I went to a talk with the above title in San Diego tonight hosted by the American Constitution Society, where there was a panel featuring Debra Bowen, California Secretary of State, Richard L. Hasen, and Donna Frye.

Hasen spoke concisely and articulately about election law. Debra Bowen spoke about why and how she investigated and finally de-certified electronic voting machines in California. Finally, Donna Frye spoke about how she was screwed over when ballots cast for her were not counted. Funny enough, Hasen blogged about this in 2004. In the 2004 election, I wrote in Donna Frye’s name (and I’m pretty sure I filled in the bubble too).

Donna Frye’s case was really interesting. Her lost case was loosely based on California legislation that says essentially “in order for a write-in vote to be counted, the directions on the ballot must be followed”. Because people did not fill in the circle next to where they WROTE her name, their ballots were not counted. You can ready the Union Tribune’s coverage here, but it doesn’t do Donna Frye’s case justice. The treatment of determining voter intent was not fair. According to Donna Frye, vote counters were filling in half-filled-in circles next to the bubble-in candidates names - officially counting the votes. But in some cases the names of the bubbled-in candidates were crossed out while they wrote “Donne Frye” (spelled correctly) in the write-in spot. I have a feeling that if it were in his interest, Judge Brenner would remember that sometimes it’s the spirit, and not the letter of the law that’s more important.

But the reason I really wanted to write this entry is to describe Debra Bowen. I don’t know how many slashdot comment threads I’ve read through about the frustration that geeks have with the insecurity and lack of a paper trail which our electronic voting machines have been rife with. Yes, we know better than the county election idiots who buy these poorly designed machines. No, politicians never listen to us, even when the smartest of us makes a great case for not using them. No politicians - except Debra Bowen.

To examine the usability, accountability, and security of electronic voting machines Debra Bowen got experts in the field: both professional and academic to study the voting machines (slashdotters already know what the results were). This is how she came to the same conclusion all us geeks already have: these machines are total crap. Not only did she create better standards for electronic voting machine certification, but she said she supports an open source solution! Debra Bowen understands open source! I have come to expect so much less from our politicians. She was a breath of fresh air.


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