. "I think a lot of counties are just trying to get through one election at a time. They're using this election to try out a system without making a long term commitment to one system or vendor."

In many counties, manufacturers now are racing to deliver new software, new or rebuilt machines or new parts such as the printers that will supply paper trails for touch-screen voting machines. Warehouses where voting machines are stored are hives of activity these days, as testing of the newly arrived equipment occurs and programming for the June 6 election.

"It truly is chaos out there," said Tom Stanionis, director of technology for the Yolo County clerk/recorder's office.
But two thirds of the counties, including most of the large ones, are sticking with or returning to optical scanners, upgraded to the latest version.


Many elections officials also are eyeing the rise in absentee voting, already close to 50 percent in the Bay Area, and all of those votes are optically scanned.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

California first in nation to implement e-voting reform

Today the California Voter Foundation issued this news release highlighting the fact that all 58 California counties are on track to deploy new or upgraded voting equipment that guarantees every ballot cast will be backed up on paper that voters can verify before leaving the polls. This marks the first time when any state that had widely deployed paperless electronic voting machines has replaced or retrofitted all the equipment with voter-verified paper trail printers.

CVF also debuted a few new pages on our web site, including our updated Statewide Map and County-by-County Directory of Voting Systems. For those interested in seeing how California's voting systems have changed over the years, historic directories and maps dating back to 2002 are also available from the CVF web site.

While there are still many voting equipment challenges ahead for California, the June election marks a major turning point and a milestone for California voting accountability and transparency. Kudos to all the organizations, legislators, activists and election officials for their hard work to make the paper trail a reality for California voters.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Shake-ups in county election offices

Three county election offices are undergoing personnel changes just weeks before the June Primary election. Elaine Ginnold is leaving her position as Alameda County's Acting Registrar of Voters May 12 to become the new registrar for Marin County, according to this article in today's Oakland Tribune, and this article in the Marin Independent Journal. Marin recently created a new registrar of voters position after Michael Smith, who has served in that position as well as several others suggested the county break out the election duties from his position and create a new one.

In addition, longtime Monterey County registrar Tony Anchundo recently resigned from his position shortly before it was announced that he is being investigated by the District Attorney, according to this article by Larry Parsons in the Monterey Herald. Today's Salinas Californian features this article by Ria Megnin providing more details of the investigation, which is focused on nearly $25,000 in questionable purchases Mr. Anchundo made on his county credit card.

Monday, May 1, 2006

2006 Pioneer awards announced

The winners of the 2006 Pioneer Awards, sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, were recently announced -- they are Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster of Craigslist; Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge; and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia.

The work of all these winners is truly inspiring, and I was honored to serve as a Pioneer judge again this year. More details about the award and its recipients are featured in this news release. Excerpts are below.


This year's award winners all represent vital, community-building organizations dedicated to spreading knowledge in or about our digital world. They were nominated by the public and then chosen by a panel of independent judges for their innovations in the realm of information technology.

Craigslist is the world's most-used classified forum in any medium, serving as a non-commercial community service. Craigslist focuses on helping people with their basic needs -- starting with housing and jobs -- with a pervasive culture of trust. Craigslist's Craig Newmark founded the online community in 1995, and he still acts as a customer service representative. Jim Buckmaster has been craigslist's CEO since November of 2000, helping to transform it into one of the most popular websites in the world while maintaining its renowned public service mission.

Gigi B. Sohn is president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit organization that addresses the public's stake in the convergence of communications policy and intellectual property law, and serves as PK's chief strategist, fundraiser and public face. Sohn often testifies before Congress on intellectual property and technology policy, and she takes an active part in debates about proposed legislation.

Jimmy Wales is the founder and president of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit corporation that operates Wikipedia -- a free, online, collaborative encyclopedia. Wikipedia started in January of 2001, and now it's one of the most-used reference sites on the Internet, with editions in over 200 languages.