Voter ID

Across the United States, there is a growing movement to pass laws that would prohibit from voting the following underrepresented groups: dead people, non-citizens, non-registered people, and people that do not cast ballots. these draconian laws would make voting almost as hard as getting on an airplane, renting a movie, or buying alcohol. Plus, it would make it very difficult to vote multiple times or to vote for other people. What has our country come to? How could people be so mean?

It amazes me that requiring photo ID to vote is even an issue that spurs debate. I find offensive the blatant racism of those who believe that certain groups are too stupid to be able to figure out how to get a government ID and bring it to the polling place. If official government IDs are too hard or too expensive to acquire, then that is the problem we should fight to fix.

I may be wrong to support a voter ID requirement. As with every issue, I welcome opposing and challenging viewpoints. I am open to learn and change should anyone prove to me that I am in error. But if you are going to challenge my opinion, do not make it theoretical. Bring me an actual counterexample, a specific real person that would be harmed or wronged by the policies I support. Thus, we can then compare the potential harm done to some by enacting a policy vs the potential harm done to others by not exacting it.

Invalid votes, that are cast and counted the same as valid votes, serve to undermine the voting power of the legitimate voters. The power of individuals to vote is a fundamental principle of our society.

I encourage all supporters of stricter voter ID laws to each help one person from their town obtain the required ID, if such a person can be found that would otherwise be prevented from voting due to lack of ID. Take the time to help them and pay their $15 State ID fee. I pledge to sponsor two, if they can be found.

Overall, the State of Alaska Division of elections has done an excellent job with voter access and integrity. The current voting laws and regulations of Alaska are among the best in America.

In Alaska, anyone can go into a polling place and vote; if there is some question about the legitimacy of their vote, they will be asked to vote a questioned ballot, which will only be counted if they are determined to be a valid voter. Even a ten year old can go and demand a ballot, and will be given a questioned ballot. Silly? Yes. Worth it in order to help protect everyone’s power to vote? Definitely.

Ballot Integrity

xkcd.com Voting Machines
Credit: Randall Munroe xkcd.com

As a computer scientist, I am especially concerned with electronic ballots and electronic voting machines. Electronic votes can be hacked and changed in undetectable ways. While there is no such thing as a 100% secure ballot, electronic ballots are far less secure than paper ballots.

I like machines. I like electronics. Computers are neat, they can make our lives easier. Computers are especially wonderful for Americans with disabilities. Computers have their place, and their limitations.

In my ideal scenario:
Voters would show up to the polling place;
Present positive identification;
Be confirmed as a valid voter that has not yet voted in this election;
Be presented with a paper, fill in the bubble style, ballot;
Choose either a normal voting booth or an electronic assist booth;
For a normal booth they use a pencil or pen and fill in the bubbles to select their votes; OR For electronic assist, the feed the ballot into the machine, select their votes using the machine inputs (touch screen or keyboard, etc). They review and confirm their votes. The machine marks the ballot with their choices and ejects the ballot.
Either method, the voter can now review their paper ballot, if there is an error, exchange the ballot for a new one;
Once finished, they may then cast the ballot into a ballot box, which may or may not have an electronic reader built into it.

Rules for ballots:

Ballots must be standardized, look similar from precinct to precinct and to sample ballots available weeks prior to voting day and posted at the polling place. People should not be surprised or confused by the appearance of the ballot.

Ballot must be clearly legible and human readable without separate cyphers or keys. No hanging chads, confusing look-up tables, codes, or other obfuscation. If a fourth grader cannot look at a ballot for 15 seconds and correctly tell you for whom the vote was cast, then there is a serious flaw in the ballot. If the ballot was cast using assistance from an electronic machine, the machine must mark the same paper ballot in the same way, as would a person not using a machine.

Ballot must be individual, not physically attached other ballots. Electronic storage of ballots are not allowed. Counts and totals may be recorded electronically, but recounts must always be able to examine individual paper ballots.

Ballot must be reasonably permanent, non-volatile, and tamper-resistant. Electronic ballots are not allowed, because the vote can be undetectably changed. The ballot must show evidence of erasing and tampering, whether by the voter or others. The ballot must remain legible in temperatures under 300F, in full submersion in water, or subjected to any normal or extreme condition that may be reasonably expected.

2010 Alaska US Senate Race

In the 2010 US Senate race in Alaska, several interesting events occurred, requiring unprecedented decisions by elections officials, and in some cases reversal of previous precedent. For the most part, everything was handled as well as could be expected. While I would do a few things differently in the same situation, the outcome would have been basically the same. I should also point out that many of the people who made those various decisions would also do a few things differently, with the benefit of hindsight; overall they did a reasonable job in a demanding circumstance.

One of the complaints was that one candidate’s votes were being counted by hand, while all the others were being machine counted only. Machine counts are more strict, more likely to undercount, and they can vary each time the cards are recounted by the machine. Equal protection under the law is an important and fundamental principle of our society. I would have granted the request to hand count votes for each candidate that requested it, provided the candidate agreed to pay the additional expense if the hand count did not vary from the machine count by a significant margin, perhaps one percent.

Interpretation of voter intent was another topic of contention. Strict interpretation of State law required that one of two strict and specific formats be used for a write-in vote; “Lastname” or “Lastname, Firstname”. We are not strict and specific machines, we are intelligent and compassionate humans. I felt that the Division of Elections guidelines for interpreting voter intent were reasonable, although I might have been slightly stricter which may have effected 100 votes. The bottom line is that if someone goes into a voting booth with the intent to vote for a candidate, and they make a reasonable effort to do so, then that vote should count for that candidate.

Many people fault Mr. Miller for continuing the fight longer than they felt he should have. I do not. In certain ways, the Miller camp was not treated in a fair and equitable manner. Some of these ways were not addressed because it was recognized by the decision makers that no substantial difference to the outcome would be achieved. Joe Miller is a man of principle, and it was for principle that he was fighting. It was Miller’s duty and obligation to fight, not only for the 90,740 people that voted for him, but for the greater principle of justice and equality. When time ran out before the next congress was to be sworn in, and continuing the fight would cause harm to Alaska, Miller did the better thing and conceded so that Alaska could maintain continuous representation in the Senate. While I do not agree with him on many issues, I respect Joe Miller.

Vote NO on prop 4 (2008)

I did some research into the effects of proposition 4. Here are the real numbers of how many mines (read: people/corporations) will be effected (shutdown) if proposition 4 passes.

The key number from my findings is that OVER 373 mines in Alaska would be shutdown within 5 years of this initiative becoming law, because required permits are only valid for 5 years or less.

Executive Summary: The mining shutdown initiatives would effect mines over 640 acres. For State Mining Claims there are 1134 persons with claims, 325 persons have over 640 acres; that is 28%. For State Offshore Permits or Leases there are 15 persons with leases or permits, 9 with over 640 acres; that is 60%. For State Mining Leases there are 86 persons with claims, 39 with over 640 acres, that is 45%. These numbers of effected persons are lower than the actual number, because the Initiative includes more acreage than those counted by the State data files used and use the ambiguous wording of “in combination with adjoining, related or concurrent mining activities or operations”.

I can provide a more detailed breakdown of the data, if requested.

This poorly written (or ingenuously deceptive) initiative would most likely shut down my operation once my permits expire in 3 years. I already have my operation reviewed by 16 government agencies, and get permits from all of them that require it. Since the area is over 640 acres (a very small number when talking mines), I am classified by the idiot initiative writers as a large-scale mine. Despite the fact that I only have two pieces of mining equipment and disturb less than an acre a year. The EPA, CoE, Coastal Management, and others among those 16 agencies already protect the water and fish; except they use science and informed processes to make their decisions, unlike the prop 4 people.