No Opposition

I’ve said it a few times in public. There’s “no opposition” to the OVC project. The challenge is in gathering together the support needed to accomplish steps toward our ultimate goal.

So when Jackie Goldberg’s office (of the CA Assembly Member that’s carrying our bill, AB 2097) informed me that lobbyists were showing up saying that industry is making it a priority to kill our bill, I had to re-think that just a bit.

There is some opposition. We ran into that. Tom Umberg’s staff didn’t seem to like the bill. The American Electronics Association (AeA), a large industry association was represented at the hearing. Deborah Seiler (former Diebold salesperson) of Solano County and Jill LaVine of Sacramento testified on behalf of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials (CACEOConny McCormack of Los Angeles, president). There was also opposition from another large industrial consortium, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), which had sent a long opposition letter signed by representatives of ES&S and Sequoia. Two of McPherson’s senior staff members represented the Secretary of State’s office, explaining his position.

Bob Kibrick of VerifiedVoting wrote a nice rebuttal to the ITAA letter. The AeA letter was even dumber than the ITAA letter.

April 18th began with a call from Sally Lieber’s office. Assemblywoman Lieber, a strong ally and co-author, had been working on Tom Umberg. She was having trouble with the issue of how open systems can be secure, and she wanted a little coaching. This is a common question that we’ve answered many times in varying levels of detail. Also, this assertion (that an open voting system will be less secure) also turned up in Secretary of State Mcpherson’s letter, which he had sneaked in at the last minute (dated April 17th; Goldberg received late on the 17th and was faxed to me early on the 18th). So I took my short answer to that question and moved it to the top of my one-page handout I prepared for committee members. I emailed it to Lieber’s office and hoped she would be able to use it in time. I also knew that Jackie Goldberg would be working on Umberg before the hearing too. So, while I was doubtful we would get his vote, we certainly were not going to let him off easy.

I invited Josh Berkus, our designated independent open source guru from San Francisco, for lunch (a few blocks away at the Fox and Goose) so we’d have a chance to get oriented. Brent Turner joined us. We walked over to Goldberg’s office around 1:15. Jackie arrived shortly and we all walked to the hearing room by our appointed time (1:30).

One bill was heard before us. As I understood it, they were scheduled to hear 30 bills that day so I was very concerned about the timing. Joan Quinn took a seat near me. She asked about what she could do and I said that I wasn’t sure there would be time for testimony from the audience. Cliff Costa of Johan Klehs office walked over to me and said that Klehs would vote for the bill but that he had to leave by 3:00 pm.

We got started around 2:00 pm. Jackie presented the bill in an interesting way. She explained that a friend of hers for 30 years — a computer engineer with a lot of experience working on large complicated systems — had explained the issues to her, and she recounted the reasons for moving to an “open source” voting system (at one point, she mentioned his name: Richard Dawson). It was an excellent presentation and demonstrated that she really had a handle on what amounts to a very complicated subject. She described our bill as a “simple little bill,” and explained clearly what it would do.

I spoke next. Before the testimony, I had given the sargent-at-arms copies of my one-page outline to distribute to members. I attached to that a copy of page 51 from the GAO report that lists OVC as a key initiative for making voting systems more secure and reliable. I had a stack of big fat reports in front of me, plus the Bowen article about the Senate Elections committee February hearings on open source software for elections and voting system certification.

My basic strategy was to wave these documents one-by-one and say a little about each. Study-after-study indicates the need for transparency. I picked an excellent quote from the ACCURATE report. There were many great ones to choose from in that document. The Secretary of State’s report on Open Source gave me few choices, but there was at least one great usable quote. When I got to the last item, I spoke a little bit loud. This report, and the outrageous behavior of the vendors with respect to this problem exposed in Leon County Florida, gets me a little riled. I had spoken with Ion Sancho shortly before the hearing just to make sure I got all the facts straight.

I was happy to have Josh Berkus join us for supporting testimony. He wrote an excellent account of the hearing. His handout was also distributed to committee members.

After Josh’s testimony, Umberg asked if others want to testify in support. Joan Quinn and Michelle Smith came up to testify. They are great supporters and I was glad to have them there. Given the time constraints, I was a little nervous. It all worked out. Joan Quinn talked about how the public’s business is supposed to be aired in public.

Some of the most vocal opposition OVC hears comes from activists that don’t want machines involved in the process at all. These activists tend to be few and far between but they tend to congregate and are quite vocal. It’s a bit ironic that few of these, if any, showed up for the hearing. In her testimony, Jill LaVine, Registrar of Voters for Sacramento County, said that if this bill passes and the vendors don’t want to comply, “we will have to hand count the ballots!”

I was surprised by the level of interest expressed by the two Republicans. Villines said that after hearing our testimony, he would have to rethink his position. He then said the most interesting thing I heard all day. We explained the difference between “open source” and “disclosed source” (open source is publicly disclosed source licensed under a free software license). Our bill calls for disclosed source. Villines said, “it would lead to open source.” I didn’t say anything. I was thinking, “he gets it.”

All of the committee members were very engaged in the discussion. There were many comments and questions. A lot of the discussion had to do with security of the voting system and how disclosing the source code might impact that. I think we nailed that one pretty good. The other big topic was how much it might cost if vendors were not cooperative. Jackie made a couple of excellent points. She said that if they abandoned the state, that would tell them something about who they are. And, if it’s a question of spending some money compared to securing democracy, there is no contest. Also, she pointed out that she hears it all the time in other committees: vendors complain about the state imposing new requirements and they threaten to leave the state. “They never do,” she said. “California is too big a market for them.”

One of the biggest highlights for me: Theresa Taylor Carroll, assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, said that we need more time to study this. Jackie quickly shot her down with a reference to the report on open source the Secretary of State was asked to do. It was her resolution two years ago, ACR 242, that called for this study. This resolution and the other reports illustrate how years of work were pulled together on this day.

Lloyd Levine asked a lot of questions. He zeroed in on how often systems have to be certified. One of his questions had to do with “ballot programming.” We had to clarify that “ballot programming” (an unfortunate term) did not involved writing programs. It’s more like software configuration. When the software is changed, the voting system has to be recertified. Disclosure happens, according to the bill, when systems are put up for certification.

I really enjoyed having Assembly Member Betty Karnette there. She’d ask a question then look at us like, “why are you asking me to decide this … do I look like a computer programmer?”

At one point, I was thinking, “Leno’s not here; Klehs has to leave soon; the other committee members are asking question after question; Umberg’s probably going to vote ‘no.’ We don’t have the votes. We’re sunk.” The turning point for me was provided by Karnette. After some talk about how this could cost the State of California a lot of money, Karnette suddenly perked up. She said something like, “sure there’s going to be disasters. This is California! I’m going to support the bill.”

I was elated to hear the vote, but I was careful not to show it. When Umberg cast his vote, he noted that the vendors had not shown up. I don’t think they would have done themselves any good by showing up. Everyone in the room would have recognized their hot air.

After we left the hearing room, I saw Assembly Member Mark Leno on the monitor (California Channel broadcast) in the waiting area. The Public Safety Committee hearing he chairs was still going on. A little while later, he came to our hearing room and cast his vote. The final tally was 5 in favor, none in opposition. The Republicans did not vote.

My cell phone call log shows that I started making calls a little after 3:30 telling people about our success. The hearing must have run at least an hour (I was expecting 15 – 30 minutes). I received quite a few phone calls and emails, thank you, that evening and the next day. Monica Smith of Sally Lieber’s office called around 6:30. She had not heard the outcome and sounded concerned. I told her that we got Umberg’s vote and I thanked her and Assemblywoman Lieber for their help. She was pleased. Ion Sancho (the Leon County elections chief who assisted in proving the hackability of the Diebold system, and from whom I used some facts in my testimony) called me the next day and wanted to hear all about it.

I will tone down the “no opposition” rhetoric. There is opposition. What I mean is that this opposition won’t stand that light of day when the facts are laid on the table. This is still no guarantee we’ll win. We have to have the opportunity to present the case to decision makers. The April 18th hearing was an opportunity to do that and we showed up.

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