Monday, April 20, 2009

Panel discussion: The Future of Voting Technology

This is the panel that I have looked forward to most, since it is the closest to my own research in the area of online voting. I'm not sure how much time the panelists will devote to online voting compared to electronic voting; my guess is that most of the discussion will be on electronic voting machines, ballot design, open source machine software, and

The panelists:

Debra Bowen, California Secretary of State
Norman Ornstein, AEI Scholar
Aaron Burstein, UC Berkeley ACCURATE research fellow
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Founder, National Science Foundation CyberTrust ACCURATE Center

Just a guess, but I think this panel will tilt to the conservative on security issues.

Expanding Broadband Access - panel discussion

Minorities still lag behind whites in access to broadband internet service. Mike McCurry (Clinton WH press secretary) is one of the panelists discussing broadband and expanding access for poor and rural areas. The panelists are talking about expanding broadband for getting access to telemedicine, educational materials, and other info, but this is also important if online voting is ever to be tested on large scale.

Online Voting at the Politics Online Conference?

Online voting came up a couple of times at the Secretary of States panel this morning. First was an offhand comment by CA Sec of State Debra Bowen. Answering a question about privacy and security concerns with the use of new technology for registration, applying for absentee ballots, etc she said something like, "if we had online voting I would have to keep a file of all voters' iris imprints. I don't want to keep a file of your iris imprints." Then the moderator said, "But I want to vote online!" And Bowen replied, ok I'll keep your iris imprints. So, not a very serious intro to the online voting discussion, in my opinion. Then Bowen said there was a panel this afternoon devoted to online voting. Not really, it seems to me. The panel is called "The Future of Voting Technology" and seems to include alot on electronic voting machines. We'll see...

Then there was one question specifically on online voting: "Which of you Secretaries of State will have the bragging rights to being the first state to offer online voting?" Brunner: there is a program I think in Texas where one county e-mails PDFs of the ballot to overseas military personnel. We would like to do something like that. It is a slow process, we will take it slowly.
Bowen: we do that now (e-mail PDFs of ballot overseas) but then people have to fax them back and that compromises secrecy of ballot. More Bowen: we could have an online voting system now, but to have a secure system it would be prohibitively expensive. With only a few elections each year, the cost would not be worth the benefit. Also Bowen added: "I'm sure someone will figure out a way to do this, eventually." Well, maybe not if the people in this room are not even working on it.

PDFs? Faxes? For two very impressive Secretaries of State, who have made impressive progress in bringing online gvernment services to their constituents, these answers about online voting did not impress me. Clearly, online voting is not at the top of their agendas - they are working on improving technology in voting, but right now online voting is not part of it.

This conference is not about online voting. It is about campaigning and organizing online, delivering govt services online, using social networking sites for political campaigns, using electronic media effectively. But as someone who is writing a dissertation about online voting, I wish there was more work being done by the conference participants on this issue.

Live from the Politics Online Conference

I'm at the Politics Online Conference at the Ronald Reagan building in downtown DC. It is sponsored by the sponsored by the Institute for Politics Democracy at GWU and the Internet and Politics Magazine, with a big presence by Google,, and other politics/news/tech companies.

On the opening panel this morning we heard from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Brunner has created many ways for Ohio voters to go online to get info about elections - how and where to register and vote, applying for absentee ballots, candidate guides, but also capturing voter e-mail addresses so the SOS office can send reminders to send it absentee ballots. Ohio partnered with Google, Pew, and the JEHT foundation to set up sophisticated online tools for voters.

Brunner is a big fan of absentee voting and she did alot to encourage voters to choose this method. They had a program called "avoid the line," as in avoid the line on Election Day. I was in Columbus, Ohio on election day 2004 and I will never forget the long snaking lines of people standing in the rain on that gloomy November day. Back then (before Brunner, when Ohio had a Sec of State who was more interested in preventing fraud than encouraging participation) absentee voting was very limited. In 2008 about 30% of the state's voters cast an absentee ballot, and Ohio avoided the lines and bad publicity from 2004. But what if the election had been close in Ohio, like it was in Minnesota? Would Ohio have seen the same problems that Minnesota has faced since Election Day? Probably, and with a new absentee voting law in Ohio the litigation ther could have been even more of a tangled mess than it has been in MN. Did not have a chance to ask Brunner this question, but will try to catch her later if she is still here.