How to Really Tie a Tie


So, I've been having to dress nicely more often these days. One thing that continues to be a work-in-progress is tying a tie (not to mention folding a pocket silk). I think I've finally figured out a method for tying a good solid, symmetrical and tight knot with the dimple in the tie under the knot (which Bob Glushko refers to as "wall street cleavage").

Here's a pictoral tutorial that I've cooked up...

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New documents on the CA SoS's site

elections, news

"The American Ballot" by Spencer Albright

elections, reform, copyright, research, policy

To add to my small but growing library of historical voting materials, I present: "The American Ballot" (14MB PDF) by Spencer Albright (published by the American Council on Public Affairs in 1942).

Here is the compelling forward to the book, authored by O. Douglas Weeks of the University of Texas Department of Government, in its entirety:

The free election ballot is both the supreme symbol and the principal working tool of democratic government. It is the all-important material object which democracy has sought to substitute for the battle-axe or the hangman's noose both as an emblem and as a weapon in the settlement of civil disagreements. The struggle to effect and maintain the substitution has been a long and difficult one; and it has not yet ended. In a very real sense, it is an important phase of the present world conflict. Something has been gained, however, even in the countries where democracy has been tried and abandoned, for their rulers have retained the "ja" ballot as a useful device with which to create the appearance of popular approval of their authority. Thus the semblance, if not the essence, of democracy lingers in their midst.

In the remaining democracies, however, the so-called free ballot is only more or less free. Many obstacles to its use as an untrammeled medium in the expression of the voter's choice are to be found in our own country. Some are to be traced to the circumstances surrounding the procedure of casting the ballot-to machine politics, to the faults of our election laws, and to the defects of our election administration. Others require for their removal basic changes in the organization of state and local government. The long ballot, the excessive number of local areas in which elections are held, and the multiplicity of elections generally are examples in point. Complete ballot reform, therefore, must await the realization of more fundamental reforms.

Short of this, however, there are many possible improvements in the form of the ballot proper. Correction of defects on the face of the ballot has made extensive progress in the United States during the past half century. The use of the publicly printed ballot as a principal feature of the Australian ballot system, almost universally adopted between 1888 and 1900, was a fundamental gain. So in the twentieth century almost continuous amendment of the ballot laws has been the rule. Many of the changes have been for the better; but the development has been very uneven from state to state, with the result that variations in ballot forms all the way from the most indefensible to really model features may be found in present-day election law provisions.

The criteria of a good ballot form are hard to determine. Perhaps the most important consideration is that of making the ballot as easy as possible for the voter to mark, so as not to deter him from voting, and if he does vote, to reduce the possibility of his becoming confused and thus either invalidating his ballot or marking it in a manner not expressive of his true intent. Of course, it is possible to render his task too simple, which is the case, in many states where the party circle appearing on the ballot overemphasizes partisanship and discourages thoughtful and independent voting. The relative merits of the party-column and office-block types of general election ballots, both of which are widely used in the United States, have been frequently discussed by students of ballot forms. Equally important are the problems of the non-partisan ballot and the proper form of the primary ballot. Lastly, the voting machine as a fool-proof and labor-saving substitute for the paper ballot and the inevitable difficulties entailed in its marking and tabulation, is a most important topic for those who are interested in simplifying the task of voting. These and other matters must be carefully weighed on the basis of facts and experience if defensible standards are to be set up.

Dr. Albright in the present study has attacked primarily the problem of collecting and comparing in a comprehensive and careful fashion the facts in regard to the manifold ballot forms now in use in the United States both in the general and primary elections and in regard to the extent to which the voting machine has been adopted and the results attained in its use. A work of this kind has been needed for some time. In recent years the ballot has been considered in a number of books concerned with broader phases of politics and elections, but not for many years has so extensive a study of the ballot as this one appeared in print. Here are summarized the changes of the past quarter-century and particularly those of the last decade.

Department of Government
The University of Texas

New Voters With Disabilities Suit in California


As Dan Tokaji and Cindy Cohn point out, a lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by advocates of people of disabilities against the Secretary of State in California and seven counties in California (See " Disability Rights Suit Over California Voting Equipment" and "Voting Security Attacked In Court Again"). Here is a searchable (OCR'd) version of that complaint.

Dan does a great job of summarizing the suit so I'll try not to be redundant with what he said. I do want to point out a few things that I found interesting.

First, it is interesting to note which counties are not named as defendants in the suit. A quick glance at the Secretary of State's list of voting systems used by each county in California's recent primary election shows that there are counties that meet the exact criteria of some of the defendants but that were not named. None of the twenty counties using the Sequoia AVC Edge DRE with VVPAT or the four counties using the Hart eSlate DRE with VVPAT were included despite the fact that neither of these systems read the contents of the VVPAT record to voters with visual disabilities. The suit names only three out of the eleven counties that used the AutoMARK for HAVA compliance. It also only names Alameda county as having violated HAVA by using the VVPAT-enabled version of the DESI AccuVote-TSx when there are ten other counties that used the same model (including the largest, Los Angeles County, where presumably many voters with visual and manual disabilities reside). The plaintiffs fault Yolo county for not having an accessible system at all, which Dan notes is a serious issue of HAVA non-compliance.1 However, the suit also claims in paragraph 13 that six other counties were in the same situation but does not name these counties as defendants (and the suit neglects to mention Nevada county which also had to rely on HAVA-non-compliant optical scanners). I'm unsure as to why the plaintiffs chose this particular set of defendants and didn't simply list every single county in California as violating their reading of the accessibility provisions of HAVA. Later: Dan points out that it would be a hard case to manage with so many defendants; if they can get a ruling responsive to their claims with this set of defendants, then other counties should fall in line (or they could bring suits against those that do not).

A second issue that Dan mentions concerns whether there exists a private right of action under HAVA. If the court finds that there is no private right of action, four out of the five claims -- the HAVA-specific ones -- will be moot. Dan points out that the 6th Circuit has ruled in Sandusky County Democratic Party v. Blackwell that there is a private right of action under section 302 of HAVA (although their claims were rejected on the merits). However, the accessibility provisions are from section 301 of HAVA, which broadly requires states to meet a minimum set of standards for voting technologies used in federal elections.

In a recent case (Taylor et al v. Onorato et al, W.D. Penn. 2006, case: 2:06-cv-00481) a District Court ruled (orally) that there was no private right of action under section 301 and dismissed the plaintiff's section 301 HAVA claims. The District Court Judge in this case, Gary L. Lancaster, was persuaded by the Department of Justice's argument filed in that case (see 15-25 of the DoJ's "Opposition To Plaintiffs? Motion For Preliminary Injunction"). In this case, the DoJ's argument distinguished Sandusky v. Blackwell on section 302 from the issue of a private right of action under section 301 by noting that section 302 specifically talks about a voter's "right" to cast a provisional ballot (at 19):

As noted, the Blackwell Court relied on the text of Section 302 which, among other things, referred to "right of an individual to cast a provisional ballot." 42 U.S.C. 15482(a)(2). In contrast, however, Section 301 contains no similar language. In fact, unlike Section 302, the words "right" or "rights" are neither used nor implied in Section 301. Instead, Section 301 focuses mostly on the complex and at times technical requirements of voting machines used in federal elections. Thus, Section 301, with its technical emphasis on minimal standards for "voting systems" used in federal elections nationwide, was not drafted "with an unmistakable focus" on voters. Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 690-92 (1979). Instead, Section 301 focuses on the state actors charged with overseeing voting and not on individual rights. Accordingly, there is "far less reason to infer a private remedy in favor of individual persons." Id. at 690-91.

The DoJ's memorandum goes on from there to argue that there already is a comprehensive enforcement mechanism codified in HAVA (Title IV) and that this was a conscious effort on behalf of Congress to preclude a private right of action. (They even quote, at 18, one of HAVA's authors, Senator Dodd as saying "While I would have preferred that we extend [a] private right of action ..., the House simply would not entertain such an enforcement provision." 148 Cong. Rec. S10488-02, S10505 (daily ed. Oct. 16, 2002).).

Those are my two cents. Don't get me wrong, I think that accessibility is an important issue and essential to the electoral franchise. Most current DREs (with or without VVPATs) support accessibility features particularly poorly. In fact, they support many things poorly (security, usability, reliability, transparency, etc.). While I understand that many people with disabilities have only recently been able to vote privately and independently, there is no one machine that will solve all these issues on the market. To do so, we need to work together. We need to, through research, develop architectures that solve multiple, seemingly competing values. We need to tell our election officials and the voting system vendors that it's not impossible to design, implement, market and support such systems. We need to work on moving the technology and the processes surrounding them in this direction. I don't see lawsuits as the answer; this is not a short-term endeavor that will be solved by a lawsuit here and there.

[UPDATE 2006-08-04T09:02:42]: Dan provided some comments and I'm changing the text a bit (there were some errors). Sandusky found that there is a private right of action under 302; I had listed the opposite. Dan further says that distinguishing section 302 from 301 on the basis of the word "right" is a pretty thin strategy and that even though Title IV has a comprehensive enforcement architecture, that doesn't meen that Congress intended to extinguish any right of action under 42 USC 1983 where state actors violate federal rights. Of course, Dan knows way way more about this than I do, so I guess we'll see what happens.


1Yolo had planned to use the Vote-PAD which is a low-tech assistive device. However, the Secretary of State claimed that the Vote-PAD would have to undergo state certification like other fully end-to-end voting systems and that process was unable to reach completion before the June primary. It is unclear if the plaintiffs in this case would consider the Vote-PAD sufficient to render an optical scan system accessible under their definition. (An interesting note for voting technology geeks: the Vote-PAD is the only technology that a person who is both deaf and blind could use to verify their vote; it accomplishes this by using a braille voter guide coupled with a vibrating detection wand that allows these voters to know exactly which parts of an optical scan ballot are filled in.)

OCRing Documents from PACER

hacks, recipe, legal

So, occasionally, when examining documents on PACER (the electronic filing system for federal courts in the US) you get one that is scanned in and not OCR'd (which means that you can't select the text in the document). How do you go about getting it OCR'd? If you have access to Acrobat Professional 7.0, it's rather easy, although it takes some time. Here's how:

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