My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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voting issues, take n

Remember when i said that i couldn’t vote in LA? I filed a complaint with the city about my inability to vote. I then learned that a bunch of my friends were in a similar position so i was unbelievably pissed. Luckily, i called up the nice San Francisco people and got them to emergency me an absentee and was all prepared to vote in SF. Then, late last nite, i got a call from some government official telling me that she had heard about my problem and had looked into it. She told me that i was now registered in LA and should have no problem voting. I asked if an absentee ballot was going to be rushed my way (since i’m in DC next Tuesday). She said that they had no record of me filing permanent absentee and that i had to remember to check the box. I said that i knew this and had done so on all three of my registration forms. She told me to hold on and i heard muttering and shuffling of papers in the background. I was then informed that she had my application right there and i had indeed checked permanent absentee and that she was extremely sorry. She explained that i couldn’t get an absentee ballot on time but that i could go to Culver City City Hall and vote touchscreen. She gave me detailed information and told me to call her back directly if i ran into any problem. I asked her if i could have my friends call her and she said yes.

I immediately called my friends and told them to contact her. K did so right away – i had pressured her into registering (“for her own good”) and so, when she finally decided to register, she wasn’t pleased that she never got anything back once she did. She called up the lady this morning who immediately recognized my name and took care of K, making sure she too could vote. While this is all fine and well (and i’m glad that i can vote and i’m glad that K can vote), i’m not too thrilled that there seems to be many mistakes in the registration process. How many people aren’t registered because of such oopses? Why do we even have to register? Why can’t we automatically be registered simply by being citizens? ::grumble:: And we wonder why people don’t vote.

Anyhow, i went to City Hall to vote. At first, i was pretty humored. There were people of all ages and backgrounds standing on line to do their civic duty. When i got to the front, i asked if i could use a paper ballot; they looked at me like i was the devil and told me that this was a touchscreen only station. I decided i should suck it up and figure out how this touchscreen shit works so i didn’t argue. But OMG do i not feel secure about my vote. I went in and there was a big Diebold machine laughing at me. I was given a card that i had to put into the machine so that i could click a bunch of buttons on a screen and “submit” my vote. Did it count? I have no idea. I’m not even a technophobe and i don’t trust that damn thing. One of the things that i love about voting in SF is that i have to tear off this piece of paper at the top of my ballot; that confirms my vote and i can always go back with it and say, find my vote. I’m one of those crazy people who even keeps her pieces of paper until well after the election. When i cast my ballot in SF, i get to see the machine read it and the number go up – i can always see how many people voted before me. Here in LA? I have no idea. And i’m sooo not confident about the database behind that thing. I asked if i could get a receipt for my voting and the people looked at me once again like i had horns. They said that it counted, that it was all in the computer. (Damn techno-fetishism.) I made a less-than-thrilled face. One guy say and said, here, take this and handed me a sticker. Rather than simply saying that i voted, this sticker has the gall to say “I voted touchscreen.”

::sigh::

For the record, i want to state that no matter how fucked up this process is (and it’s MAJORLY fucked up), it’s critical that you get out and vote and fight for others’ right to vote. Our ancestors fought to make this country a democracy. Lives were lost so that all men could vote, regardless of the color of their skin. The fight for women’s suffrage was long and hard. Still, today, there are many around the world who don’t have the privileges that we take for granted when it comes to voting. Regardless of what you believe, if you are an American, you have a civic and social responsibility to get out and vote on Tuesday. Furthermore, you have a responsibility to make certain that every citizen in this country can vote and be counted. Freedom means nothing if you aren’t willing to fight for others’ right to vote or if you aren’t willing to get off your ass and vote yourself. Vote on November 7. Be counted, be heard.

i love my country
by which i mean
i am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right
Ani Difranco

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12 comments to voting issues, take n

  • joe

    Zeph, for e-voting researchers like me, it’s always great to see someone write-up their voting experience, no matter what the technology they use. Thanks, and please encourage everyone you know to blog/write up their experience and share it. (We get valuable information from this…)

    It’s too bad you had such a gory registration problem. Knowing LA, it’s a very tightly run ship so it’s strange to hear about systematic problems like this. California, like the other 49 states, states have been moving to statewide registration databases, and the move has been rocky. (We have an oped in the Sacramento Bee about problems this election… I’ll send it at you when it comes out.)

    One question I have for you is: Did you even see the VVPAT? That is the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail that is mandated now by state law? This would be a printer on the right hand side of the machine that would print your ballot out near the end… the machine should have asked you to review the printout and compare it to the touchscreen contents. This is an important safeguard… a permanent record of your vote that is kept independent of the machinery. If you see that thing and it says how you voted and is correct, your vote will be much less susceptible to being lost or corrupted.

    By the way, the tear off thing (a ballot stub) that you got in San Francisco does not match you to your ballot. It’s used as proof for people who get paid time off to go vote. There’s no serial number or anything else that is specific to individual ballots on our ballots here in California. Identifying marks are actually illegal in California because they could help in facilitating vote-selling or coercion (imaging an employer demanding that his employees vote a certain way and then was later able to identify ballots and fire people that didn’t do what he said, for example).

    Paper is good… and we have that by law now in California (however, the Deibold AccuVote-TSx that you used has a particularly poorly designed VVPAT printer subsystem).

    Also, by the way, the word “receipt” is bad… that is, any official document that indicates how you voted could be used to sell your vote or prove to someone how you voted… that’s probably why they looked weird at you when you said that. (In the first case it’s because they associate people that want paper with the activists out there.)

    Finally, you could have voted on paper, however you would have had to cast a provisional ballot. This type of ballot is the same as a normal ballot, it’s just put in a special envelope. Think of it as “votes on pause”… on the envelope, you write a bunch of detailed personal information (SSN, birthday, etc.) so that they can scour their records and assure themselves that you are 1) registered to vote and 2) haven’t voted twice. If you are registered and haven’t yet voted, they’ll count your ballot. So, it’s a choice between a touchscreen with a paper trail and having to give up that much personal information to cast a provisional ballot.

  • How did you have any idea your vote counted when you voted on paper?

    We take a lot on faith as voters. One positive aspect of Diebold is they have shaken a faith that was never very well founded to begin with.

  • It is unfortunate it is so problematic there. In Canada we have an independent, non-partisan agency that answers to Parliament and runs federal elections called Elections Canada.

    http://tinyurl.com/y6gcjq

    It used to be that for elections that enumerators were hired that went door-to-door in their electoral district and registered people to vote.

    Now there is a National Register of Electors database that contains the names of a preliminary list of eligible voters. It is updated by a variety of sources:

    Elections Canada has signed agreements with data suppliers, including the Canada Revenue Agency, Canada Post Corporation, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provincial and territorial registrars of motor vehicles and vital statistics, and provincial electoral agencies with permanent voters lists. Lists of electors from provincial and territorial elections are also used to update the Register. It is important to note that there is no database linkage between Elections Canada and these data suppliers.

    It seems super easy to get on the Elections Canada Voter Registry, you can check a box on your income tax form, your Canada Post change of address form, or your new citizenship form in you are a new Canadian. The info is then forwarded.

    Here is an example of a by-election upcoming in London North Centre district which shows the type of information provided to assist people.

    http://tinyurl.com/ymke3k

    There is also a special emphasis on encouraging youth to vote.

    http://tinyurl.com/yju29j

  • joe

    Here’s a video about the TSx you used from the LA County RoV: http://www.lavote.net/VOTER/TEV.cfm

  • HA! when i first saw that image, i assumed it was some sort of politically charged snide joke sticker that the EFF or someone was distributing. But no, it is the OFFICIAL “i voted” sticker. gaaah!

  • You’re not the first person I hear talk about “voting registration”, but it only hit me now that what I thought was “normal” (ie, the way it is here, at home, Switzerland: you’re a citizen, you get to vote) was not necessarily “normal” (damn ethnocentrism).

    How do most countries function, with regards to voting?

    Here in Switzerland, when there’s a votation coming up (and it happens way too often in a way, if you ask me — we get to vote on things like “do these two villages 150km away get to merge or not — but OTOH we get to vote on more important stuff too, and it’s “normal”) we get the voting material by post at our “official address”. (You’re on a register somewhere in the town/village you live in.)

    Then we can either vote by post (had that now for a couple of years) or go to the voting hall on voting day to slip our papers into the urn.

  • And here in Canada, we have a check-box on our annual income tax return that says, more or less, put me on the voters list. Makes it easy to register, but of course, that assumes that those in power want to make it easy for people to register.

  • CW

    Here in Australia it’s compulsory for all citizens over the age of 18 to vote. No ifs, no buts. I can hear people saying that it should be a choice, etc, but on the other hand, surely if you’re a part of our society you should have certain obligations?

  • it is fucked. Usually, when a country has consecutive disputed/shady elections — independent election observers show up. Not happen here, but no way am I gonna let the MAN determine the fate of American democracy (I mean, the DPRK is an alleged democracy as well).

    There is HAVA — the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which entitles *anyone* to vote provisionally if they want to. (Even if you’re from Mars). Most likely these do not get counted, however.

    The workaround for new arrivals to a precinct (in California) is to bring a photo ID, even better back it up with a utility bill or something.

    Whether or not mini-bar-key hackable Diebold electronic voting machines are the norm in any given state — we Americans seem to be so accepting of our so-called democracy that the REAL result, is concluded super-artificially before the polls even close.

    There should be no early concessions in close races. Take Mexican presidential candidate Lopez-Obrador as an example.

    I’ll be roaming the county (there are *thousands* of polling stations in Los Angeles County) with video the vote. To hell with black/white blue/red partisanship. I want my democracy/free culture/open society!

  • Thank goodness we just elected Debra Bowen as secretary of state. She narrowly beat a much better funded R incumbent, who re-certified Diebold after they flunked a security audit.

    She “termed out” of the state senate, where she got some excellent bills passed on voting rights and voting system integrity. With Debra Bowen as SOS, I feel really good about the CA system getting better.

  • I think it’s interesting that people are focussed on the hackability of voting systems which is obviously important. But surely what is even more important is that people are actually able to cast the vote that they intend to cast in the first place.

  • I suspect that’s thereason general public want to read blog….Internet visitors generally create blogs to declare themselves or their secret views. Blog grant them same matter on the monitor screen what they specifically needed,so as the above stuffs declared it.