Black Box Voting remarks submitted for California 3/11/14 meeting on Senate Select Committee on Science, Innovation and Public Policy
To: Senator Padilla
From: Black Box Voting
Submitted March 11, 2014
I am the director of Black Box Voting, a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan election transparency organization. I respectfully submit the following remarks for the meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Science, Innovation and Public Policy on March 11, 2014, regarding technology and elections.
I will focus my remarks on one very specific solution I discovered through my research on international election methods, to show how technology can be used to broaden enfranchisement, motivation to vote, and improve overall election integrity while protecting against error or unfairness.
First, I would like to draw an important distinction between transparent public accountability, which is necessary for any true democracy, and the concept of “safe and secure” technology. A technology that is safe and secure but not accountable or transparent to the public at large does not ultimately protect democracy. It is of little value if only experts, or government officials, instruct the public to believe that a system is “safe and secure” while offering the public no way to authenticate the truth. In fact, such a system in effect allows the government to choose itself.
Therefore I focus on the issue of public transparency, with the goal in mind to retain, or in some cases restore, public right to authenticate key election processes.
Four areas comprise transparent public election accountability. Modern technology provides some very exciting ways to enhance and improve these areas.
1) Who can vote (the voter list)
2) Who did vote (poll list, or participating voter list)
3) Vote count
4) Chain of custody
My input addresses the first issue, “who can vote” — looking at ways to ensure transparency and accountability in the eligible voter list. After analyzing voter registration lists for several jurisdictions, I have found extraordinary inaccuracies in voter lists, ranging from inaccuracies in assigned precinct, duplicate, triplicate, and quadruplicate entries, impossible birthdates, and in states with restricted primaries, incorrect political party assignment. In addition, voter histories were often changed after the fact, purged, or simply inaccurate, sometimes in ethnic blocs and sometimes only when provided to candidates.
Compiling the centralized database, a process which California is still struggling with, is a daunting task, made more difficult by voters moving and changes in eligibility status. Once the voter list has been compiled, however, technology can be used to both increase transparent accountability and make it more accurate.
One of the most promising and cost-effective methods for improving accuracy and fairness can be found in Pakistan’s recent implementation of a widely publicized cell phone text messaging application, which enables CROWDSOURCING — that is, allows millions of people at once to assess and improve their own voter list accuracy. I have written about this, and included source material, here:
Simply by dialing the four-digit code, “8300” on any cell phone, Pakistani citizens can check that they are registered, where they are registered, and get information on where to find their polling place. Remarkably, out of 85 million voters on the list, 55 million used the text messaging service during the last election, a 65% participation in the service! This, despite the fact that Pakistan has a much lower literacy rate than the United States. The system paid for itself through a nominal charge, the equivalent of two pennies per use of the system; it was very widely used, despite the fact that Pakistan has a lower average income than the United States.
The system produced extraordinary results: Voter turnout increased overall. Disabled voters also increased their turnout, most likely because they were easily able to obtain information on accessible polling places.
Furthermore, at least four instances of unfairness were identified and corrected before the election:
1) Vote suppression: By crowdsourcing the checking process, and making it easier and more appealing and, one might even surmise, social, it was discovered that one ethnic group had been nearly entirely sidelined onto a supplemental list, increasing the chance for erroneous disenfranchisement.
2) Vote suppression: By combining the cell phone voter registration checking application with neighborhood poll list centers, where everyone could also see the entire voter list, it was discovered that a ten percent discrepancy existed in registration of female voters.
3) Vote stuffing: By combining the text messaging service, the full list available for checking at neighborhood centers, and law enforcement capabilities, it was discovered that a handful of partisan election workers in one particular area had fraudulently registered a large number of bogus voters.
4) Vote suppression: By making it easy to check voter registration along with polling location, it was found that nearly 100,000 citizens were assigned to the wrong district, which would therefore have rendered them ineligible to vote.
These problems were corrected before the election, creating greater accuracy, a more fair election, and greater voter enthusiasm in the process. Note that the emphasis was on broad-based, crowd-sourced accountability, which inevitably created more confidence, rather than on government officials telling voters that the system was accurate and that they should feel confident.
Thank you very much for allowing me to present my thoughts on this very important subject.
Bev Harris, Executive Director
Black Box Voting Inc.
330 SW 43rd St Suite K – PMB 547 Renton WA 98057
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Election protection tools: Advocacy – How to provide public testimony – http://blackboxvoting.org/election-protection-tools-how-to-provide-public-testimony
Election protection tools: Voter list – Protect voter list with mobile app – http://blackboxvoting.org/election-protection-tools-voter-lists-mobile-app/
Black Box Voting stories related to California: http://blackboxvoting.org/category/california/
Alex Padilla – Elected California Secretary a California State in 2014; Democrat; former senator for California’s 20th State Senate district; was Chair of Calif. Senate Select Committee on Science, Innovation and Public Policy and on the Elections and Constitutional Amendments committee. More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Padilla
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Black Box Voting: A US-based advocacy organization for election transparency http://blackboxvoting.org
Election transparency: Election transparency is the public ability to see and verify each essential step in elections, the essential steps being: (1) who can vote (voter list), (2) who did vote (poll list, or participating voter list), (3) counting of the vote, and (4) chain of custody. Reasons for transparency with sources: http://blackboxvoting.org/transparency/
All Black Box Voting stories related to election transparency: http://blackboxvoting.org/category/election-transparency/
Voter list: The voters list is a fundamental component in any voting system. The primary purpose of the voters list is to confirm the eligibility of voters to participate in the election. Each voter should appear on the list only once and the residence of the voter must be correct in order to determine local ballot questions on which he/she is eligible to vote. More Black Box Voting stories related to voter lists: http://blackboxvoting.org/category/voter-list/
Vote suppression: a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by obstructing people from exercising the right to vote. It attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against the candidate or proposition advocated by the suppressors. Tactics can range from strategic “human error” to tricks that make voting inconvenient, up to removing names from eligible voter lists and/or intimidation of voters to prevent them from casting ballots. Black Box Voting stories related to vote suppression: http://blackboxvoting.org/tag/vote-suppression/ ; Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_suppression
Vote stuffing: When extra, illegitimate votes are inserted into an election. Detecting ballot-stuffing depends a great deal on how good the record-keeping is. The number of persons on the participating voter list should match the number of ballots cast. One method to stuff ballots is to also stuff the voter list with false names, and arrange to insert votes under those names, either by absentee voting or through a poll worker. A more elegant strategy for ballot stuffing is to examine voter history lists and select legitimate voters who seldom vote, casting ballots under names unlikely to vote. All Black Box Voting stories related to vote stuffing: http://blackboxvoting.org/tag/vote-stuffing/ ; Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_fraud (Ballot stuffing section)
Short Message Service (SMS): a text messaging service component of phone, Web, or mobile communication systems. It uses standardized communications protocols to allow fixed line or mobile phone devices to exchange short text messages. SMS was the most widely used data application, with an estimated 3.5 billion active users, or about 80% of all mobile phone subscribers at the end of 2010. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Message_Service