This time of year, many of us are reflecting upon the things that we are thankful for. When it comes to elections, I am eternally grateful for peaceful transitions of power as we witness those that lost are voluntarily stepping aside to make way for others to be sworn into office. The significance of this cannot be overstated as all democracies are constantly in danger of receding into oppressive governments. This is evident in many countries today as we witness civil unrest in unstable institutions and the contesting of elections believed to be manipulated or fraudulent.
Restoring faith in vote counting is one way to strengthen our democracies; by providing clear and transparent elections results. If we can all agree that the vote count was fair and accurate, perhaps we can focus on other issues that desperately need our attention. After all, we may not all agree on every issue, but as Jefferson said in his first inaugural address, “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” By setting aside our differences of opinion and focusing on our common principals, we can accomplish great things together. With this in mind, I wish all of the incoming office holders the very best. May they conduct the people’s business with integrity and fulfill their duties with honor.
Kammi Foote, CAVO President
NFB: Accessible online ballot systems can eliminate problems faced by voters with disabilities
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest organization of blind and low-vision people in the United States and a supportive member of the California Association of Voting Officials (CAVO), notes there are a number of problems faced by people with disabilities in the voting process, stating that the use of accessible online systems can effectively overcome these problems.
Currently, Americans with disabilities are not able to cast a private and independent ballot, impairing the democratic process, according to NFB, which notes that voter participation levels of people with disabilities remain low due to the challenges posed by various problems related to the usage of paper ballots or poorly trained poll workers. NFB has shared information on the current problems faced by people with disabilities in voting processes and what can be done to improve the voting experience for the blind with CAVO Newsletter readers:
Q: Can you please share your thoughts about CAVO and NFB’s membership as a supportive organization? How do you think open source voting can improve the way people represented by your organization vote?
NFB: The National Federation of the Blind supports CAVO's mission to move election technology into the twenty-first century. Most states are currently using paper ballots, which are inaccessible to the blind and other voters with disabilities. This means that while most voters hand mark their ballots, voters with disabilities must use an accessible ballot marking device. Poll workers tend to be poorly trained on the operation of these accessible ballot marking devices because these machines are used infrequently due to the low percentage of voters with disabilities. In addition, the accessible ballot marking device typically found in a polling place is not accessible to voters who are deaf-blind. The use of accessible online ballot delivery systems can eliminate these problems because voters with disabilities will be able to use their own computer systems and their own access technology to mark their ballots.
Q: What are the most common challenges faced by the blind while casting votes? What implications, in your opinion, does the way people with disabilities currently vote have for democracy?
NFB: Poor poll worker training continues to be the biggest barrier that prevents blind voters from casting a private and independent ballot as guaranteed by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Following the 2014 midterm election, the National Federation of the Blind conducted a survey of blind voters under our HAVA grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Twenty-nine percent of the 427 voters surveyed said that poll workers had problems setting up or activating the accessible voting machine. The survey results also show that 17 percent of the blind voters surveyed were not able to cast a private and independent ballot.
Americans with disabilities are denied the status of first class citizenship when we are not able to cast a private and independent ballot. This disenfranchisement means that our voice is not heard, and, as a result, our democracy suffers from lack of diversity and lost potential.
Q: What type of voting systems in your opinion would ensure the highest rate of participation for the blind? Would the ability to use mobile devices improve voter experience?
NFB: Accessible online ballot delivery systems that are designed in accordance with WCAG 2.0 have great potential for enabling the highest number of voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently by using their own access technology. The use of online ballot delivery systems by voters with disabilities is a recent development. However, there is some data that demonstrate how successful the use of these systems can be. Of the seven blind voters who completed the National Federation of the Blind online ballot delivery system user survey following the 2014 midterm election, six strongly agreed that the online ballot delivery system made it easier for them to vote. A deaf-blind voter who completed the survey stated: "I did not have to stress about trying to hear the ballot while in a noisy environment. Instead, I could vote in a quiet, comfortable place using my adaptive technology that I am familiar with." Another blind voter who completed the survey stated: "I did not have to deal with poll workers who do not know how to activate the audio ballot." The ability to mark their ballots at a time that was convenient to them is another benefit of online ballot delivery systems that was mentioned by surveyed voters.
SF BOS Committee approves resolution on open source election systems
Supervisor Scott Wiener addresses the Rules Committee session on Dec. 3.
The Rules Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (BOS) recently approved a resolution to step up efforts to create new voting systems utilizing free open source software for elections.
In a special session held on Dec. 3, 2014 chaired by Supervisor Norman Yee, the Rules Committee passed Resolution no: 141105 on Supporting the Creation of Open Source Voting Systems -- Studying New Systems of Voting System Development, sponsored by Supervisor Scott Wiener.
In the special session on Dec. 3, Supervisor Wiener noted: "Our election system is the backbone of our democracy."
"We have a very strong Department of Elections in San Francisco and we should all be proud of the work the department has done, but I think it is important for us to always look for new ways to make things even better and to analyze all of our options," he said, adding that the county should strive to make election systems "even more transparent, secure and more publicly accountable"
"By following the open source path, we can ensure that elections are conducted with total accuracy and with less opportunity for fraud and we can relieve ourselves of expensive propriety software," Wiener stated.
"Last year, State Senator Alex Padilla introduced and passed Senate Bill 360, which provided the regulatory relief to pave the way for open voting systems", he recalled, adding that CAVO, which was formed after SB 360 was passed, aims to provide open source voting systems and to provide training, education and management practices about open source voting.
Alec Bash explains why open source systems can ensure greater transparency.
CAVO's Alec Bash, who has served as a San Francisco Voter Registration Coordinator and a past president of DemocracyAction, attended the session as a presenter. He offered a brief history of voting issues caused by electronic voting machines operated by costly propriety software. He recalled that the court reviewing the disputed election results in Florida's 13th Congressional District in 2006, could not review the propriety software code on the grounds that it constituted a trade secret as an example of how open source can guarantee greater transparency in elections.
Tim Mayer also spoke before the Rules Committee during the Dec. 3 session.
Tim Mayer, an open source voting advocate and a member of the San Francisco Voting Task Force, who also spoke to the committee, recommended an open source General Public License (GPL) voting system, saying opting for such a system would be "the next logical step."
Secretary for CAVO Brent Turner, who provided information on CAVO's goals, said: "We advocate transparency via publicly owned software."
A statement from CAVO President Kammi Foote read by Turner during the Dec. 3 Rules Committee session urged San Francisco to "become an active participant in the move towards open and transparent voting systems."
Christopher Jerdonek, Vice President of the San Francisco Elections Commission, also recommended open source voting systems, saying "It is something that is worth San Francisco pursuing."
The resolution was adopted with Rules Committee members Yee, Katy Tang and David Campos voting in favor. It will be submitted to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors over the next few weeks.
The full session can be viewed here.
Follow My Vote makes debut at New Law Conference in California
Follow My Vote develops secure voting platforms that also offer a solution to the problem of long lines at the polls.
Follow My Vote, a voting system company utilizing General Public License open source software, demonstrated their cutting edge systems for a group of election administrators at the New Law Conference in Sacramento, CA on Dec. 12, Thursday.
The system, which includes poll site and offsite (on-line / smart-phone) usages, was warmly received and will be further refined in the coming months, according to CEO Adam Ernest.
"The security and cost effectiveness of this kind of system is currently unmatched in the marketplace," stated Ernest. "We are honored to present this system at this critical time in election system administration."
For more information, please visit www.followmyvote.com.
SOE Software cancels membership with CAVO
SOE Software recently cancelled their membership with CAVO citing "irreconcilable differences."
CAVO spokesperson Brent Turner stated he was saddened by the decision but understood the company's reasoning. "SOE realized they were not going to be able to adhere to the strict General Public License standards set by CAVO," he said. "CAVO gives benefit of the doubt when a company or jurisdiction expresses a desire to participate in conversation, and we recognize some will be challenged in grappling with the paradigm shift."
SOE Software, which specializes in election management and online voting solutions, is a Scytl company.