AutoMARK gets a patent for the "ballot marking device"

elections, vendors, news, chilling effects, patents, legal

a person with disabilities using a head wand to interact with an AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal One of the true innovations in computer-mediated voting in recent years is the development of the ballot marking device. A number of vendors have developed devices that essentially act like large expensive pens. These devices allow people with disabilities to interact privately and independently with a touchscreen, ADA-compliant voting interface to mark a normal optical scan ballot while people without disabilities can fill out the same optical scan ballot by hand.

Vogue Election Systems, Inc. and AutoMARK Technical Systems, LLC are the most successful ballot marking device developers with their AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal (above, at right). It was only natural, I suppose, that they seek to patent their innovation. Eugene M. Cummings of AutoMARK Technical Systems, LLC was awarded patent no. 7,080,779 for a ballot marking device on 25 July 2006 (filed 11 Dec. 2003). Here is the patent's page on the USPTO's site (or in a shorter URL: Here are the patent images turned into a 5.1MB PDF:

This will make it much more difficult for other vendors to develop their own similar ballot marking device and could pose problems for non-profit groups (like the Open Voting Consortium) which might be developing ballot-marking devices or devices based on similar architectures. I hope AutoMARK TS, Inc., is open to licensing their technology, and hopefully at reduced royalties for non-profit groups. Seeing as how they've signed exclusive marketing and manufacturing agreements with Election Systems and Software (ES&S) and how competitive the voting systems market is, I'm not holding my breath.

Banana Pancakes

recipe, food

Ever wonder what to do with two very ripe bananas? Well, if you have some syrup, a cup of milk and an egg and some basic kitchen stuff, you've got pancakes.


  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 tbsp. light oil (veggie oil or extra light olive oil)
  • 2 very ripe banannas, well mashed up into a pulp


Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a smallish bowl (make sure to mix the wet stuff together very very well). Add wet to dry and mix until it all comes together to form a gooey batter. Drop 1/4-1/3 c. of batter onto a hot, lightly-oiled skillet or frying pan. When the edges start to look dry, flip. Remove pancake after another minute to a plate and immediately add butter or keep warm and covered in a 200° oven (and save buttering to the eater). Cover with syrup (a decent maple syrup is the best!).

Sesame Encrusted Ahi with a Mixed Greens Salad Dressed with Poblano Dressing, Blue Cheese and Toasted Pecans

recipe, food

This is a killer meal for two. I suggest using sushi-grade Ahi or Mahi-Mahi tuna and pairing both dishes with a decent Fumé Blanc (which is drier than Sauvignon Blanc).



  • 1 Poblano (Pasilla) Chile, stemmed and seeded
  • 1/4 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. chopped green onions
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh squeezed lime juice1
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 8-10 cups mixed greens (arugula, spinach, lettuce, etc.)
  • 1/2 c. crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/2 c. pecans

Tuna Dish:

  • 2 6-8 oz. sushi-grade Tuna fillets or steaks (Ahi, Mahi Mahi, Yellowfin, etc.)
  • 1 c. store-bought asian marinade (Teriyaki, for example... essentially soy sauce with some sugar and stuff).
  • 1/4 c. + 1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 c. julienne veggies (carrot, zucchini, squash)
  • 2 tbsp. black sesame seeds
  • 1 bunch chives
  • 1 c. white rice (basmati), uncooked
  • 1 tbsp. green onion


  1. Roast Poblano pepper. Place pepper on cookie sheet 3-4" from broiler in oven. I get good results with doing the first side for 5 minutes and the other side for 3 minutes. You want a blackened skin and floppy flesh with a chile aroma. When roasted, place in a small bowl and cover with very hot water (you can boil some water in a kettle and then let stand for a few minutes). Let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Make chive oil. Put the bunch of chives in a blender or food processor. Add the 2 tbsp. of olive oil and purée. Strain the results into a small dish and place in the refrigerator, covered, for later.
  3. Toast nuts. Take a 1/2 c. of whole pecan pieces and either put them on a cookie sheet in a 375° oven for 5-10 minutes or roast them in a small pan on the stovetop (medium-high) stirring every 20 seconds or so. You're looking for the flesh of the nut to start to crack and for them all to give off a nutty aroma. Set aside.
  4. Cut veggies. Cut the 2 tbsp. of green onions needed and set aside separately (like in two small condiments dishes). To one (for the dressing) add the garlic and lime juice. Julienne the carrot, zucchini and squash; set aside.
  5. Make dressing. Add the Poblano chile and rest of dressing ingredients to a blender or food processor. Purée well. Put dressing in a bowl and cover. Place in fridge until needed.
  6. Marinade tuna. Pour marinade into a flat-bottomed bowl. Add tuna 1 at a time to coat well. Remove from marinade and place on a plate. Cover and place in fridge for 30 minutes.
  7. Cook rice. I use basmati and the tried and true recipe for such rice: Bring two cups of water to a boil over high heat in a covered saucepan; add rice and dash of salt; reduce heat to a bare simmer; stir rice well, add cover and don't think about it for 30 minutes.
  8. Cooke veggies. In a medium to large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add 1/4 c. olive oil (or just enough to coat the bottom, you can always add more). Add julienne veggies and cook for 4-5 minutes. Set aside veggies.
  9. Wash and bowl greens. Wash salad greens and dry them in a spinner (if you have one). Add to a large salad bowl.
  10. Coat and Cook Tuna. Put a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1/4 c. olive oil or just enough to coat bottom. Place 1/2 of black sesame seeds on a plate and spread them out. Take the first piece of tuna, coat both sides and add quickly to the pan. Put more sesame seeds on the plate and coat second piece of tuna and add to the pan. Sear both sides of the tuna until you can see no more than about 1 cm of cooked flesh on the pan side of the tuna. Remove the tuna and let cool for five minutes.
  11. Complete salad. Add just enough dressing to the salad greens to coat leaves. Crumble blue cheese over the top and sprinkle pecans over it as well. Take the salad bowl to the table.
  12. Plate rice and veggies. Take a 1 c. measuring cup and add cooked rice to mold it. Dump molded rice into the center of a serving plate. Add julienne veggies on top of the rice.
  13. Plate tuna. Slice tuna into 1/2" slices. Arrange around mound of rice and veggies. Dollop the chive oil around the plate and flick onto tuna. Sprinkle the other tbsp. of green onions over the top for garnish. Serve.


1 Here's a neat trick from Alton Brown for getting just a little bit of juice out of a fresh lime: roll the lime on a counter to loosen the pulp a bit; then insert a toothpick deeply into one end of the lime; squeeze out just the amount of juice you want and; place the toothpick back in the whole and the whole lime in the fridge (just in case you might use it later).

McPherson Announces Proposal at NASS Conference

elections, certification/testing, reform, news, research, policy

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson outlined a three-part plan in a recent speech to the National Association of Secretaries of State (See: "California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson Outlines Proposals to Enhance the Security, Reliability and Accessibility of Voting Systems Nationwide"). He called for more cooperation between states and the EAC in federal certification, for the EAC to make progress in their HAVA-mandated R&D programs and for a new configuration in the process of paying federal testing laboratories that conduct the federal certification process:

Secretary McPherson outlined the following three proposals in an effort to engage his partners nationwide in the improvement of the voting system certification process:

First, Secretary McPherson outlined a proposal to enhance voting system security and reliability. The proposal would call on the states to join with the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to develop a national program to conduct a comprehensive risk analysis of voting systems as part of the federal certification process. This would enhance the already rigorous security tests that are currently done, and create a program to conduct exhaustive examinations of all potential security risks and solutions prior to system certification.

Secondly, Secretary McPherson encouraged the EAC to move forward with the research and development program that is articulated in HAVA. This effort would examine voting systems and the issues of: Security; accuracy and reliability; and usability and accessibility. For this to come to fruition, Congress would need to fully fund the mandates of HAVA and the EAC would need to have the full support of the states.

Lastly, some have criticized the federal certification process as ?vendor driven? in that, the vendors choose the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) that conducts the testing for their certification and provide payment directly to the ITA. One way to improve the process would be for the EAC to establish an escrow account for the vendors during testing and to place control of the account with a separate entity, like the EAC . This would put some distance between those performing the testing and the vendor and allow the EAC to select the specific testing authority as opposed to the vendor. This proposal would do on the federal level what is now being done in California, with the state certification process.

My thoughts: The Secretary knows very well that the "rigorous security tests" done at the federal level are far from rigorous. Even with the extent of the California process, we have a long way to go towards adequately evaluating the system security of our voting systems. I think a risk assessment for each voting system would be nice to have. This would mean that in addition to a system being certified, -- which does mean something if only a small something -- there would be an assessment of the level of risk involved with the system. That kind of assessment would allow jurisdictions to evaluate systems against each other based on risk. However, I'm unclear as to who is going to do these assessments, how they'll be funded and if they'll be publicly available (they should be).

Sections 241-247 of HAVA outline a number of research and development activities that the EAC has to oversee. There are a number of deadlines involved in these sections and it is not clear to me that all the deadlines are being met. I know that the usability study from NIST was delivered on time. Certainly, some of these reports have been authored and in some cases we see hints of other reports being authored. Although the Secretary's release mentions security, accuracy, reliability and accessibility as needing attention, the R&D sections of HAVA focus more on internet voting and registration, overseas voters, electoral holidays and free postage for absentee voters.

Finally, the Secretary's escrow proposal seems half-baked. This is probably because it is only one paragraph of a summary of a speech. I would love to see a more complete proposal on this issue. Right now, it sounds as if the Secretary is proposing that a vendor that would want to have their voting system federally certified would deposit some amount of money into an escrow account with the EAC and then the EAC would choose a Voting Systems Testing Laboratory (VSTL) to do the certification. However, poorly designed voting systems take more time, more communications between the lab and the vendor and more money to complete certification. It sounds like there should also be an FDA-like process where once you submit the package for approval, there is little to no subsequent communication between the lab and the vendor with the end result being that the voting system either passes or fails (and, like in the FDA process, a vendor could pay more for an expedited certification). McPherson is right to go in this direction, but I think any plan will have to be more nuanced than is possible in a single paragraph.

Westlaw rocks, Westlaw sucks

elections, accessibility, copyright, wtf?, chilling effects, research, policy, DRM, legal, education, iSchool

Man, I've just started to get the hand of Westlaw (a vast database of legal cases, information and articles). It has almost everything. However, little did I know that there is a monthly allotment of time spent on the site. I had no idea until I ran up against my monthly allotment. Now, I have to wait until the first of the next month for my quota to be reset! This is especially a bummer because I was just about to print out and read the following law review article:

  • Pencils within Reach and a Walkman or Two: Making the Secret Ballot Available to Voters Who Are Blind or Have Other Disabilities, 4 Texas Forum on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights 87 (1999)

Drat! If anyone out there is reading this and has access to Westlaw, I'd appreciate a PDF of this material.

Crap. I have a talk to prepare and research to do and this new research tool, Westlaw, for doing some of it is no longer available to me because of some silly usage quota that is not made apparent to the users of Westlaw. Lawyers and legal types have a lot to learn about usability.

[UPDATE 2006-07-22T16:26:17] Some kind soul sent me a copy from Lexis... I swear I searched that bastard up and down and didn't find it there. Oh well.

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