Sunday, May 5, 2013

Google Me This: Ballots and Pallets

Something that catches my eye frequently, now that I'm a blogger and all, are others' posts and tips on how to come up with blogging content.

I don't see how that's a problem.  Ideas haven't dried up here at least and it seems counter intuitive that anyone would create a blog and then have difficulty coming up with content (ergo, no content = end the blog).

(2013 To Do Item: Use "ergo" in a blog post before June 1--check!).

Focus is more my blogging issue.  (Did you just see that demonstrated above?).

Sometimes there are some thoughts floating that are not broad enough for a blog post and a couple of them will be loosely tied here.

I've often thought "Ballots and Pallets" would be an
interesting (to me) reality TV show.
In elections, we cross many points of view, particularly about technology.  One man's secure system is another's gateway to fraud, for instance.

Take paper ballots.

They are touted as the only way to go by many, but recognized as fraught with problems regarding voter intent by others.  Add in the component of ballots by mail and worries escalate.

My worry is that the post office won't deliver the voters' ballot.  If the voter doesn't get the ballot, the voter can call us and we can issue another.  If we don't get the voted ballot, we really don't know we should have been expecting it in the first place.

Others, though, worry that ballots by mail could be cast by someone other than to whom they are issued.  The Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2010 added some language and signature requirements to envelopes as an assurance that ballots were cast properly.

For some reason, this assurance didn't apply to mail-ballot elections.  In Kansas, these elections can only be for questions, not people, but we will have three large ones in 2013.

Nearly as many voters--possibly a smidge more, even--will be issued ballots in 2013 than in the presidential year of 2012 in Johnson County because of these mail-ballot elections.  

One fraud concern raised by a local paper a few years ago was that these single question ballots allowed for the persons opening the envelopes to see how a voter cast a vote.  The ballot does have to be removed from the envelope and unless the special board members wear blindfolds during the process, this is a risk.

Members of this board are sworn to not to disclose how someone has voted, but in these situations it is still unlikely that the votes are even noticed.  Ballots come folded and are unfolded in a separate process after the envelope has been removed from the table.

We have other odd rules about that room, by the way, including no dark-ink pens allowed (red only) and no trash cans.

We spend considerable time, and most of it wasted energy thankfully, trying to think of any potential security hole.  My overall view is that if there is a potential fraud area in any part of our voting system, I want it identified and addressed well before some smart scientist thinks he or she has discovered it.

We've therefore become manic about new technology, first to understand how we can benefit (such as the Harvard iPad award) but also to see the risks.

Thus, the closing of this post is really an illustration of the loss of focus I mentioned before and, journalism students, an example where the lead was buried:

Google Glass
I am becoming growingly worried about what I don't know regarding Google Glass, the new wearable device by Google.  I've emailed a contact at Google, but I'd love to try a pair out, even if it's on loan (developers pay for a pair, which I'm fine with, too).

I'll admit that I always like to be the first kid on the block to try a gadget, but these devices can take photos by winking, for instance.  Forget our special board opening each ballot (although, I guess, that's a risk, but I've never seen any of our board of grandmothers wink), what about voters and workers at the polls?

One of my concerns, for instance, in large general elections is that we might have a new election worker, signing up for November as the first election, with an activist cause.  We can sniff that out a bit, but we've had to discuss more and more that the use of social media while the polls are open is prohibited.

I never want anyone to think we stirred the results of the election.  A social media post of "few voters here today" or "lines all day!" could impact turnout, for instance.  I cringe at the possibility of "first voter at our polling place," sent out on Twitter.

By the November election in 2014, I expect Google Glass will be out there.  When the CEO of Google already is talking about ethical guidelines for the use of the devices, my guard is up.

Then, of course, comes the other side of this--could we use these devices for voting (not sure how, but I wonder) or even voter check-in?

38 months ago, iPads were not yet released.  Now, they are a central part of our culture.  It's possible that Google Glass will have similar prominence by the 2016 presidential election and, if so, I want to know what that means to election administration.