At Least It’s Not Diebold…

[I just put the tea ball into the tea, and its steeping and cooling…]

The Daily News is reporting [it’s not in the LA Times yet] that Los Angeles County is rolling out a new $25 million voting system, and this system has election watchdogs concerned. Why, you might be asking yourself, would people be fearful of electronic voting. We all know how safe and reliable the systems (cough) are (cough). Could it be all the problems that Diebold Election Systems has been facing, from viruses that could change votes to unsecure physical access.

No. Here the concern is different. We’re not talking touch screen voting here: we’re talking the Inkavote voting system, which is an optical-scan, paper based voting system. The new system is the the InkaVote Plus system by Election Systems & Software; the system includes ballot counters and software at 4,900 precincts throughout the region, using technology developed by Unisyn Voting Solutions, a subsidiary of Carlsbad-based International Lottery & Totalizator Systems Inc.. Why is this a concern? Obstensibly, it is because Berjaya Lottery Management, a Hong Kong-based firm that operates gambling establishments and casinos, owns 71% of the outstanding voting stock of International Lottery, and there are fears of foreign involvement.

Black Box Voting, a nonpartisan, nonprofit election watchdog group, has different concerns: specifically, that the new system will only be used in Los Angeles County and the public cannot assess the reliability of its proprietary software.

For politicians, such as State Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach, candidate for Secretary of State), both are an issue. Bowen noted that, “Ownership is obviously an issue, particularly when we have secret software that nobody can see or evaluate. The disclosure of the software, which some of these vendors claim is a trade secret, would go a long ways to assuring people that the software isn’t doing something it’s not supposed to be doing.”

The county is confident in the system. LA County Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack noted that these companies and the equipment has been through federal and state rigorous testing and is certified for use. I’ll note the same is true of Diebold. More important, however, is McCormack’s point that it is a paper ballot voting system so recounting is pretty easy. Having paper records, in my opinion, is key.

The following statement by McCormack, however, should raise the hackles of the open source folks out there. It even bothers me, and I see value in proprietary software… that has been appropriate peer reviewed and subjected to objective external evaluation. McCormack said, regarding the software, that “The software developed for InkaVote is proprietary software. All the software developed by vendors is proprietary. I think it’s odd that some people don’t want it to be proprietary. If you give people the open source code, they would have the directions on how to hack into it. We think the proprietary nature of the software is good for security.”

Just keep this in mind when you vote in November. By the way, I just received my two-pound (or at least it seems that way) Voter Information Guide. Whew. I’ve looked over the propositions. On first glance, I’m inclined to be against all bonds and against all things that raise the cost of doing business in California: we just don’t need that right now, with a looming recession. I might be for 1A and 90, and I’m unsure about 83 (good idea, but too expensive). More analysis and opinion about that as the election draws closer.

[Well, the tea’s a nice golden colour, so it is off to productive endeavours for me.]


So What’s On Your Ballot?

tsgeisel has provided a very interesting link to a list of initiatives currently in the process of qualification for the California ballot. In other words, you may be seeing these in the future. I’d like to highlight a few of these that caught my eye, whilst eating lunch:

  • Elections. Electronic Voting Machines. Prohibits electronic voting in any election, except in counties already operating electronic voting machines if machines generate voting receipts, the software source code is a public record, and local election officials regularly count 10% of paper record. Requires all votes be hand- counted by registered voters summoned for elections duty like jurors. Allows paroled felons to vote. Prohibits peace officers from preventing voters from voting absent suspicion a crime will be committed. Permits voter registration until election day; expands polling hours. Bans restrictions on mail voting. Reduces maximum precinct size to 400 voters. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: This measure would have the following major fiscal impact: Increased local government costs to administer elections, potentially totaling in the tens of millions of dollars annually.

    A number of interesting ideas in this one. I don’t like prohibiting electronic voting, but I do like the idea of mandatory receipts, open source code, and auditing of the paper record. I don’t like reducing maximum precinct size.

  • State Payments to Parents of Public School Children. Standardized Testing. Amends state law to require that a grant of $1,000.00 be awarded to the parent or guardian of each public school student in grades 2 through 11 with a score of proficient or higher on all portions of the California Standards Test administered pursuant to California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program. Provides that California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction shall determine qualifying scores for grant purposes, and provides for an annual appropriation from the General Fund to the Superintendent of Public Instruction to fund the required payments. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Annual state costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion to provide grants to families of students performing well on standardized tests.

    I think this would cost the state too much; it might also run into problems with legal vs. illegal immigrants. I do think the incentivizing is a good thing, but it might be better as a tax credit or deduction. However, I could imagine the accounting or reporting would be horrendous. It would also require schools to have SSNs of students; potentially a bad thing.

  • Marriage. Invalidation of Domestic Partnerships. Amends the California Constitution to provide that a marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in California. Amendment bars domestic partnerships from being valid or recognized as legal unions in California. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Unknown, but probably not significant, fiscal effect on state and local governments. The impact would depend in large part on future court interpretations.

    This is just an example, there are three or four in this vein that invalidate or eliminate domestic partnerships, or give exclusive legal status to married spouses. This falls into the “hell no” category: this is government intrusion into religion. Just because a particular religion feels a particular marriage is illegal, immoral or fattening doesn’t mean that those in such marriages shouldn’t be afforded the same *legal* rights: survivorship, hospital visitation, inheritance, court protections. Religion also teaches that we should persue justice.

  • Vote Requirement. Taxes. Redefinition of Fees/Charges. Redefines certain local fees or charges as taxes, which require approval by the electorate. Redefines certain state fees or charges as state taxes, requiring enactment by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature rather than current, majority vote. Requires two-thirds vote of Legislature for any statutory change that results in any taxpayer paying a higher tax. Provides that any state or local tax, fee, or charge adopted after January 1, 2006, which was not adopted in compliance with this measure, is void 12 months after the effective date of this measure. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Potentially significant decrease in state and local revenues from certain fees or charges, depending upon future actions of the Legislature, local governing bodies, and local electorates.

    Again, an example of something of which there are multiple. This is a taxpayer revolt against all the ways that government has figured out to get around the taypayer limitations that have been voted. I think it would be better to do a revision of the infamous Prop 13 that would have an every 10 year value freeze (i.e., property purchased since the last freeze would have the value frozen at the next freeze point).

  • State Holidays. Statewide General Elections. Provides that statewide general election days shall be state holidays. Further provides that public schools and community colleges shall close on statewide general election days, and that certain public employees, including public school and community college classified employees, may be entitled to a paid holiday on statewide general election days pursuant to collective bargaining agreements. Makes other non-substantive changes to renumber certain statutory subdivisions. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Increased state costs of up to $18 million annually, depending on future collective bargaining negotiations.

    Bad idea. A better approach would be to require up to 2 hours of paid time off for voting, either at the beginning, meal break, or end of the workshift, if that workshift falls during voting hours. This would keep businesses open, yet ensure people vote.

A number of the others are clearly special interest, or clearly unconstitional (restraint on interstate commerce). To give you an idea, there are a number of “wealth taxes”, which typically go along with reducing corporate income taxes. There are extra taxes on cigs or booze for various purposes. There are further restrictions on sexual predators (including lifetime GPS monitoring). There’s a measure that attempts to ban political spending by corporations (which if you think about it, could legally affect only spending on California measures or by California corporations, making it pointless).

The site is fascinating. You really should look on it. You should also think about these when someone shoves a petition in your face to sign for the ballot.