Monday, July 17, 2006

Humboldt EAC Notes, Part 2

Early Friday morning I posted the first part of my report on last Thursday night's meeting of the Humboldt County citizens' Election Advisory Committee (EAC). It was getting long and late so I promised to continue in this separate post in order to cover the discussion of the Humboldt Transparency Project, a groundbreaking effort to allow any community member or group to verify the reported results of our elections. I'll get to this in a moment. First a few loose ends...

I previously reported that Humboldt Registrar Carolyn Crnich expressed concerns about the chances of Vote-PAD being approved for use in CA. Vote-PAD is the non-electronic ballot marking device being marketed to counties for compliance with the Help America Vote Act's (HAVA) provisions requiring disabled voters be able to cast their ballots privately and independently. As noted in this Vote-PAD press release, disabled voters will have a chance to test the Vote-PAD device in Sacramento this Wednesday and Thursday. In an e-mail received Friday morning, Vote-PAD President Ellen Theisen explained one of the reasons for Crnich's pessimism:

Vote-PAD, Inc. is not authorized to recruit testers or publicize the testing, so when people get in touch with us asking how to sign up, we direct them to the Elections Office. It is my understanding that Gillian Underwood in the SoS office is managing the outreach and scheduling. Her number is 916/657-2180.
To be clear, the Secretary of State's office has gone out of its way to prohibit Vote-PAD from encouraging participation in the testing and certification process, supposedly out of concern for biasing the volunteer test voters. This may be inconsistent with directives given to vendors selling electronic voting machines. Further questions have been raised about comparative standards and protocols based on the proposed test plan (outlining the conditions for disabled voters to test Vote-PAD) provided by the Yolo County Elections Department to the California Election Protection Network. The full text of the plan is at the bottom of this post. Here are some of the questions that have arisen in public discussion:* * *

Now regarding the Humboldt Transparency Project (HTP), I mentioned last month that Humboldt County's legal counsel advised Crnich that the project could not proceed as planned because it would violate section 17306D of the CA election code which prohibits opening the containers containing completed ballots except to destroy or recycle the ballots. Several members of the EAC offered different interpretations and it now seems possible that the County Counsel won't have the last word.

Further discussion of the HTP focused on important people with whom Crnich has been discussing the project, and a bit about the technical aspects. Perhaps most importantly, State Senator and Secretary of State Candidate Debra Bowen was reportedly "giddy" about the HTP during a recent lunch meeting with Yolo County Registrar Freddie Oakley. Both Bowen and Oakley are outspoken advocates for election reform. According to Crnich, upon learning of the project, Bowen's Chief of Staff Evan Goldberg said, "you struck gold."

Two details emerged that advanced the clarity of my understanding of the project. First, we are talking about CDs being made available to community members or groups to count the votes for verification of the official count. The .tif images on the CDs will be created by scanning the ballots. On a mechanical level, this scan will differ from the Diebold optical scan used to produce the official results. The HTP is intended to avoid the use of any proprietary programming. Also, instead of having computer code that translates the ballot information into Diebold's secret vote counting language, the idea is to scan it more like a photocopier which simply makes a duplicate image without interacting with the components of the image.

Another aspect of the program involves adding a unique identifier to each image. This will not compromise the anonymity of the voter but it will allow for discrepancies to be traced back to the original ballot. This idea is one part watermarking and one part product recall plan. No change is made to the original paper ballot of record, but as its image is taken, it will be identified on the CD along the lines of "lot 2, ballot 12."

Crnich said she intends to be in Sacramento on August 9 to testify in favor of Vote-PAD's certification. All citizens are able to add public comment live on that date or by writing to the Secretary of State's office up until about a week past then. Crnich also said she intends to seek meetings with Bowen and others regarding the HTP while in the state capital.

* * *

Proposed Test Plan for Vote-PAD Use In Conjunction with the Diebold AccuVote-OS (Optical Scan) System and the Hart Ballot Now Voting Systems

Goal: To appraise the usability, reliability, privacy and accuracy of the Vote-PAD system when used in accordance with the proposed use procedures for each respective system.

Test Overview: Testing will take place at the Secretary of State’s Office in Sacramento. The accessibility advocacy community will be solicited for voters with disabilities representing a range of disability modalities. Test voters will be scheduled to arrive at varying times throughout the test. Every test voter will be asked to participate in Phase 1 of the test, which will measure the ability of the “voters” to accurately mark their ballots with their vote choices. Voters with visual impairments will also be asked to participate in Phase 2 of the test to gauge the ability to accurately verify a ballot and determine how it was voted.

Test Participants: As mentioned above, local accessibility advocacy organizations, such as Protection and Advocacy, Inc., the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and The California Council of the Blind, will be contacted and solicited for test participants. A day (or days) will be selected for the testing to take place based on room and staff availability and availability of a sufficient number of participants. Applicant counties are encouraged to contact their local accessibility advocacy community to recruit participants for the test as well.

Test Protocol: Each of the county applicants will select their longest ballot style from the June 2006 Primary Election. Each will prepare five (5) Vote-PAD, five (5) audio instruction cassettes, five (5) verification wands, two (2) Braille booklets and one (1) large-font instruction book based on that ballot style.

Each county staff will also supply two persons to serve as “poll workers” throughout the test. These “poll workers” will be responsible for setting up the voting experience for each test participant in accordance with the proposed use procedures for that respective system. This ‘set up’ will include preparing the ballot in the Vote-PAD booklet for voting, supplying the voter with appropriate equipment for using the Vote-PAD (e.g., audio cassette & headphones, verification wand, non-slip pads, write-in ballots, etc), and providing basic instruction for the voter to get started.

Each voter will be directly monitored by Secretary of State Staff or Secretary of State consultant. These “monitors” will monitor and evaluate the entire experience for each voter, beginning with check-in and initial instruction, through actual Phase 1 and Phase 2 testing. At the conclusion of each participant’s testing, these monitors will conduct a brief survey of the participating voter, focusing on usability and satisfaction with the system.

All ballots will be sequentially numbered for tracking and comparing accuracy of ballot marking and scanning as compared with voter intent.

Participant test voters will be randomly assigned to either the Diebold blended system or the Hart blended system for testing purposes.

During Phase 1, the voter will be asked to vote a ballot. As the voter records his or her vote choice for each contest, the voter will be asked to state aloud for the monitor the vote choice that voter believes he or she is marking on the ballot. The monitor will record the vote choices as stated by the participant voter. At times, the monitor will randomly direct the voter to:
Skip a contest and then later return to the contest to record the vote; and/or
Vote a specific write-in candidate for a particular contest.

At the conclusion of Phase 1, each test participant with visual impairments will be asked to participate in Phase 2 of the test.

During Phase 2, the participant will be provided a pre-marked ballot and asked to determine (“verify”) the vote choices on that ballot. For each contest, the participant will be asked to state aloud the vote choice(s) he or she believes was voted for that contest. The monitor will record those votes as ‘verified’ by the participant for later comparison against the actual ballot.

Voted ballots in this phase will include contests that are over-voted or under-voted. They will also include contests with write-ins recorded on the write-in sheet.

At the conclusion of each test voting experience, the participant will be briefly surveyed by the monitor. That survey will focus on the participant’s demographics, experience with accessible voting systems and perceptions of the test experience. In addition to the vote choices or “verifications,” the monitor will also record the time involved for voter instruction and training, time taken to vote the ballot, time taken to verify the ballot, and any difficulties observed in the voting process.

At the conclusion of all test voting, all ballots voted in Phase 1 will be tabulated by the respective voting system in accordance with proposed use procedures for that blended system. This tabulation will be done at the direction of the Secretary of State Staff. Totals will be generated and the reports compared to the sum of the vote choices recorded by the monitors.

All testing will be recorded by videotape. All recordings will remain the property of the Secretary of State. All recordings will be made publicly available upon release of the Secretary of State’s Staff Report from system testing.

Evaluation of the Systems: In terms of accuracy for the system to capture and record the voter’s intent, the blended systems will be deemed an automatic pass if the error rate in Phase 1 voting (actual votes read and tabulated compared to stated vote choices) and in Phase 2 verification (stated ‘verifications’ compared to actual ballot) are below the threshold error rates in the 2002 Voting System Standards.

Each blended system will also be subjectively evaluated for usability, reliability and privacy in accordance with the proposed use procedures for that system, based on direct observation by Secretary of State Staff and/or the State’s Consultants and upon survey feedback by test participants.

Additional Conditions

No interference: Once preliminary voter instruction is completed, the applicant staff, including “poll workers”, may not interact with any test participants unless authorized by the Secretary of State monitor.

Observers:The Secretary of State may designate up to three official observers of the test. Each applicant may have up to three designated observers of the test. Additional observers will be allowed upon the mutual agreement of the Secretary of State and allapplicants. All observers will be physically restricted to the designated observer area and may not interfere with the test in any manner.

Confidentiality:All test participants and observers will be required to execute a confidentiality agreement, prohibiting discussion of the test in any manner until the Secretary of State has publicly released its report from the test.

Responsibilities:

The Applicants for each system will be jointly responsible for supplying:
400 blank ballots (each applicant) of the single largest ballot style from the June 2006 Primary Election for that county;

Five Vote-PAD booklets prepared for the above ballots with five matching audio instruction sets (cassette tape or CD, depending on the audio device proposed for the system), two Braille ballot instruction booklets and one large-print instruction book based on that ballot style. Each is to be prepared in accordance with the Vote-PAD vendor instructions and the proposed system use procedures;

Five verification wands (each applicant) of the model proposed in the application;
Sufficient accessories and supplies, such as audio playback devices, ballot marking pens, non-skid pads, etc. to outfit five voters voting simultaneously. For all such devices, the equipment supplied must meet the specifications identified in the application. Where specifications are not identified for a device (such as the audio playback device), it will be assumed that the actual product and model supplied for testing will be the actual product that will be used at the polls, and certification will be based on that specific product;

Predefined election databases for each system, configured to read and tally the above ballots for each system;

All necessary hardware and software, including servers, scanners, printers and memory devices to tabulate and report vote results from the test election;
Five camcorders with tripods and sufficient videotape to capture and document all testing activity;

At least two persons from each applicant county who are trained in the proposed use procedures for that blended system to serve as “poll workers” throughout the test; and

Necessary staff to setup and operate all voting system equipment.

Additionally, the applicants will be jointly responsible for all costs directly associated with the test, including:

The cost for services of the technical consultants hired by the Secretary of State to conduct the test and review all application materials, as well as their associated travel expenses;

The cost to provide security for the event; and

The cost to supply all necessary supplies and materials to conduct the test.

The Secretary of State will be responsible for:

Securing the location of the testing;

Arranging security at the event, including identification badges for all participants;

Providing and training all test monitors;

Developing voting ‘scripts’ for Phase 1 of the test and pre-marking ballots for Phase 2 of the test; and

Developing necessary forms and procedures for documenting the testing experience of each voter, and the post-election survey of participants.

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