Monday, April 29, 2013

CA Assembly committee passes Internet voting bill with secret amendments

Last Tuesday at the California Assembly Elections committee hearing, AB 19 by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) was heard and passed on a 4-3 vote. If enacted, the bill would create a California online voting pilot program.

Over the weekend, while cleaning out some old papers, I had deja vu moment when I came across a December 4, 2000 news release issued by then-Assembly Majority Leader Kevin Shelley announcing the introduction of AB 55, which among other things, as originally introduced would have established an online voting pilot program under the direction of the Secretary of State. 

That provision was ultimately amended out, and Mr. Shelley would go on to become the Secretary of State of California and one of the nation's first political leaders to support a voter verified paper audit trail and mandatory election recounts. 

Shelley, who today serves on the board of Verified Voting, is one of many politicians who activists and technologists have worked with over the years to help expand understanding of the risks and opportunities technology can bring to the voting process. 

When I saw AB 19, my first thought was, "Here we go again." Every election there is a new crop of politicians, some of whom think Internet voting is like any other governmental process that can be migrated online. It isn't. And it can't. And that's why so many people showed up at the Assembly Elections committee hearing to testify against AB 19.

The committee analysis is very detailed and provides an excellent overview of California's recent efforts to upgrade and modernize our voting systems as well as the historic work of California's 1999 Internet Voting Task Force, upon which I served as a member.

The bill was opposed by a variety of good government and election reform groups, including California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Verified Voting, computer scientist and California Voter Foundation board member David Jefferson, and many activists from local political clubs and groups. Only one witness spoke in support and only one letter of support was on file with the committee, provided by Everyone Counts which produces and sells online voting systems.

Despite the overwhelming display of opposition, including that of Committee Chairman Paul Fong, the bill made it through the first hearing thanks to support and votes provided by Democrats Henry Perea (Fresno), Rob Bonta (Oakland), Raul Bocanegra (LA Valley), and Isadore Hall (Compton). In expressing his support, Mr. Perea misguidedly stated, "Considering all the technology we have, especially here in California, we should do this."

It appeared that Mr. Bonta and Mr. Perea had worked out some amendments with the author behind the scenes that not even the committee chair had seen. When Chairman Fong stated that the bill had to be voted on in the committee "as is" and amendments could be taken at the next committee hearing, the committee members overrode the chair and pushed the bill through, agreeing to secret amendments that still are not in print. 

It was a highly unusual maneuver and took everyone in the room by surprise. The bill passed on a 4-3 vote, with Chair Paul Fong and Republican Vice Chair Tim Donnelly voting "no" (both lawmakers spoke out strongly against the bill), and Republican Dan Logue also voting against it.

The bill goes next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which Mr. Bocanegra and Mr. Hall both serve on - it will be interesting to see if they change their votes on AB 19 or if they continue to give the bill their support.

The hardest part about observing the Legislature's elections committees is that every member thinks he or she is an expert on this topic, since all of them have been through elections. This dynamic can make lobbying on election reform very difficult.

It took Mr. Shelley 20 months to amend his online voting pilot program language out of SB 55 back in the 2001-2002 session. While more than a decade has passed, the security issues remain the same - it is simply not feasible to facilitate secure, online voting while protecting a person's right to a secret ballot and the overall integrity of the election process. 

For more on why Internet voting is not feasible, see this excellent essay, "If I can shop and bank online, why can't I vote online?" by Dr. David Jefferson.

Monday, April 22, 2013

My Gluten Free and Gluten-Reduced Beer Picks!

On my blog I usually write about voting and elections issues, but today I offer something a little more personal and out of the ordinary.

Almost four years ago I went gluten-free after seeing a health care practitioner who suggested I try it to see if it would benefit my health. It did, and I have become an enthusiastic advocate of the gluten-free diet. 

Giving up French bread and pasta were not so difficult, but giving up beer was a big challenge. As a longtime Northern California resident I have grown very fond of all the delicious microbrews produced in and around our region, especially on tap! Sure, there are gluten-free alternative drinks such as cider, wine and anything made with vodka. But there is nothing like a rich, foamy draft beer!

I set out with a goal to try as many gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers as I could. Unfortunately, the ones most widely available at that time (2009) were not at all to my liking. A six pack of Redbridge ended up getting poured down the sink, as did New Grist and Bard's. Clearly my assignment was going to take some extra work.

The first delicious gluten-free beer I ever tasted is Estrella Damm Daura, from Spain. A special brewing process is used to process out the gluten, resulting in a fresh, delicious tasting lager perfect for a Summer day. It's sold in a four-pack for around $8 at Total Wine, Bevmo and Whole Foods.

While I think Daura is delicious, I prefer strong ales. My next favorite GF beer is Green's, a Belgian beer that comes in a variety of flavors. These beers are strong in flavor as well as alcohol content, and though a little pricey (usually about $5 for a 17 ounce bottle), you may not want to drink more than one. But while Green's looked and behaved the way I think beer should, the flavor is a little peculiar, and some describe as syrupy, as it is made from sorghum. My quest continued.

Next came along New Planet, a GF beer company operating in Colorado. The first flavor I tried was their Raspberry Ale. This is one of two GF beers I have tried that are made with fruit (the other is Dogfish Head's Tweasonale, made from strawberries). Not being a fan of sweet beer, I was not initially excited by New Planet. But I went ahead and gave their other flavors a try. I particularly liked their Off Grid Pale Ale. They have created new flavors and packaging and are sold in moderately priced four-packs usually available at Total Wine, Bevmo and Whole Foods. 

After some further digging online, I came across Soba Ale, a beer made from buckwheat that was created by Iron Chef Masaharo Morimoto and produced by Rogue in two 22 ounce bottle flavors - Soba Ale and the darker, Black Obi Soba Ale. Although not gluten free (it still has malt in it), since it is made from buckwheat it is gluten-light. And both flavors are absolutely delicious! 

On a tip from a staffer at Total Wine, I gave Midas Touch, from Dogfish Head a try. This was the first of their "Ancient Ales" series and the ingredients are "based on molecular evidence found in a Turkish tomb believed to have belonged to King Midas. It's a sweet yet dry beer made with honey, white muscat grapes and saffron," according to the DH web site. I don't know exactly is in it, and it's a little sweet and very strong (9%!) but it works for me. It's expensive - a four pack is usually around $10-12 - but it is not hard to find in most specialty beer markets and supermarkets that carry a good selection of beer.

Now a few years into my quest, the beer buyer at my neighborhood market, Taylor's, was keeping an eye out for me. One day he said he said he had something new for me to try - Omission. Brewed by
Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, OR, Omission is a wonderful, West Coast microbrew that is produced the way any other beer is, with malted barley, but then an additional step is taken to process the gluten, resulting in a gluten-reduced (though not gluten-free) beer. Omission comes in two great flavors, Pale Ale and Lager, and is fairly widely available in many beer shops and high end grocery stores. We now purchase this beer by the case for our household and bring it to parties where it is enjoyed by everyone!

Finally I had a good, bottled ale to turn to, but still I was pining for the real thing - beer on tap! One evening at Dad's Kitchen, my neighborhood restaurant/taproom, I met the beer makers from Six Rivers and told them about my quest for a gluten-free beer on tap. To my surprise and delight they informed me that Berryessa Brewing Co., located in Winters (a mere 40 minutes from my house!) is producing a gluten-reduced House IPA. I could not wait to try it!

The Six Rivers guys also clued me into a new Belgian ale, called Brunehaut (pronounced "Bruno"), produced by St. Martin. It comes in two flavors - Amber and Blonde Ale - and both are strong and delicious. This is a very pricey, imported beer, usually running around $14 for a four pack, but if you want to splurge it is worth it! Like Omission, this beer is produced like a regular ale then processed to break down the gluten, making it gluten-reduced, not gluten-free. It's pretty hard to find too - so far I've only found it locally at Pangaea Cafe and the Davis Beer Shoppe (though it shows up in Total Wine's inventory no one was able to locate it in my local store on a recent visit). 

Our field trip out to Berryessa Brewing one weekend afternoon was a day I will never forget. Berryessa Brewing is out in the middle of an orchard field, a very simple place that every weekend is packed with happy patrons, musicians, food trucks, dogs, kids, potlucks - it is everything you want in a microbrewery! 

Beermaker Chris Miller is producing the House IPA and other drinks, and adding a special enzyme to break down the gluten and make it easier to digest. (This may be what the other gluten-reduced manufacturers are doing too but just being more secretive about it). Berryessa Brewing's House IPA is available on tap at many establishments in Sacramento, Davis, Winters and a few in San Francisco as well (check their Facebook page for locations). The brewery also sells and fills growlers that are pressurized and capped tight, and will stay fresh in your fridge until you open them for a good week or two. 

It took almost four years for my gluten-reduced beer quest to be achieved, but with Berryessa Brewing's House IPA I can finally enjoy a pint on tap with my friends at many of my favorite places in town. Adding this extra processing step does nothing to take away from the flavor. My only hope is that more beermakers will realize that they too can offer a delicious, gluten-reduced beer and give their patrons more options!

Bottom line:  If you have Celiac, the best beer to try are those from New Planet. If you are gluten-intolerant, or just want to cut back on your gluten intake, there are now a wide variety of choices for you, Omission being the tastiest and easiest to find at this time. Bottoms up!

A well-stocked beer shop in Cole Valley, SF offers Omission & Midas Touch

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

2013-14 Calif. Election Bills to Watch

With spring well underway, the California Legislature is also in full swing, with policy committees now hearing newly introduced bills for the 2013-2014 session. Many bills have been introduced that, if enacted, could significantly impact California voting and elections. 

Below is a rundown of those that have come to our attention, organized by the following topics:  Voting Technology; Voter Registration; Disclosure; Vote by Mail; Disaster Preparedness; Youth Voting; Initiative Process; and Civic Education. Please note that many of these bills are in the process of being amended and the descriptions provided are subject to change. 

Today the Assembly Elections Committee will take up several of these bills at their 1:30 p.m. hearing at the State Capitol, Room 444. The full hearing agenda is available online, along with links where the public can listen to or watch the hearing online. The Assembly committee has additional hearings scheduled on April 23 and May 7; the Senate Elections Committee meets on April 30.

More information about the bills, including texts, co-authors, committee staff analyses, amendments and when and whether they get scheduled for hearing, is from the official California legislative information site, now featuring a new, HTML-friendly display format that makes legislation much easier to read online.

Voting Technology
  • SB 360/Alex Padilla (D) - allows a county to develop or contract for voting system before it has received federal qualification.
  • AB 19/Phil Ting (D) - directs the Secretary of State to implement a pilot program for online voting.
  • AB 813/Melissa Melendez (R) - requires election results to be published online in a format that can be downloaded.
  • AB 829/Paul Fong (D) - requires election management systems software to be escrowed in a manner similar to existing voting system software escrow requirements.
Voter Registration
  • SB 361/Padilla - requires the Secretary of State to provide voters with statewide access to online lookup tools that help voters locate their polling places and verify registration, vote by mail ballot and provisional ballot status, and also allows the Secretary of State to enter into data sharing agreements with other states to maintain accurate registration data.
  • SB 44/Leland Yee (D) - requires state web sites to link to the Secretary of State's online voter registration site.
  • AB 1122/Mark Levine (D) - requires the Secretary of State and Department of Motor Vehicles to fully comply with the National Voter Registration Act (also known as "Motor-Voter").
  • AB 843/Dan Logue (R) - requires proof of residency requirements for a conditional registration application to be deemed effective.
  • SB 111/Jim Beall (D) - allows a signature stamp to be used by certain voters to register to vote online.
  • SB 756/Cathleen Galgiani (D) - allows Election Day registration to begin in 2014 instead of waiting until VoteCal, the state's new online voter registration system, is deployed.
  • AB 1170/Tim Donnelly (R) - changes current law to require rather than permit counties to remove inactive voters from registration roles.
  • AB 938 and AB 149/Shirley Weber (D) - these bills address voting rights for those convicted of felonies.
  • SB 27/Lou Correa (D) - enhances disclosure of proposition campaign donors.
  • SB 3/Yee - makes numerous changes to state disclosure rules and, among other provisions, directs Secretary of State to work toward a state and local unified campaign finance disclosure system.
  • AB 400/Fong - requires initiative, referendum and recall petitions to name top donors to the committee paying to circulate petitions.
  • AB 800/Richard Gordon (D) - strengthens FPPC's pre-election auditing and enforcement authority (bill responds to $11 million anonymous donation in Nov. 2012 initiative campaigns).
  • SB 52/Mark Leno (D) - proposes extensive revisions to the Political Reform Act in order to implement the new "California Disclose Act".
Vote by Mail
  • SB 29/Lou Correa (D) - allows ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within three days of the election to be counted.
  • AB 1135/Kevin Mullin (D) - lets county registrars use other registration documents in addition to registration application to verify voters' signatures.
  • AB 269/Shannon Grove (R) and Jim Patterson (R) - Vote-by-Mail ballots for military and overseas voters would be accepted if postmarked by Election Day and received within ten days.
  • AB 530/Sharon Quirk-Silva (D) - allows counties to accept Vote-by-Mail ballot applications over the phone.
  • SB 589/Jerry Hill (D) - allows counties to use additional election materials besides registration affidavit to very vote-by-mail signatures and also requires counties to provide a free access system for at least 30 days after an election is certified so voters can find out if their Vote-by-Mail ballot was counted and if not, why not. 
Disaster Preparedness
  • SB 362/Padilla - requires Governor and Secretary of State to establish procedures for voting during disasters.
  • AB 214/Nancy Skinner (D) - directs Secretary of State to develop regulations for voting in a disaster (online voting provision has been amended out of bill).
Youth Voting
  • SB 240/Yee - requires polling places on UC and CSU campuses for statewide general elections.
  • SB 267/Fran Pavley (D) - requires polling places on community college, UC and CSU campuses under certain circumstances.
  • ACA 7/Mullin - allows 17 year olds who will be 18 by the General election to vote in the Primary election.
  • SB 113/Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) - lowers the age when Californians can pre-register to vote from 17 to 15 and allows pre-registration to begin immediately instead of waiting for VoteCal to be deployed. 
Initiative Process
  • ACA 6/Mike Gatto (D) - requires initiative constitutional amendments to get 55% of vote to pass.
  • SCA 6/Mark DeSaulnier (D) - requires initiative measures (other than bonds) to identify a funding source.
  • SB 477/Darryl Steinberg (D) - intent is to require initiative campaign committees to receive a certain number of small contributions to demonstrate grassroots support for the proposed initiative before collecting large donations. 
Civic Education
  • SB 619/Yee - requires civics education for state employees. 
  • AB 700/Jimmy Gomez (D) - requires social science instruction in grades 8-12 to include a voter education component.