Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chicago conference for better elections

I've spent the past two days in Chicago at the Election Verification Network conference, where I delivered remarks this morning about the the need to modernize voter registration in California and shared the "sneak peak" findings of our nationwide state election website assessment project for the Pew Center on the States in collaboration with the Center for Governmental Studies.

It's been fantastic to be here in Chicago with all these folks - computer scientists, statisticians, election officials, activists, academics - to discuss the latest challenges and opportunities in election technology and verification.  It's been kind of sentimental too, as I organized the very first convening of this group, also held in Chicago, back in April 2004.  Then, about 26 people participated; now the Election Verification Network (EVN) conference has expanded to close to 100 folks.

One of the highlights of the conference was Reverend Jesse Jackson's address Friday morning, where he described our work advancing election verification as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that he pushed for and is still being fought for in many ways today.  One of the topics he addressed was the impact that "states' rights" laws have on voting rights nationwide and how difficult it is to give voters any guarantee that their voting rights are protected in every state.

At these election conferences lately I am often left wondering why it is that the federal and state governments don't pay counties for the costs of putting on state and federal elections? If they did then those dollars could come with strings attached that would give voters some guarantee of certain rights and expectations of voting system performance.  There'd be plenty of money to pay for more training and pollworkers and voting centers where people could register on election day and get their registration records updated.

The voting transaction is one of the rare times a person interfaces with the government as a voter and instead of making the most of the opportunity we let people fall through the cracks because we have an antiquated, 19th century system being operated out of people's garages.

Fortunately there are lots of concerned, thoughtful people around this country who care about elections and are putting their minds and hearts to the task of making elections work more effectively (and yes, even in this environment of scarce resources, that's possible to do). It's been a privilege to spend time in their company here in Chicago.

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