April 29th, 2004

VerifiedVoting Lobby Days prelim report

Just got back from DC at 8am this morning after a travel disaster: a smoke alarm in one of the restaurants in DC's Union Station went off just before 7pm, causing a full evacuation of the building, which is a metro, bus, and light-rail hub. Somehow by the time the false alarm had been resolved, a power-outage had occurred in the train terminal which "started affecting the signals". When power came back, the outage had let air pressure out of the track-switching equipment, and so a *further* delay was required while it was repressurized. Two hours later (9:05pm), trains finally started leaving the station again, by which time I had thoroughly missed the flight from BWI which I was supposed to be taking. Of course that was the last flight of the day...

I ended up taking the overnight Amtrak. Sleeping on trains is not my idea of a good night's rest.

I'll try to write up a fuller account of my part in Verified Voting's Lobby Days Monday-Wednesday of this week, but in the interim here are some links I don't want to lose track of.

First is some coverage of the verifiedvoting.org press conference Wednesday morning. I know that CNN and other organizations were there with video cameras, but the only print writeups I can find via google news this morning are by Grant Gross from the IDG News Service. There are versions of the article in ComputerWorld, PCWorld, and ITWorld. Our press release is on PRNewsWire and directly on the verifiedvoting.org site.

It also came to my attention that Maine has passed state law requiring a voter-verified paper trail for elections. The two Republican Senators from Maine were on my target list for lobbying, but I ran out of time on Wednesday. If I'd have known of Maine's success here, I would have put them much higher on my priority list. We need more Republican support for Senate bull S.1980: these two should certainly hear from us!

Indefinite detention and WMD

Two important slate articles:
  1. Dahlia Lithwick on the Hamdi/Padilla cases in Supreme Court:
    How you feel about the indefinite military detentions of Yaser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla will turn largely on what you think life will look like when it starts. By "it," I mean the moment at which fundamental liberties are curtailed by well-meaning governments and the legal system becomes unable to offer relief.
  2. Fred Kaplan on American spending on Nuclear Weapons, which is now higher even than during the Cold War: $6.8 billion dollars this year for weapons we claim we will never use.
    The official inside debate, in other words, is whether to build new nuclear weapons that are more usable in modern warfare or whether to do that and make the old nuclear weapons more usable, too. A broader debate—over whether to go down this twisted road generally—has not yet begun.
You may also be interested in EduWonk, which blogs on education issues: today, the "No Child Left Behind" Act.


From RISKS 23.34:
The three winners of this year's EFF Pioneer Award (announced at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2004 on 22 Apr 2004) are Kim Alexander, David Dill, and Avi Rubin. The three were honored for their "pioneering work spearheading and nurturing a popular movement for integrity and transparency in modern elections."

Relating to the question of whether the vendors' claims that pre-testing and post-testing demonstrate that nothing can go wrong during an election, Kim Alexander's acceptance speech cited this quote: 'An extra bias routine could be added to the vote-counting program that would have certain characteristics to make it undetectable by the official "logic and accuracy" test. This routine could be arranged so as not to go into effect until a larger number of ballots had been counted than were in the logic and accuracy test sample, or could be prevented from being operative during the test and be activated by a computer operator only for the official count.'

Her speech continued as follows:

"It sounds like something Dave Dill, or Avi Rubin or David Jefferson, or Rebecca Mercuri or any number of computer scientists might have said in the past year or two. But it dates back to 1970, when computer experts, working with civil rights leader Dr. James Farmer, first sounded the alarm over computerized vote counting risks.

"When I first read this passage in a 1975 study by Roy Saltman, I had a sinking feeling. People have been warning of the potential to accidentally or deliberately alter election results through computer software for decades, ever since we started using software to count punch card ballots in the 1960's.

"This is not a new problem. It's an old problem that never got solved. But I'm optimistic we will solve it. And the reason is because we have the tools to do so. We have the Internet. We have the ability to share information, to connect with each other, and to make a public problem so apparent that it can no longer be ignored.

"The history of this country has been one long struggle for freedom. It continues today through the efforts being made by thousands of people across this country who are working to ensure we have voting systems which produce results which can be verified."

If I'd only known...

Being without broadband internet over the past few days during Verified Voting Lobby Days was tough. Really tough. Especially when Representative's staffers would ask you questions that you knew you could answer definitively, if you could only surf around a bit.

One day too late to help, The Open Park Project announces free WiFi on the National Mall, right between the Senate and House office buildings. Which means there was probably a signal there in the few days prior, when I could have used it. If I'd only known!