People pissed at bilingual ballots

elections, accessibility, reform, standards, news, policy


Sigh. The dumb bastards. (from "Bilingual mailers causing uproar")

Officials have been flooded with irate calls about bilingual election mailers. They've had to explain that Spanish-language voter information was federally mandated here in 2002.

Election officials have been surprised by the harshly critical calls from people who incorrectly think Denver recently "chose to be a bilingual county" and are demanding to know "why should we have to wade through all of this 'Mexican language' in our voting documents," said interim commission executive director Alton Dillard.

D'oh... oh broken tech.

wtf?, chilling effects, friends
image of a kinesis contoured ergonomic keyboard

Damn. I just received my snazzy new Kinesis keyboard which comes highly recommended from my CS colleagues. But the "Y U I O P" row of keys is all dead. Well, as mroth said, I now get to test the support infrastructure that is available for such an expensive product. Yuri says that he knows of others that have had to send these models back. Hrmm.

UPDATE [2006-04-21T11:41:49]: Turns out that this was easy to repair... the right keywell was slightly disconnected from the main circuit board. Kinesis' tech support sent instructions for securing the connection and I'm now good to go.

Sonic Youth to open for Pearl Jam


I'd normally keep shows to my show list and feed, but Bill Graham Productions just announced that Sonic Youth is opening for Pearl Jam in July. Which is as weird as when they opened for Nirvana. Neither band would exist without Sonic Youth... I'm on the fence about going. I'm not sure I want Pearl Jam to get my money... and I'm hoping that SY will come around again by themselves. They easily sold out two nights at the Fillmore last time I saw them here.

UPDATE [2006-04-23T13:41:54]: Wow. Tickets are $51.50 and then there's a $9.95 convenience fee from Ticketmaster. Looks like we won't be seeing this show.

AB 2097 passes the CA Assembly 's Committee on Elections and Redistricting...

elections, reform, vendors, copyright, open source, research, policy, legal

Alan called and told me that AB 2097 has passed the California Assembly's Committee on Elections and Redistricting*. This bill, if passed into law, would provide that "all details of [a voting system's] operating system and specifications are publicly disclosed" before the Secretary of State could approve its use in an election.

I have a paper in to the USENIX/ACCURATE workshop that argues that public disclosure of source code for voting systems is not the logical first step we should take in this area and could implicate serious risks. As we pointed out in ACCURATE's comments to the EAC's Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2005, source code disclosure is an appropriate long term goal for increasing voting system transparency. (UPDATE [2006-05-05T10:22:24]: I'm excited that this paper has been accepted. I'll be able to send it to many of you once revised a bit according to the review comments.)

Here are some other reasons why I think this bill is far from ideal:

  • The bill -- like HR 550, "the Holt bill", at the federal level -- would cover all system software. This would include any third-party code, such as operating systems or Adobe Reader, which would have to be publicly disclosed. As a number of voting systems use Windows CE, these vendors will have to convince Microsoft to publicly disclose their code or they will have to totally recode their systems.

  • This is a drastic change to the structure of the voting systems market. We're eliminating trade secrecy with a one year notice. That's a piece of the vendors' competitive edge that will be lost. Are we willing to have even fewer choices in the voting systems market? We've already seen three vendors refuse to do business (for a while) with Leon County, Florida because that county's election official, Ion Sancho, had asked a third party to do a "hack test" of his system.

  • This will mean that any vendor that wishes to do business in California will have to decide what other parts of their national and international business will be affected by their source disclosure in the California voting systems market. Some narrowly focused companies won't be as affected as companies with diversified businesses.

  • As I talk about a little in my upcoming paper, voting systems are not the same thing as general purpose computing. As Peter Swire writes in a recent paper, "A Model for When Disclosure Helps Security: What is Different About Computer and Network Security?", it's not a simple calculation to estimate when disclosure will increase the security of a system. In cryptography, its long been a discredited proposition to rely on "security through obscurity"; it is an illusion. However, the flip-side of the security through obscurity argument is "loose lips sink ships" which applies more towards physical security and tactical security. For example, in general purpose computing it makes sense to disclose vulnerabilities because the malicious hackers out there more than likely already know about a given vulnerability and disclosure of the vulnerability will help system defenders better shore up their systems against attacks exploiting this vulnerability. If you think about the case, as Swire notes, of a military fortification on a hillside, you don't increase the ability of the defenders to defend their hill by disclosing the locations and details of specific armaments and personnel.

    In the voting systems case, it is very clear that disclosing vulnerabilities will not help system defenders (election officials) who are poorly positioned to defend their systems: the majority of election officials have limited technical expertise on hand and any changes to voting systems will likely have to go back through the myriad of federal, state and local certification and testing. On the contrary, anyone with an interest in an election will have an incentive to scour system details and exploit or save any vulnerabilities they find for later.

  • Also, the bill would prevent vendors from "exerting any copyright, trade secret, or other rights that it may have to hinder any voter of the state from exercising [their] rights" "to inspect and test the voting system, to retain test materials, test results, and to freely publish the same openly." This is a very broad provision that will have many unforeseen consequences. I'll offer one consequence: vendors will be unable to sue under trademark law if someone circulates documents that don't really originate from the vendor but purport to describe details of that vendor's system.

  • Finally, the bill does not specify details of licensing terms. This may not seem like much to many of you, but anyone with experience in licensing or intellectual property will realize that even public disclosure must come with a set of licensing principles or example licenses. Licenses can vary from the very permissive to the very restrictive. The BSD license, for example, is very permissive in that it basically only requires attribution and disclaims any warranty. At the other extreme is a license like VoteHere's license to which you have to agree in order to download their voting system source code. This license is quite complex and all the rights it allows you to exercise (copying, modification, etc.) are for "evaluation purposes only".

I'll be able to share more thoughts on this in a while.

UPDATE [2006-04-18T17:44:56]: I had originally thought that it was the full assembly but it was the California Assembly's Committee on Elections and Redistricting.


Joe and Michelle's 2006 eggs
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