Archive for September 2007

More scrutiny of electronic voting systems

September 27, 2007

Originally Published on, 9/27/2007 11:32:45 AM

In Alaska: Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, prompted by California’s recent decertification of the Diebold electronic voting system, has asked the University of Alaska to review the machines, which are used in Alaska’s elections.

In Ohio: Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner responded last week to an interrogatory by the state’s Republican lawmakers, who served up 23 questions about her intended methods for an electronic voting review similar to California’s tests.

Brunner answered all questions, and summed up, “Respectfully, I believe further delay is tantamount to opposition to the project.” In Ohio, any election reform activity will be viewed through the unfortunate prism of partisan bitterness resulting from its controversial 2004 general election.

The need for political harmony may partially account for the involvement of Ohio’s county election officials in the tests. The omission of election personnel from California’s technical testing has been repeatedly cited (oddly, the Reasonable Reporter believes) as reason to refute the entire disastrous accounting of engineering deficiencies in the machines and their peripheral devices.

Funding for the Ohio test was approved earlier this week.

In New Jersey: The legislature required a retrofit of voting machines so that they print out a paper ballot. The New Jersey Institute of Technology conducted tests, and declared the technology produced by Sequoia Voting Systems for producing a paper trail to be unreliable. (Sequoia is the system used by Nevada.)

So a judge has moved the deadline for the retrofit, and the machines will not provide the paper trail in time for the state’s February primary. New Jersey’s election watchdogs want to can touchscreen machines entirely and use optical scan devices instead. That isn’t happening. At least not yet.

In Florida, where the Bush-Gore debacle spawned the nation’s rush to touchscreen machines, millions of dollars worth of them have been sent to the morgue, packed away in warehouses on orders of the state legislature. Optical scan systems will be used instead.

Meanwhile, Volusia County, Florida election officials are in a tizzy, replacing faulty memory cards just days prior to a local election. The cards are part of Diebold’s optical scan system. They were found to have failed at four times the acceptable rate in the 2006 election. All of the county’s memory cards had been replaced in June of 2006.

In Washoe County, Nevada: The county commission will reconstitute an elections task force for a review of elections procedures. Voter Registrar Dan Burk says the focus will be on administrative procedures, as opposed to the technological security of the Sequoia Voting System.

Nonetheless, the task force will have in hand the technical reports from the “top-to-bottom review” by University of California computer scientists. Those reports found the machines, and indeed the entire Sequoia System, to be easily hacked at every level, and resulted in its decertification by the California Secretary of State. Burk says the panel will ensure county procedures are in place to avert the attacks described in the U.C. Reports.


Are we turning into a city of morons?

September 21, 2007

Originally Published on, 9/21/2007 8:57:29 AM

A decade or so ago, when the Reasonable Reporter was stationed on the planet San Francisco, a vigorous debate took  place one evening in the Mission district over whether to install at certain intersections a device that would cause the crosswalks to light up, thus guiding pedestrians to the safest possible passage from one corner to another.

This, mind you, in a neighborhood where the local devotees of militant Hamas are headquartered about three blocks south of the primary corner marking the territory of the notorious MS-13 gang, and 40 percent of the city’s parolees and probationers are housed. The eye of the public safety storm, as it were, where hundreds of potentially lethal permutations never produced the level of fervor evident on this night, in this discussion of the challenges related to crossing the street safely.

At some point, a young woman piped up from the back of the room.  She was tentative, as are most ordinary citizens about to make a comment that clearly goes against the grain.

“I guess I just have to ask,”  she said.  “Are we turning into a city of morons?”  Only someone who has logged hours and hours in public meetings can fully appreciate the secret delight stirred by this inquiry.

The moment came back with full force this weekend, as the Reasonable Reporter took a spin through the Reno Tahoe International airport, which boasts some newly-installed devices that cause the stop signs to light up. A red octagon is apparently no longer sufficient inducement for the average moron to hit the brakes. Even though the color and shape of the sign is universally understood to mean “stop,” even though it’s exclusive to this particular traffic command, and even though failure to obey costs big money and points on the driving record.

Red lights now flash around the perimeters of the signs.  And they are powered by small solar panels, don’t you know, poking west and heavenward from each octagon. So if we are a city of morons — and nobody’s saying we are — we are at least energy-efficient morons.
Look in the dictionary under “unintended consequences.”

Reno Realtor Diane Cohn laments on her blog the impending effect of Nevada AB 440, beginning on October first. The law will make it virtually impossible for the self-employed to get something called a “stated income loan” at refi time. This, coinciding with a period when large numbers of adjustables in Nevada will be ripe for refi.

The intent of the legislation was consumer protection, but the language of the law will stifle lending to some very qualified buyers. AP’s Brendan Riley covered it a few weeks back.

It’s also worth contemplating the application of static rules to moving markets.  A law passed in May,  using information from previous quarters, applies to the market in October.  Head scratching time.

See the bleaker thoughts of realtors and lenders, who are about to live it.

(  scroll down to the 9/17 posting, “About Last Week.” Paragraph 10.)

Donde estan los amigos de Hillary?

September 11, 2007

Originally Published on, 9/11/2007 10:40:44 AM

Courting Latino voters isn’t as easy as uttering a few badly pronounced Spanish sentences in a stump speech. Community activists can help overcome the language barrier, and can be useful in shedding light on cultural preferences. But figuring out what makes the segment tick? And what will get them out of their living rooms? The Reasonable Reporter can only say that in Reno, it’s not a viewing party for a presidential discussion forum broadcast in Spanish.

The Clinton campaign deserves credit, however, for seizing the opportunity. It was a creative move, inviting Latino voters to Cantina Los Tres Hombres on Virginia Street to see the candidate showcased in a Spanish-language forum. The expectation was a crowd of 30 or so, according to restaurant personnel who had cleared a wing of the bar with four large TV screens for the event.

But as Univision began its groundbreaking televised Spanish-language event, which featured almost a full complement of Democratic hopefuls, campaign workers outnumbered guests by 10-1. That one? She was a woman in her middle thirties, clad in pink cotton slacks and a knit shirt, with two little girls in tow. The older daughter translated for her. Yes, mom already intends to vote for Hillary. And she arrived believing that Hillary would actually be present at the Reno venue.

Campaign spokesperson Hilarie Grey says the Univision viewing party worked out well in Las Vegas, with about 80 attendees. The idea was to encourage Latino voters to volunteer for the campaign, or to speak informally with friends and neighbors about Mrs. Clinton. Grey says the “watch parties” are just a little piece of the Latino outreach puzzle. The Clinton campaign intends to be thorough, scouring the state’s rural areas for Latino support, as well as working Washoe and Clark counties.


We, We, We, All the Way Home

In a nation founded with a break from rule by kings and queens, politicians might be expected to shy away from the royal “we.” But time after time, they use this odd construction.

“We think we’re on the right track,” and other, similar, phrases beginning with “we” proceed sooner or later from their mouths. Latest example — Fred Thompson, explaining his late and casually-launched entry into the Republican field.

We this, we that, we, we, we. Who is this we? Does he have multiple personality disorder? Has the camera moved in too close, failing to reveal the candidate’s shrink sitting beside him? Is there a mouse in his pocket? Does he wear a crown and clutch a scepter in the privacy of his living room?

The reference, of course, is to “myself and my campaign.” It’s an apparent device to notify political reporters, lest they’re tempted to believe otherwise, that there is concerted expertise underlying the words and actions of the candidate. There can be no other earthly reason to answer in second person plural a question directed at an individual who is seeking a single slot in the government of the United States of America. Is it purposeful, or is it an early indication that public office severs the link to regular people?

We are not amused, and we can’t help but wonder whether less politically-engaged audience members find it as off-putting as we do. Perhaps more so?