Thursday, January 25, 2007

Breakfasting with Democrats

Last Saturday morning, I participated in a panel discussion hosted at the monthly breakfast sponsored by the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Democratic parties. As the only Republican in the room, I can gladly report that I was treated civilly, respectfully, and amicably.

The topic of the panel discussion was electronic voting machines. The other panelists were Will Harvey, former Albemarle Democratic Committee chairman and current secretary of the county's Electoral Board, and David Evans, a computer scientist from the University of Virginia. The panel was moderated by Jim Heilman, former Albemarle County General Registrar and current consultant on elections around the world in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan. (In the audience, serving in their non-partisan capacities, were the General Registrars from the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle and Fairfax counties.)

The discussion was wideranging -- we covered the history of voting technology, the practicalities of running an election, and the specific vulnerabilities (or lack thereof) of the voting machines used in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Sean Tubbs of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network caught the whole thing on audio. (I haven't listened to it, but I was there, so I know what transpired.) You can find it here or, if you're too busy to visit, click below:

I suggested to my fellow panelists that we could take this show on the road, and I plan to recommend to the Charlottesville and Albemarle Republicans that we could do a similar event at one of our own monthly breakfasts. (I began my remarks by noting that this issue -- the controversy surrounding electronic voting machines -- is not a partisan one. Opinions do not divide easily along Republican/Democrat or liberal/conservative lines. The differences of opinion are based on pragmatic or practical considerations rather than ideology.)

By the way, you may hear frequent references during the podcast to SB 840, a bill patroned by state Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax). Since the discussion last Saturday, this bill has passed out of the Senate Privileges and Elections (P&E) Committee and now faces a vote by the full Senate. My own preference for legislation along these lines is one introduced by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-Martinsville), HB 2077. This bill is still waiting for action by the House P&E Committee.

The difference between the two proposals may seem arcane, but it is important: SB 840 would require localities to discard their current voting equipment and buy new equipment (optical scan devices) by 2009; HB 2077 allows localities to retain their current equipment but requires that replacement equipment either have a VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) or be of the optical scan type. The fiscal ramifications dividing the two bills are significant.

1 comment:

discreet_chaos said...

While I certainly can understand the desire for a paper trail, out here in New Mexico, they went to all paper ballots and it definitely added time to the voting process and on some of our closer races, it took almost a week for a winner to be declared.