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by Michelle Marie

Sunlight on NASED ITA Reports

elections, certification/testing, reform, vendors, standards, news, problems, research, policy, legal

(Cross-posted at Freedom to Tinker.)

Short version: we now have gobs of voting system ITA reports, publicly available and hosted by the NSF ACCURATE e-voting center.

Long version: Before the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) took over the testing and certification of voting systems under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), this critical function was performed by volunteers. The National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) recognized a need for voting system testing and partnered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to establish a qualification program that would test systems as having met or exceeded the requirements of the 1990 and 2002 Voting System Standards.*

However, as I've lamented many, many times over the years, the input, output and intermediate work product of the NASED testing regime were completely secret, due to proprietary concerns on behalf of the manufacturers. Once a system completed testing, members of the public could see that an entry was made in a publicly-available spreadsheet listing the tested components and a NASED qualification number for the system. But the public was permitted no other insight into the NASED qualification regime.

Researchers were convinced from what evidence was available that the quality of the testing was highly inadequate and that the expertise didn't exist within either the testing laboratories to perform adequate testing or the NASED technical committee to competently review the ultimate test reports submitted by the laboratories (called Independent Testing Authorities (ITA)). Naturally, when reports of problems started to crop-up, like the various Hursti vulnerabilities with Diebold memory cards, the NASED system scrambled to figure out what went wrong.

I know have more moderate views with respect to the NASED regime: sure, it was pretty bad and a lot of serious vulnerabilities slipped through the cracks, but I'm not yet convinced that just having the right people or a different process in place would have resulted in fewer problems in the field. To have fixed the NASED system would have required improvements on all fronts: the technology, the testing paradigms, the people involved and the testing and certification process.

The EAC has since taken over testing and certification. Their process is notable in its much higher level of openness and accountability; the test plans are published (previously claimed as proprietary by the testing labs), the test reports are published (previously claimed as proprietary by the vendors) and the process is specified in detail with a program manual, a laboratory manual, notices of clarification, etc.

This is all great and it helps to increase the transparency of the EAC certification program. But, what about the past? What about the testing that NASED did? Well, we don't know much about it for a number of reasons, chief among them that we never saw any of the materials mentioned above that are now available in the new EAC system.

Through a fortunate FOIA request made of the EAC on behalf of election sleuth Susan Greenhalgh, we now have available a slew of ITA reports from one of the ITAs, Ciber.

The reports are available at the following location (hosted by our NSF ACCURATE e-voting center):

http://accurate-voting.org/docs/ita-reports/

These reports cover the Software ITA testing performed by the ITA Ciber for the following voting systems:

  • Automark AIMS 1.0.9
  • Diebold GEMS 1.18.19
  • Diebold GEMS 1.18.22
  • Diebold GEMS 1.18.24
  • Diebold AccuVote-TSx Model D
  • Diebold AccuVote-TSx Model D w/ AccuView Printer
  • Diebold Assure 1.0
  • Diebold Assure 1.1
  • Diebold Election Media Processor 4.6.2
  • Diebold Optical Scan Accumulator Adapter
  • Hart System 4.0
  • Hart System 4.1
  • Hart System 6.0
  • Hart System 6.2
  • Hart System 6.2.1

I'll be looking at these in my leisure over coming weeks and pointing out interesting features of these reports and the associated correspondence included in the FOIA production.

*The distinction between certification and qualification, although vague, appears to be that under the NASED system, states did the ultimate certification of a voting system for fitness in future elections.

The Passing of John Gideon

elections, news, friends

Co-founder of VotersUnite! and good friend, John Gideon, died last night in Seattle after suddenly coming down with (what appears to have been) bacterial meningitis.

I haven't seen an obituary yet, but when one is written, it will show that he spent his life in service to this country, with the last few years as a central pivot point in the election integrity movement.

(BradBlog has a moving post about John up now; however, as John knew, I don't endorse, link to or otherwise traffic in Brad Friedman. So, you'll have to go find it yourself.)

Frankly, I am having a hard time getting much done today, as my thoughts constantly return to John, and the uncertain future of all things election-related. It's so true that "we don't know what we had until it's gone", but I'd like to think I appreciated John and his work quite a bit when he was still with us. However, to fill his shoes is going to be a big task; one that will take many of us to pitch in where we can.

I'd like to point something out and make a proposal. John was underappreciated, in my opinion. People who knew him probably knew him best through either his 7-days-a-week Daily Voting News which aggregated all news stories about voting technology for over five years. He also tirelessly worked to keep all of us honest; through intellectual inquiry for people like me, through watchdog-like activity and public records requests for election officials and by not pulling punches when it came to getting to the bottom of advocate positions and perspectives.

So, now the proposal: I think the best way to honor John Gideon would be to set up an award, scholarship or fellowship for under-appreciated election integrity work. There are too damn many ways for people who are at the forefront of their work to be recognized: MacArthur awards, Nobels, Fields, Turings, etc. What we need more of are honors for people that are just doing their goddamn jobs, doing them well, consistently and happy to continue to do so. That was John.

Neil Gaiman on longer works

friends

If you don't know Neil Gaiman, know that he's a superb sci-fi/fantasy writer.

He also has an uncanny knack for social media including a well-written and well-read blog and about 100k followers on twitter. On his blog he regularly answers questions submitted by fans, which is totally cool for a popular writer to do!

I've sent a number of questions to Gaiman. The penultimate question I sent, that wasn't answered, was inspired by a layover in the Salt Lake City airport and asked about how Gaiman decides what book to buy in an airport bookstore. I get the feeling that the answer--he doesn't buy books in airports--was just too obvious.

Recently I actually had one answered!:

Hiya,

So, you clearly have novels in you. But do you have something longer in you?

I've recently become a fan of sorts of heptalogies (seven book works). Harry Potter is the most obvious example but the two I've recently read that struck me as pure masterpieces are King's Dark Tower series and Weiss and Hickman's Death Gate Cycle.

I have a sinking suspicion that the best work from you will come after wrestling with stories and themes that might only fit in a longer work.

Something like the ten volume (or twelve, or fifteen volume, depending on which spin-off books you count), 2,500-plus-page-vastness of Sandman, you mean?

Yep, I can do that.

No, no real plans ever to do it again. But you never know: if I wind up starting a story that I realise demands that kind of length, I'll write it at that length. Certainly, in the decade since I finished Sandman I've really enjoyed not writing multi-volume epics.

Ouch.

It's hard writing these kinds of questions such that they're interesting and provocative enough to elicit an answer but also demonstrate the respect I have for the craft. And I can imagine answering questions from legions of fans can be even tougher and mind-numbing.

I guess I didn't get across my central point: that I was asking about longer novels, not graphic works. I'm not sure why that makes a difference to me but I often prefer a low picture-to-text ratio with my sci-fi/fantasy (although a ratio of zero is usually not ideal).

The thing that has struck me about the longer series I've read is that each of them seem to be the writer's masterpiece (the two mentioned above along with Harry Potter and the Dune series are shining examples of very well done series of novels).

And I guess what I meant to ask Gaiman is more along the lines of: what form do you think your masterpiece will take? Do you think you've already penned it? Does a masterpiece necessarily have to be long or is yours more succinct? Is it even a novel?

And something I didn't get across is that I have this innate feeling that a Gaiman series of the caliber of King's Dark Tower books would probably set the high-water mark for interesting sci-fi/fantasy for our time.

But it sounds like he thinks differently, and that's just fine too.

RefTex, I never knew I missed thee

hacks, open source, friends, education

Recently, Eric Rescorla told me about RefTex, a tool that makes writing documents in LaTeX with emacs just a tad bit easier.

Specifically, RefTex:

  • Can display a table of contents of your document in another sub-window, making the navigation of .tex files almost effortless. (using C-c =)
  • Allows for the insertion of \labels and \refs (etc.) and keeps an internal list of these things for easy insertion. (using C-c ( for labels and C-c ) for refs)
  • Allows for simple but powerful insertion of \cites by parsing the associated BibTeX file and displaying a list that you can select from. (using C-c [)

It does a bunch of other cool stuff like being able to jump to a label and renaming of labels and refs. Anyway, 'nuff said... it's very cool.

If you're using emacs greater than version 20.2, it's probably already installed... just open a .tex file in emacs and look at the status bar at the bottom of the window. If it says something like LaTeX Ref than RefTex is already on and you can try out the commands above. If you don't see that Ref in the status bar to indicate RefTex is on as a minor mode, type M-x reftex-mode and it should toggle on. (In this case, you'll want to put a hook in your .emacs file to trigger the RefTex mode when you open .tex files.)

I found one quirk that's a bit more trouble than I'd like: when I update a .bib file using tools external to emacs (like JabRef), somehow RefTex doesn't know about any changes I make in the .bib file. For example, if I add a cite using JabRef and save the .bib file, typing RefTex' C-c [ to add that new cite doesn't work; it doesn't know the .bib file has changed and spits back Sorry, no matches found.

Here's one way around this: keep the .bib file open in emacs. When you change the .bib file using an external tool, go back to the .bib file that's open in emacs and type any key; emacs will complain because the file has changed on disk. If you then type r, emacs will revert the copy it has of the file to the one on disk. After this, RefTex seems to know that the .bib file has changed, reparses that file and then C-c [ does work as expected.

Bless your heart if you've read this far! For that, you get one last treat: using all these tools together with BibLaTeX is a writer's dream. These are very powerful writing tools.

UPDATE [2009-04-12T06:49:17]: It turns out that the problem with updating .bib files was due to not having auto-revert-mode enabled. That mode makes sure that any changes on disk are noticed immediately by emacs. You can enable this mode in your .emacs by:

(global-auto-revert-mode t)

Thanks to Leo on the AucTeX list.

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