Don't Bogart that Serial...

copyright, friends

From Laura ("serial numbers are non-copyrightable"):

Serial numbers are non-copyrightable - Southco v. Kanebridge Corp., No. 02-1243, 3d Circ., en banc, 12/3/2004.

DU Bans Bev Harris... My Thoughts

elections, reform, news, wtf?, chilling effects, politics

(Note: Comments here do not express the opinion and/or position of my school, employer or collaborators... only my own.)

It looks like Bev is no longer allowed to post to Democratic Underground:

Wired News: Site Bars Black Box Voting Head

By Joanna Glasner

Democratic Underground, a political discussion site that has been a popular forum for debate on the reliability of computerized voting machines, has barred one of its most prominent and outspoken contributors on the topic from further posting.

In a written statement, site administrators said Friday that they barred Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, because her postings on the site "have made positive discussion of verified voting increasingly difficult."

This is interesting... and it will allow me to talk a bit more about a post I did recently ("Activists crash tribute").

I talked to a few people off-line (in the real world, that is) about that post. That is, I usually post snippets, with no real original contribution of my own, to my linkblog, Not Quite a Linkblog. Why did I post such a terse comment to a snippet in my main blog? Well, because I had deliberately been avoiding the topic of Bev Harris in public fora. Why? Because I didn't want to be in the outs with Bev and her crew (Jim March, specifically). That particular incident in Florida seemed so over-the-top that I just had to say something. (It turns out that Bev et al. describe the incident differently, (that is, they thought it would be during a speech by LePore, not a tribute to her) but not so differently as to excuse their actions.)

So, for people not familiar with voting circles and to explain myself to those that are, on to Bev: while most if not all people I have talked to are either pro-Bev or anti-Bev, I am somewhat in between. That is, I definitely appreciate some things that she has done, but definitely feel embarrassed for the entire nonpartisan voter protection movement when she grandstands, crashes a going-away party for an election official or gives a straight-faced demonstration of a chimpanzee hacking an election for journalists and members of congress.

I work with voting system vendors, election officials, activists, lawyers and the public constantly. There is nothing more frustrating than having to overcome a barrier put in front of any of these crowds due to the actions of another crowd. When I was writing the voting machine information sheets, there were times that I had to explain that I wasn't a hacker and had no specific desire to paint the vendor in a poor light.

Bev and certain elements of the voting activist crowd really need to ask themselves a simple question, "What is the best way to get this thing done?" Is it one that makes it very difficult to work with election officials? Is it one that causes the majority of intellectuals and reasonable people to discredit all your other work?

So, there. Bev and her crew do very good things... like the recent FOIA requests and increasing the level of transparency in election administration, for one small example (there are many more). I still remain hopeful that Bev et al. will stop loosing focus and fighting these silly PR wars... and why in holy hell does Bev need a trademark for "Clean Up Crew"? Is she worried that another voter protection organization will take it and unjustly get donations under that name? That's silly.

We need cooperation in voter protection, not spinning wheels and infighting. With respect to that, I'm not sure this post did much to help, but it does give a few of you an idea of the reservations I have with either the pro-Bev or anti-Bev crowds.

First Sale and a Patentee's Right to Prohibit Imports

patents, SIMS, friends

Paul (another SIMS PhD) and I had been discussing the interaction between first sale and a patentee's right to prohibit importation of his previously-sold art. That is, if the patentee sells products that practice his patent to someone in a foreign country, can that patentee subsequently exclude importation of the same goods? (This is relevant to TRIPs' parallel importation provisions.)

Well, I did a little digging and it seems that this area of patent law is a little ambiguous at the moment... Read on for more.

Full story »

NRC: "A Framework for Understanding Electronic Voting"

system, elections, certification/testing, accessibility, reform, vendors, standards, news, open source, secrecy, privacy, politics, SIMS, problems, friends

The Committee for Electronic Voting - under the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) - recently issued a call for papers for input on what questions policy makers should be thinking about given the current state of electronic voting. Here's the loot:

There are a lot of good submissions here... I'll be reading them in my copious free time and posting comments here.

Interesting Quotes / My Comments

Here are my random thoughts and things I learned from reading these submissions (The Neumann piece is a tad dense, I'm not sure how to go about evaluating that... I'll use it more as a reference.):

"For example, the time-stamped logs identifying voters can be cross-referenced against voter-intake rolls in order to verify an accurate count of ballots." -page 9 of SIGCHI submission.

I hope they are referring to keeping track of the total number of votes cast in a polling place compared with the number of voters that have signed registration poll books. Anything more detailed has the potential to compromise ballot privacy and secrecy.

"Many voters using machines activated with SmartCards assumed that their votes are stored in the card, and were confused by seeing the cards returned to the registration table and recycled: "He told me that there were about 20 cards at the precinct; it was at that point that it really struck me that there was no back up for my vote.'" on page 11 of NIST

This is an interesting point, the machinery of our elections is so complex that voters simply don't understand it; they think that what little technical ability they've had with computer machinery before might translate over to voting technology. Also, we've seen cases where one person will say something emphatic about how a voting machine works in a polling place and everyone will believe them and spread misinformation (most notably when, on Nov. 2, Matt Drudge ran reports from Philly of machines not recording votes... when what was really going on was that a ballot style/precinct number display panel was being mistook as a cast vote incrementor)... would that be groupthink?

"Further, if we are going to make usability a requirement for any voting system, we must clearly define how we measure usability so that we can evaluate the outcome of the UCD process against those requirements." from page 16 of NIST.

I found this to be a very important point from the earlier NIST human factors in e-voting report... we have to be able to consistently evaluate and compare voting system usability of vastly different technologies. That's not necessarily and easy thing to do...

"One solution for access to voting by individuals with disabilities that is allowed by HAVA is to have one accessible voting booth per polling place. While we recognize that for budgetary reasons this might be the only feasible solution initially for many jurisdictions, we suggest a critical look at this situation from a long term perspective. This single point solution has a number of problems: [...]" page 17-18 of NIST.

Amen, brother... we raise this in our paper by pointing out that this provision in HAVA will allow the continued sale of very old voting systems qualified against the 1990 standards for years into the future. (Although with Sequoia being sold by De La Rue, who knows... Danaher / Guardian sure as hell doesn't seem to be marketing anything that would meet this requirement of HAVA.)

"The Electronic Privacy Information Center has submitted a public records request to obtain the full unredacted version [of the MD SAIC report]." from page 3 of Simons.

I didn't know EPC had done this... way to go! I would like to see more.

"Just as NASA cannot perform an actual test of a spacecraft landing through a Martian atmosphere onto Martian gravity, no election commission can test an election system in advance under completely realistic situations. As such, then, the machines used in elections require engineering standards with at least the rigor we would expect for remote spacecraft." from page 2 of Buell and Bayes.

This is an interesting comparison... I've heard voting software compared to gambling and aviation contexts, but never the pulling off of an election to the pulling off of a space mission. Would a space mission management be a good model for an election? Sounds compelling. The basic rationales in space mission management are careful planning, testing and redundancy. We're missing a lot of that in voting.

"We believe those who are knowledgeable about software are unimpressed by the certification of reliability by the ITAs. We would be much more impressed if the legions of graduate students around the world had tried and failed to do their worst against the ESS or any other electronic voting machine." page 6 of Buell and Bayes.

;) Hook it up d00d!

"It may not be possible to obtain absolute assurance that the election process is reliable, but a closed system whose trustworthiness is bought and paid for by private enterprises with a vested interest in the results is neither believable nor acceptable." page 11 of Buell and Bayes.

This is a particularly eloquent way of making a subtle point. The solution is somewhat complex. Should the feds pay for qualification? Should the vendors pay into a pool of money used to qualify voting systems from? It's clear that having the testing authorities being the direct customers of the vendors in the testing process does not result in sufficient testing.

"3. Paper Backups - In addition to these steps, election jurisdictions should prepare to provide voters with paper ballots upon request. Every state has procedures for absentee and provisional balloting, and those procedures should be extended to voters who choose not to use a DRE that cannot be audited." page 8 of EFF.

This really hasn't been emphasized enough. Counties must have back-up plans in case their voting equipment is completely non-operable. Cities like New Orleans in the recent 2004 election that had no paper back-up plan saw the loss of an untold number of votes when the entire parish's voting machines went down.

(Now I'm just going to quote interesting stuff from the VVF whitepaper)

page 3:

"New Orleans, Louisiana: 80+ reports with 42 reports of total breakdowns, with long lines and voters turned away from polling places, for example, 'All voters have been unable to vote on touchscreen machines. There are no paper ballots. The precinct official tried to call the Sect'y of State's office for guidance but could not get through. (Not clear if county officials were contacted). Precinct officials don't know what to do.'"

"Dauphin, Mercer, and Philadelphia Counties, Pennsylvania: Dauphin County had five reports of machine power failure and faulty machine operation. 'There were only 2 machines available for the largest precinct in the area at 101 18th Street, but only one of the machines worked.' Mercer County had 15 reports of catastrophic machine failure. All voter machines were down, and makeshift paper ballots were provided but in some cases were not secured. Philadelphia reports included 28 complaints of misrecording of votes as well as 28 reports of total breakdowns."

page 4:

"yet another [report] mentioned a machine that would only take votes in Spanish."

"'When a handicapped voter can't get inside the polls, the machine is brought out to the voter. But because all the machines are connected, everything inside stops until the handicapped voter is done voting.'"

(Note that usually two poll workers have to accompany a terminal outside of the polling place for this type of "curbside" voting. If this requires the number of election staff in the polling place to drop below a number mandated by procedure, they have to temporarily close the polling place to allow the disabled voter to vote. I've spoken to Doug Jones, the expert on the machine this county was using (the ES&S iVotronic) and removing one terminal from the daisy chain does not impair the other voting terminals connected to it via serial cable. This must then be a personnel problem.)

page 6:

"Some regulatory agencies require incident reports and routinely investigate potential safety problems. Should there be a mandatory or voluntary incident reporting system for election problems? If so, what sort of problems should be reported, at what level of detail? How should reports be investigated? What agency or agencies should have the responsibility of collecting the reports and investigating them?"

page 10

"But there may be opportunities for innovative use of technology as well. For example, San Mateo County Registrar of Voters Warren Slocum used a 'web-cam' to broadcast the testing of the machines in his warehouse over the internet."

Google Alerts?

Google alerts screenshot

This could be old news...

Everyone knows that you can sign up for Google to send you alerts about a news items that match a query. However, it looks like it also allows you to get alerts whenever something is added to the Google search results for the same query. So everytime something is added to your favorite obscure query, it will let you know

It's interesting that this isn't offered through the main Google portal... I wonder if this is a feature or a bug. That is, are they rolling it out slowly and it just happens to be activated (or at least you can get to it) through Google News?

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