Shallow Thoughts : tags : politics

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 26 Apr 2008

Republicans fight to preserve gender pay gap

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a terrific article in yesterday's Slate about the shameful behavior of the Republicans in the Senate in blocking a bill that would have allowed women to sue for pay discrimination.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was written in response to the case brought by Lilly Ledbetter against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Courts had found that she was definitely the subject of discrimination: her pay was as much as 40% less than men doing a similar job (despite her excellent reviews), one year she was actually paid below Goodyear's own minimum threshold for that position, she had been explicitly barred from discussing salary with her coworkers (this is apparently legal, at least in Alabama), and she had been told explicitly by a manager at Goodyear that that the "plant did not need women, that [women] didn't help it, [and] caused problems."

No one at any level has disputed that Ms. Ledbetter was discriminated against -- even the Supreme Court. However, the Supremes threw out her appeal last year on the basis that the statute of limitations had run out and she should have filed her case within 180 days of receiving her first paycheck. In other words, as long as you don't know when you're hired that your pay is discriminatory, it doesn't matter if you find out later; it'll be too late then, so forget it. Pay discrimination is fine, and not actionable, as long as you can delay the victim's finding out about it for a few months.

Senate Republicans believe so strongly in a company's right to discriminate that they not only argued against the bill, they actually filibustered against it!

For more gory details of the case, read Lithwick's excellent Slate article. But even if you don't, be aware if you're considering voting for John McCain in November that although he was campaigning instead of voting on this bill, he proclaimed agreement with the rest of his party in opposing the Fair Pay Act.

So if you're against pay discrimination ... or if you're a woman and might be the victim of such discrimination ... be aware that John McCain is not on your side.

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[ 19:26 Apr 26, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Wed, 20 Feb 2008

Obama's too good a speaker

In election news today, we have the report Wounded Clinton eyes big contests on Barak Obama's widening lead over Hillary Clinton:
Mrs Clinton continued to try to depict Mr Obama as a man of fine words but little action.

"It's time that we move from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions... This campaign goes on!" she said

Hey, wait ... isn't that a sound bite against sound bites?

McCain joined in the fun, saying "I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure that Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change."

So let's see if I have this straight: the worst that either Clinton or McCain can think of to say about Obama is that ... he's a really good speaker.

Hmm. Time was when people thought being a good speaker was actually a good thing to have in a president. Isn't that something presidents are called upon to do now and then?

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[ 18:43 Feb 20, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Mon, 04 Feb 2008

Indian Gaming Props 94 through 97

Finally home from Melbourne and with a good night's sleep behind me, I finally had to take a look at the Indian gaming propositions on tomorrow's ballot: Propositions 94 through 97.

There are a bunch of issues here which I'm not going to try to write about: you can read the legislative analyst's summary and the pro and con arguments in the Supplemental Voter's Handbook. But the really interesting part of the is the section at the back of the SVH: the TEXT OF PROPOSED LAWS section. It's always good to take a look at a law's actual text before making a decision. Sometimes they surprise you. Especially in this case.

Ready to follow along? Okay, we'll start with Prop 94. Open your SVH to page 44 (or use the PDF or Google's HTML translation) and start at SECTION 1. (Presumably there's some way to get to these links via www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ but I didn't have much luck finding it.)

SECTION 1. Section 12012.49 is added to the Government Code, to read:
12012.49. (a) The amendment tothe tribal-state gaming compact entered into in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (18 U.S.C. Sec. 1166 to 1168, incl., and 25 U.S.C. Sec. 2701 et seq.) between the State of California and the Pechanga Band of LuiseƱo Mission Indians, executed on August 28, 2006, is hereby ratified.
(b) (1) In deference to tribal sovereignty, none of the following shall be deemed a project for purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code):
(A) The execution of an amendment to the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.
(B) The execution of the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.
(C) The execution of an intergovernmental agreement between a tribe and a county or city government negotiated pursuant to the express authority of, or as expressly referenced in, the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.

... hey, wait a minute, where are the details? The proposed law continues in this fashion, referencing "the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section" over and over. Remember, this is the actual wording that would become part of California law if these propositions are approved.

Dave looked into this more. Turns out these Indian gaming compacts are complicated by an amusing legal problem: since each reservations is technically a foreign government, negotiation has to be done by the Governor's office, not legislated by the state legislature. But the agreements the Gov makes have to be ratified by the legislature or the voters.

Okay, so what we're voting on is whether to ratify the agreement the Governator reached with the set of tribes under discussion (mostly along I-10 in Riverside County, plus one down near San Diego).

Great. So ... where are these agreements we're voting to ratify?

Not in the Supplemental Voter's Handbook, that's clear enough. So where can we find them?

Dave went to Google, and thought he found something -- wait, no, it turns out it's even more complicated than that. See, there are lots of earlier revisions of the compacts, too.

Apparently when the time comes to get it ratified, how it generally works is: Someone writes up a bill that sounds harmless and has nothing to do with the actual issues being discussed ("Proposed: that we will provide the Pachenga Indians with educational information on tooth decay prevention for their schools"). This is made public, and sits in the public place for bills under consideration until the last minute, when it is amended to add whatever the real subject of discussion is. Then everybody votes on it (probably without reading the amendments), and the agreement is ratified.

But something went wrong in the process this time, and somehow the agreements weren't ratified and ended up getting sent to the voters.

Okay, that's all very entertaining, but meanwhile we still need the text of the agreements we're being asked to ratify. Where are they?

After much searching, Dave thought he had a lead: Denise Moreno Ducheny's page has a link for SB 174 - Tribal gaming: compact ratification. which supposedly corresponds to Prop 95. That link doesn't work for me (I get "The connection has been reset: try again later" -- either it doesn't like Firefox on Linux or it wants cookies or something) but it worked for Dave in Safari, and it turns out it was one of these pre-amended versions, not the version we're actually being asked to vote on.

But he finally found what apparently are the final versions of the compacts, linked from a press release on the governor's site. Note that you can't get there by actually searching the Governor's site (searching for tribal compact gets you three press releases that don't include that one). Here's a direct link to the Pechanga agreement and the San Manuel agreement. You're on your own for the rest.

Anyway, the PDFs on the Governor's site do appear to say pretty much what the legislative analyst says they say. So the analysis in the Supplemental Voter Handbook is probably fine and you cat vote on that basis. That's assuming you believe that those PDFs, findable only through google and not through any official link, are the real ones that are being voted on. The filenames both include the word "final" -- isn't that all you need to know?

Me, I'm not too happy about being asked to vote on a basis of "We won't show you the actual text, just trust us". I don't like the idea of laws that reference unknown other documents, stored in an unspecified place and possibly subject to who knows what sorts of revisions. I'll probably vote no for that reason.

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[ 16:54 Feb 04, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 16 Nov 2007

An ironic juxtaposition

I can't stop thinking about the woman in the Chinese restaurant the other night.

It was one of those conversations you try not to overhear, but they're so loud and distracting that you just can't avoid it.

In the middle of a long declamation on conspiracy theories and politics, the man made a comment about how we're in the middle east shooting Iraqis who never hurt anyone. (I didn't say his politics were all wrong, just loud).

The woman, who had been relatively quiet up to now, interrupted, "But they hurt us in 9/11!"

In the next booth, facing away from them, my mouth dropped open. The man quickly countered that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but then was off onto other topics, sharing with the room his theories on war in the middle east in general, Israel, and people trying to wipe out the Jews. This caught the woman's interest -- "They already tried that, Hitler." After a pause, she added thoughtfully, "You know, the strangest thing about that is how people there just went along with it."

That came barely a minute after the 9/11 comment. She clearly had no idea of the irony of juxtaposing the two. I wanted to turn around and say, "Perhaps they went along for the same reason that you're going along with killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, when even the president who started the war admits that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11?"

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[ 21:24 Nov 16, 2007    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Mon, 06 Aug 2007

Votes on the Warrantless Wiretapping Act

All the news media carried stories on how our (US) legislators voted in a bill on Friday night that greatly eased the rules on wiretapping. The House followed through and passed the bill on Saturday.

The new updates to FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, will allow the NSA or the attorney general to authorize monitoring of telephones or email, without a warrant, if the comunications involve people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States".

The story reported in most of the papers is that Democrats were against the bill and wanted a version which required warrants in more cases. But the President threatened to hold Congress in session into its scheduled summer recess if it did not approve the changes he wanted -- and that was enough, apparently, for the Senate to vote for warrantless surveillance of Americans. (I confess I don't quite understand why the president can hold Congress in session indefinitely until he gets the vote he wants. Can't they just vote No?)

What I couldn't find in any of the stories was a breakdown of the votes. What about our presidential candidates? Did they support warrantless wiretapping -- or, perhaps worse, just not care about the ramifications of a bill if further consideration of it might cut into their vacation time?

Finding out

Finding Senate votes is very easy. Googling for senate votes takes you right to the Senate.gov breakdown of recent votes by Senator name or by state. Here are the results for S.1927.

The House is harder. They don't seem to have a nice "recent votes" page like the Senate does, or any obvious way to find bills (I had little luck with their site search), though a pressec.com story gave a link to the bill on Thomas.loc.gov, which links to an official House.gov vote count.

In the absence of pressec.com's help, the easiest way to find House voting records is to use the Washington Post Votes Database.

How did they vote?

I was happy to see that all the major Democratic candidates in Congress voted against the smarmily named "Protect America Act", including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Christopher Dodd, and (in the House) Dennis Kucinich. John Kerry (who is not an official candidate) didn't vote.

On the Republican side, candidate Sam Brownback voted for the bill, while candidates John McCain, Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul didn't vote.

Of course, I was also interested in my local legislators. California Senator Dianne Feinstein voted for passage (why do people keep voting her back in?) while our other senator, Barbara Boxer didn't vote. In the House, my representative, the always sensible Zoe Lofgren, voted against the bill. In fact, she spoke out against it, saying "This bill would grant the attorney general the ability to wiretap anybody, any place, any time without court review, without any checks and balances. I think this unwarranted, unprecedented measure would simply eviscerate the 4th Amendment." Hurray, Zoe! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also voted against.

How did your legislators vote?

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[ 13:20 Aug 06, 2007    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 06 Jul 2006

Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

Anyone following the voting machine controversy in the last presidential election -- or, even more, anyone who wasn't following it and might not be aware of the issues -- should check out Robert F. Kennedy, Jr's article in Rolling Stone, Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

The article is long, detailed and well researched article, and it will make you question whether we really live in a democracy.

Apparently Kennedy is considering filing whistleblower lawsuits against two of the voting machine companies. This won't do anything to change our national elections, but at least it might help get the word -- and the evidence -- out into the public eye.

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[ 11:36 Jul 06, 2006    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 06 Jan 2005

Boxer to Support Conyers in Protest Over Ohio Vote

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has signed a protest launched by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) regarding irregularities in the Ohio vote, as reported this morning by the AP (via Yahoo, via ABC News).

Conyers' report can be found on the House Committee on the Judiciary's page, including the PDF report and some supplementary documents (all PDF except the video): a film by Linda Byrket called "Video the Vote", text of a fundraising letter Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, and Eyewitness Accounts of Ohio Voter Disenfranchisement. Conyers' report is described in this Fox News story.

John Kerry has not joined the protest.

This is not expected to alter the outcome of the 2004 election; both houses are expected to certify the election tomorrow. But it will force both houses to break from election certification tomorrow, and have a public discussion of up to two hours on some of the problems seen in the election. Perhaps it will pave the way for changes in future elections.

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[ 10:29 Jan 06, 2005    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Tue, 14 Dec 2004

Programmer alleges FL congressman commissioned vote altering code

This story has been floating around for a few days now, but I've hesitated to write about it because it sounds potentially fishy and I was hoping some of the questions would get answered.

In a nutshell: Florida programmer Clint Curtis has filed documents with the FBI claiming that while he was working for Yang Enterprises, Tom Feeny (then a FL state representative and lobbyist for Yang, now a US Congressman) asked him to develop prototype software in order to rig the vote in Florida. (story in Wired) (story on Blue Lemur)

All rather suspicious, but there are lots of questionable aspects to the story. Why did Curtis wait so long to come clean? He claims that he assumed any such software would be easily detectable through source code inspection, and it was only after recently reading that voting software was proprietary that he had the shocking realization that perhaps there wasn't much source code review going on. It's hard to believe that a programmer who had worked on such a project would have been able to miss this point for so long.

Curtis has apparently also been to the FBI complaining about Yang's ethics before, on an unrelated charge. Details are skimpy about what that charge was, or what the resolution was, but until those details are available, one has to be slightly skeptical.

On Curtis' side, the fact that Yang nor Sweeney are willing to comment on the story suggests that there may be some truth to it. If his past allegations against Yang, or other aspects of the case, cast doubt on his claims, wouldn't they be pointing to that?

That the FBI is unwilling to comment is not surprising: investigation is ongoing, and I wouldn't expect any comment from investigators at this point.

It seems unlikely that Curtis' actual code was used, in any case. He had no access to the voting machine software, and simply wrote some scripts in Visual Basic as a proof of concept. But we'll likely never know for sure, since the public hasn't had access to the voting machines for quite some time and it would be quite easy for any such evidence to have been long since wiped from memory. (Though perhaps forensic analysis of the disks might reveal something?)

Still, it's an interesting story, and it'll be fun to see how it resolves.

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[ 13:20 Dec 14, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 19 Nov 2004

Blackbox Voting Exposes Poll Tape Fraud

Installment one of Bev Harris and BlackBoxVoting.org's Freedom of Information Request: the Stinking Poll Tapes.

Harris & company went to Volusia County, Florida to request the "poll tapes" from the election: the printed record that each machine produces at the end of the day, signed and dated by election workers.

What they were given was unsigned printouts dated November 16, the day before their arrival.

Upon investigating, they found several curious things:

  1. Elections officials meeting clustered over poll tapes, who shut the door on them when they asked what was going on;
  2. A garbage bag full of original, signed poll tapes, dated the day of the election;
  3. Another garbage bag of original poll tapes at a different location;
  4. Apparent discrepancies between the original, signed, dated poll tapes and the supposed copies which the elections officials had originally tried to give them.

This is all over the blogosphere, but doesn't appear to have hit much of the mainstream press so far, not even Wired, except for one early article in the East Volusia News-JournalOnline. But the story making the rounds claims Black Box Voting has it all on video.

Stay tuned!

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[ 23:12 Nov 19, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Mon, 15 Nov 2004

93,000 Extra Votes In Cuyahoga County?

Teed Rockwell, of the Philosophy Department, Sonoma State University, published a few days ago a sizzling article on ballot totals in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Using the numbers from the county's official election results web site, he shows 29 different precincts which report vote counts well in excess of the total number of registered voters, for a grand total of 93,136 more votes than registered voters. For example, Highland Hills Village, which has 760 registered voters, had 8,822 ballots cast.

One possible explanation comes in an AP story, Kerry campaign lawyers checking Ohio vote, which says that "the numbers also include absentee votes in congressional and legislative districts that overlap those cities", which wrongly inflates the numbers, and quotes Ohio elections board chairman Michael Vu as saying "All the numbers are correct. You have to first understand what an absentee precinct is." The story doesn't go on to explain what an absentee precinct is; it looks like absentee ballots are assigned to counties other than the county of registration, or possibly absentee voters aren't included in registration numbers at all.

Meanwhile, a blog called "Political Strategy" reports on an editorial on the Zogby pollling web site, in Zogby Website Asserts 'Massive Voter Fraud'. I can't actually read the linked Zogby page (either they've pulled it, or they have some sort of bug in their server code) but in addition to calling attention to the fishy Cuyahoga results, they discuss the statistical unliklihood of some of the Florida results already showcased elsewhere.

Recount update: Cobb (Green) and Badnarik (Libertarian) are officially requesting an Ohio recount, while Nader and Camejo have requested a recount in New Hampshire. There's more recount news on ReDefeat Bush (which I found by way of their Google ad when I googled for recount news -- cool!)

A final giggle: on the subject of why the exit polls were so wrong (I still haven't seen anyone quoting numbers!), Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly and CBS suggested that the exit polls may have been wrong about Bush because of the "David Duke effect," an election in which he got many more votes than was reflected in what pollsters found because "people didn't want to admit to exit pollsters they'd voted for David Duke, the head of the Ku Klux Klan, because they didn't want to admit they were a racist. So perhaps a lot of voters didn't want to admit they voted for Bush."

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[ 21:11 Nov 15, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 12 Nov 2004

Recent roundup of post-election voting stories

I've been hearing a lot of talk about how the official results don't match the exit poll numbers: how the exit polls show a Kerry win, and that's evidence of a hacked vote. For example, Those faulty exit polls were sabotage in The Hill, or A Tour of the 2004 Exit Poll: What It Says and What It Doesn't, part one and part two on Donkey Rising.

What I haven't been able to find is anything with data to confirm this, one way or the other. CNN has an interactive page allowing checks of specific aspects of exit poll data, but that's no help for analyzing nationwide data, say, by county. And in any case, it seems that CNN changed the online data after the fact, so there's no telling what this means in terms of raw numbers.

Lawrence Lessig gives the answer, in Free the Exit Poll Data: the poll numbers are privately held, not publically available. Lessig calls for the data to be made public, so that it will be possible to find out why the numbers were so misleading compared to the final election tally. You'd think both sides would be interested in knowing what went wrong.

Terrific maps for visualizing the election

Maps and cartograms of the 2004 US presidential election results gives a wonderful set of maps showing "purple states" by county, with the sizes adjusted for population.

Other stories about voting irregularities:

Outrage in Ohio: Angry residents storm State House in response to massive voter suppression and corruption (Michigan Independant Media Center): Protests on November 3 in Ohio over all the voting problems the state experienced. Includes lots of anecdotes about voters who experienced problems.

Surprising Pattern of Florida's Election Results (US Together): a comparison of party registration data to reported election results in Florida counties using different types of voting equipment. In counties using touchscreen machines, the percentage vote for Kerry matched the party registrations fairly closely; in counties using optical scan machines, there's a huge shift over to Bush votes, completely uncorrelated with party affiliation. The article includes a data table by county.

Evidence Mounts That The Vote May Have Been Hacked (Common Dreams): a text discussion of the US Together results, their correlation with exit poll results, and some discussion of possible explanations other than foul play (and why those reasons are unlikely to be the actual explanation).

Palm Beach County Logs 88,000 More Votes Than Voters (Washington Dispatch): Palm Beach County's official election results web site showed 542,835 ballots were cast for a presidential candidate while only 454,427 voters turned out for the election. Apparently they've since updated the web site to show numbers that add up. I guess this tells us how far we can trust the "official" numbers on the web site.

Tons of other links on the Op Ed News: Votergate 2004 page.

Bev Harris of Black Box Voting, Ralph Nader and others have teamed up for Help America Recount, a project to buy recounts in Ohio and other states. They're soliciting donations. I'd love to see recounts, but what they don't explain is where the money is going. What's involved in getting a recount, and does it cost money, or is this to pay salaries and expenses of the (volunteer?) people doing the counting, or what? The effort sounds like it might be a little disorganized at the moment.

Kerry Won. . . (Tom Paine.common Sense): Editorial about irregularities in various states. No new data, though.

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[ 11:31 Nov 12, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Sat, 06 Nov 2004

Update: some recent stories on election irregularities

An older style touchscreen machine made by Danaher Controls gave Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus.

In one North Carolina county, more than 4,500 votes were lost because officials believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did. UniLect, the manufacturer of the touchscreen machines used, told officials that each storage unit could handle 10,500 votes, but the limit was actually 3,005 votes. The missing votes are gone forever; there is no way to retrieve them.

In Broward County, FL (remember the missing absentee ballots?) it was discovered that a bug in an ES&S machine changed the outcome on at least one proposition. Seems that the software (for counting votes on absentee ballots) doesn't expect more than 32,000 votes in a precinct; so when the tally crosses that number, the machine starts counting backward!

Meanwhile, the ACLU is suing over the lost Broward County absentee ballots.

A national voting rights group has reported hundreds of voting irregularities in the south affecting poor and minority voters.

Latest word (from Equal Vote) is that Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has said that Ohio's provisional votes will not be counted for 11 days (if at all).

Black Box Voting has filed a massive Freedom of Information Act request for computer logs (including internal audit logs, transmission logs, and others), voting results slips, any email or other communication relating to problems with voting systems, and other information relating to the operation of electronic voting machines.

Voters Unite has an excellent listing of stories on many other voting problems found so far.

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[ 10:05 Nov 06, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Wed, 03 Nov 2004

WIMPS!

I knew the Demo-wimps were going to fold, just like they did in 2000 -- but I didn't think they'd do it before the first vote count was even finished!

I can't believe Kerry conceded already. What about all the promises the Democrats have been making us for the past several months about pushing lawsuits on voting technology and voter eligibility? What about all the lawsuits already filed?

I guess nobody cares any more that there's no way to verify anyone's vote, that the voting technology of the country is entirely in the hands of one party. A show of democracy is all that's required; the actual votes, from actual citizens, are far less important than the pretense of voting.

The morning's quick summary of voting machine glitches reported yesterday, at Wired: Watchdogs Spot E-Vote Glitches. The stories include ballots already pre-filled in Palm Beach County, FL, reports of misvoting (touching the box for one candidate and seeing an "X" appear by a different candidate) in FL, TX, and other states, machines in Texas instructed to vote straight party tickets actually casting votes for candidates outside that party, and voters in six Pennsylvania precints prevented from voting due to voting machine failures,

I should mention that Wired has had the best and most comprehensive coverage all along of the e-voting fiasco, beginning many months before any of the other mainstream media would mention the subject. Follow the links from that story, or just search for keywords like voting machines or Diebold. Or check out the original anti voting machine activist site: BlackBoxVoting.com and its sister site BlackBoxVoting.org.

Also, two excellent Cringley columns on the subject:
A Year Into the E-voting Crisis, Shouldn't We Have Noticed the Printer That's Already Built into Each Diebold Voting Machine?,
and Why the Best Voting Technology May Be No Technology at All

But Kerry and the DNC aren't fighting against any of that. They signed on until November 2, and now that's past and they can go back to having garden parties or whatever they do for three and a half years between conceding elections.

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[ 10:00 Nov 03, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Tue, 02 Nov 2004

Blocked voter registrations

As long as I'm collecting links to news stories, here are some about attempts to block voter registration or otherwise intimidate or discourage voters. States involved: Nevada, Florida, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio, and Iowa.

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[ 22:07 Nov 02, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Touchscreen machines changing votes

I mentioned to someone the problems that have been showing up for a week where voters think they've voted for one candidate, then realize upon getting to the final review that the machine has recorded votes for a different candidate, and discovered that I didn't have handy links to any of those stories. So here's a collection of stories from Texas and New Mexico:

Unfortunately the stories seldom say what type of touchscreen voting machine was being used.

And keep in mind that changing only a single vote per voting machine in the 2000 election could have made a difference of 25 electoral votes, according to a recent ACM study (which unfortunately isn't readable online unless you're an ACM member).

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[ 21:43 Nov 02, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Two good election shenanigans sites

BoingBoing seems to be slashdotted (probably not by slashdot) but two other sites with excellent up-to-date news on election problems are E-Voting Experts, covering reports of problems with touchscreen and optical scan voting machines, and Equal Vote, covering some of the legal challenges against voters, in states such as Ohio and (of course) Florida.

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[ 13:07 Nov 02, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

I voted

I'm happy to report that voting with paper in my neighborhood was surprisingly low hassle.

The registrar did not ask me whether I wanted paper, but when I saw her circle "E" I hastily told her "I want a paper ballot". She looked momentarily surprised, but recovered quickly, scribbled over the "E" and marked "P". They didn't offer a pen, but I had brought one so I didn't ask.

Then came the wait. They had four or five touchscreen machines, but only one booth (made from a cardboard box) for paper voters, already occupied. The ballot is long (in fact, there are two paper ballots, each 2-sided) so it takes quite a while to finish it. That was fine, because it gave me a chance to hear that they began asking the people registering behind me whether they wanted paper or electronic. They often had to explain the difference to voters who had no idea what the options were, which didn't sound easy; they were very patient about helping people understand the options and didn't try to brush anyone off. Roughly half of the people there chose paper.

Voting was straightforward except that the booth's ledge was very low (for wheelchair access; the voter ahead of me was in a wheelchair). I probably should have grabbed a chair.

While I was marking my paper ballot, I heard a woman who was having a lot of trouble getting the touchscreen machine to work. The pollworker worked with her for quite a while. I think they eventually straightened it out; it sounded like maybe she had to press really hard to get it to register her votes.

When I had finished, my ballot went straight into a box, no provisional envelopes or anything like that. Paper voters get a different sticker, not the new "I voted, touchscreen" sticker (so I don't get to draw a circle-slash with a Sharpie like I'd planned).

Reports I hear from other Santa Clara county voters: most have been asked "electronic or paper?" and I haven't heard any reports of provisional envelopes or other weirdness. Many who voted paper report people voting outside booths; in one case no booth was available, and paper voters sat at a folding table. There wasn't much privacy on the machines either, though: they don't have much of a wing to hide the screen from onlookers, so if you wanted to snoop on someone's votes, it's not difficult.

All in all, I was pleased with how easy it was to vote with paper, with the competence of the poll workers, and with how many people chose the paper option.

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[ 11:44 Nov 02, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Problems voting with paper ballots

BoingBoing (the esteemed Cory Doctorow) already has coverage of some of the problems people are encountering trying to vote here in Santa Clara County (California) this morning.

Like the Vote Save Error #9. Use the Backup Voting Procedure." message one voter got when trying to use the touchscreens.

But about that backup voting procedure: it seems that even if you can persuade them to give you a paper ballot (bring your own pen, even though the Voter Information Guide specifically says on page 164 that after signing in at the polls the voter "receives a paper ballot along with an approved marking device"), the ballots cast on paper are being put in "provisional" envelopes, yet without the identifying information on the envelope which is used to approve provisional ballots. One really wonders if such votes will be counted.

I wonder if it will be possible to get statistics after the fact for the total number of paper ballots counted in each precinct (and how many of them were provisional)? For comparison, I wish someone was doing exit polls to get an idea of what percentage of people are requesting paper ballots.

Meanwhile, Kelly Martin reports that in Cook County, Ill. voting is no longer by secret ballot. Each ballot has a number on it which is correlated with the voter's name.

One of the boingboing comments points out that voting problems should be reported to voteproblem.org. The EFF suggests using the Election Incident Reporting System.

Stay tuned.

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[ 09:58 Nov 02, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 28 Oct 2004

More ballot shenanigans

The Florida post office has somehow lost 58,000 absentee ballots in Broward County, FL.

They say they're mailing out new ballots, but that (not mentioned in the article) blithely assumes that everyone who voted absentee did so frivilously, not because they were, say, going to be out of town during the election.

By a staggering coincidence, Broward was the county which gave Gore the biggest margin in 2000.

Meanwhile, news from the EFF from last week when I was out of town: Santa Clara County poll workers are being trained not to offer voters a chance to use paper ballots instead of electronic voting machines.

I've been rather hoping that the EFF (or someone) would organize protests near polling places, trying to inform voters of their rights. But no such luck. Instead, they've set up a site with a big flash movie with monotonous music and no information that couldn't have been shown better in a simple fast-loading html page. If you want to watch the flash movie, it's at PaperOrPlastic2004.org but there's really nothing else there besides the movie.

Spread the word anyway. Tell everyone you know in the affected counties (Santa Clara, Orange, Alameda, and Riverside Counties. Napa, San Bernardino, Merced, Plumas, Shasta, Tehama, and Riverside counties) that they can request a paper ballot, and that way leave a paper trail that can be verified in case of a recount.

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[ 22:43 Oct 28, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 08 Oct 2004

More on CA paper ballots

Unable to find any law stating the paper ballot requirement, I called the Sec. of State's office back, this time being forwarded to someone named Michael.

He told me that the requirement specified in the decertification action was a "directive by the secretary of state", not a legislative action" and so was not reflected in the election code.

However, the requirement is stated in the Voter Information Guide. I do not seem to have received my VIG, but it's available in PDF form (168 pages) on the Voter Information Guide page off the Sec. of State site. It's on page 167: "Counties using touchscreen/DRE systems are required to have paper ballots available upon request."

So there it finally is, in writing. Whew!

I strongly advise all California voters to ask for this option at their polling place on November 2.

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[ 13:41 Oct 08, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Verifying CA's supposed paper trail elections law

Our story so far: the nice lady at the Secretary of State's office pointed me to the PDF for Shelley's Diebold decertification as the proof that the upcoming election will allow voters to request a paper ballot. That PDF says that it modifies Division 19, Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 19001) of the Elections Code and Government Code section 12172.5. My goal is to make sure that this hasn't been superceded by subsequent recertification or other lobbying.

First I tried Leginfo, searching the Government and Elections codes for various combinations of the words paper ballot option election machine That gives lots of links (which I need to explore) which don't include 12172.5.

Searches on leginfo, I notice, always return exactly 20 results (two pages of ten), no matter what you search for. Somehow this doesn't give me a feeling of confidence.

To get directly to a numbered law, leave the search field blank to go to the table of contents for Government or Elections. Then wait a while.

It turns out that Government Section 12159-12179.1has nothing to do with voting procedures or technology, and doesn't have a .5. Hmm.

Well, let's try 19001 and see if it's related. Oops, the table of contents skips from 18993 to 19050 (which is something to do with making General Appointments, anyway).

The Election code, on the other hand, skips from 12113 to 12200, missing 12172.

The 19000s of the election code do, finally, seem to relate to the issue of technology used in polling. But nowhere in the 19000s can I find any mention of paper ballots.

A google search of "paper ballot" option on site leginfo-ca-gov returns no hits.

Is leginfo behind? Or was the lady at Shelley's office wrong about that provision still being current?

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[ 12:09 Oct 08, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

CA will (apparently) honor requests for paper ballots

I've been waiting for months for the papers, or Wired, or someone, to give us the definitive word on California's proposed paper ballot option.

Back when Secretary of State Kevin Shelley moved to decertify some of the Diebold voting machines, he included a provision that voters who wish a paper trail may request a paper ballot in counties which use touchscreen voting machines.

But since then, many things have changed, many of the decertified machines have been recertified, and none of the news articles ever mentions the paper ballot option. I've been keeping an eye on the CA Elections and Voter Info site for some time, looking for help or information, but time is getting short to request an absentee ballot, so I mounted a search.

The Elections and Voter Info site has a FAQ -- they only link to the FAQ about voter registration, but that same page has answers about other topics as well, including voting systems. But no mention whatsoever about paper ballots.

The elections page also links to another site run by the Sec. of State, MyVoteCounts.org, which has lots of interesting information on things like Diebold decertification and recertification, but still no info on the paper ballot rule (or lack thereof).

Going back to the elections page, I called toll-free phone number for voter info, and spent a few minutes navigating a phone tree, which didn't include any options which seemed relevant; determinedly pressing the numbers for "other requests" eventually ended up in something that wanted to request info from me (for what? I wasn't clear) rather than let me ask questions of a human.

I hung up, and tried the Sample Ballot I received in the mail a few days ago. It has instructions for voting both on touchscreen and on paper, but no assurance that the paper ballot is actually an option for anyone receiving the sample ballot. The only phone number I could find anywhere in the sample ballot was one for requesting ballots in other languages.

Going back to the Secretary of State's web site, I found the phone number for the Sec. of State's office in Sacramento, and called long-distance. Navigating another phone tree (oddly, "Elections Division" is not in the first list of options; you have to choose "Other" which takes you to a menu which includes elections) and ended up speaking with a friendly and helpful woman there.

She assured me that yes, all voters in California would have the option of requesting a paper ballot at the polling place, and she offered to find it on the web site for me.

Several minutes of searching ensued. She initially thought it would be on the Voter's Bill of Rights linked off MyVoteCounts.org. This turns out to be a PDF of a big-type poster, which, alas, says nothing about paper ballots.

She put me on hold briefly while she went searching, came back, and tried to remember the click-through route she'd taken so I could find it too. We followed several false leads, but finally got there: start at the Elections & Voter Information page, scroll way down to Voting Systems (under "General Information"), then click on Decertification and Conditional Certification for certain DREs to get the 9-page PDF of Shelley's original decertification of the Diebold machines, which, on page 4 item 4.b.1, specifies that every polling place must either (a) have a voting machine offering a "fully tested, federally qualified and state certified accessible, voter verified paper, audit trail" or (b) (1) Permit every voter to have the option at his or her polling place of casting a ballot on a paper ballot which may be satisfied by providing an adequate number of paper ballots to each polling place based on each County's assessment of the number of persons who may request them. The cost of additional paper ballots specified in this paragraph shall be borne by the vendor of the voting sytem that sought its certification or approval for use in California, or the vendor's successor in interest".

(Incidentally, this PDF is simply a scan of the successive pages of the document; there's no searchable text here, so google wouldn't help unless it had OCR capability.)

The woman at the Sec. of State's election division assured me that this was still in effect and had not been outdated by the more recent recertifications, and that it applied to every voting district (presumably there's no currently certified voting machine which meets clause 4.a?)

The status of this document (see page 3) is that it amends Division 19, Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 19001) of the Elections Code and Government Code section 12172.5. So that's the place to go to make sure this is still current. More on that later.

At the end of our conversation, I mentioned that this info was a bit difficult to get to, and maybe a clear FAQ entry, somewhere in the html of the site, might be in order. She agreed. Perhaps someone will update the web site before the election.

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[ 11:43 Oct 08, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 01 Oct 2004

Democrat site completely fails with large fonts

Latest accessibility gaffe:

The web site for the Democratic Party is totally screwed up if your fonts are even one step larger than the default. Try it! (ctrl-+ in mozilla.) I wonder if it ever occurred to them that many of those precious Florida voters are older, and need to use large fonts?

I sent them a note, with screenshots of the top of the site and some unreadable text farther down.

I wonder if the Republican site is any better? I'm not sure where it is, and oddly, googling for "republican party" doesn't get anything that looks like an official nationwide site on the first page.

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[ 10:38 Oct 01, 2004    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 03 Sep 2004

The Undecided Voter

Great election cartoon from This Modern World.

Here's another good one.

Or just Browse the archives.

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[ 21:19 Sep 03, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Anti-RNC Protestors imprisoned in New York

A judge ordered the immediate release of 470 protesters in New York yesterday, after they'd been held illegally for almost three days in substandard conditions in a makeshift holding cell retrofitted from a pier garage).

The city denied there was any political motivation to holding the detainees for so long, and blamed the delay on the huge number of arrestees.

(Well, whose fault is that?)

Sources

It's apparently based on an AP story, but it doesn't seem to be possible to get to AP stories from AP's web site.

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[ 11:24 Sep 03, 2004    More politics/rights | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 19 Aug 2004

Wrong Time for an E-Vote Glitch

Wired has had great coverage of the e-voting fiasco all along, but the latest story is particularly impressive: Wrong Time for an E-Vote Glitch. Sequoia Systems (suppliers, to our shame, for Santa Clara county, though at least they're not as bad as Diebold) had a demo for the California state senate of their new paper-trail system. Turned out that their demo failed to print paper trails for any of the spanish language ballots in the demo. It wasn't just a random glitch: they tried it several times, and every time, it failed to print the spanish voters' paper trail.

What a classic. I wish advocates for the Spanish-speaking community would seize on this and help to fight e-voting.

Sequoia, of course, is claiming that it wouldn't happen in a real election, that the problem was they didn't proofread the Spanish ballot but they would for a real election. I'm sure that makes everyone feel all better.

Other news mentioned in the article: the California bill to require a paper trail has stalled, and everyone thinks that's mysterious because it supposedly had bipartisan support.

They don't mention whether that's the same bill which would have allowed voters to choose a paper ballot rather than a touchscreen machine. That's important, since those of us who don't trust the touchscreen machines need to know in time to request absentee ballots, if we can't use paper ballots at the polls.

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[ 17:35 Aug 19, 2004    More politics/rights | permalink to this entry ]

Tue, 17 Aug 2004

EMI copy protected CDs don't affect Linux and Mac users

The Register had an article on the copy protection in the Beastie Boys' new CD. The relevant bit: the copy protection is only for Windows PCs (it uses a data track with an autorun file) and even then, it does nothing if autorun is disabled. For linux and mac users, it does nothing at all, and works as a normal CD. And Windows third-party CD burning apps can burn copies of the CD just fine.

The CD publisher, EMI Italy, was asked about this, and said they weren't worried at all about linux and mac users, or PC users who know enough to disable autorun (or use a CD burning app?); they think the majority of PC users will be stopped by this.

Assuming that Windows users who know enough to rip a CD and then distribute it online, but not enough to google for how to disable autorun, may seem a bit weird. But I guess if that's the kind of copy protection they want, we should be happy for it. Personally I still wouldn't buy a copy protected disc (I don't buy CDs from RIAA publishers anyway, a little personal boycott) and of course there's no guarantee, knowing the RIAA's history, that they won't decide to come after linux and mac users later; but for now, I suppose we should be happy that if we accidentally happen on this sort of disc, we don't have to worry about the Windows-oriented copy protection getting in our way.

(Would this constitute an anti-DMCA argument that the protection is not "effective"? It certainly should, but I'm still not entirely clear on the legal definition of "effective" except that it means something different from what the word means in normal English.)

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[ 17:04 Aug 17, 2004    More politics/rights | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 08 Jul 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 tonight. Well done. It had some typical Michael Moore silliness, but less than I expected; most of the movie was spot on. Two weeks after release, on a weeknight, the theatre was still fairly full (and it was playing on two screens).

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[ 23:00 Jul 08, 2004    More misc | permalink to this entry ]