Politics Rochester Technology

New York State testing new ballot-counting system in Monroe County reported last week that two counties in New York State would be participating in a program to test new software by Clear Ballot that speeds election results audits. Clear Ballot indicated that Monroe and Schenectady counties would be participating. The New York State Board of Elections confirmed the Wired article, but  Monroe County officials are unfamiliar with the company and its product.

The United States Election Assistance Commission recently created a grant program to research methods to improve the logistics of Election Day voting, as well as recounts and audits of ballot results. The State of New York Board of Elections was awarded $230,000. The state contracted with Clear Ballot to test its systems for post-election audits.

Via Twitter, I asked Clear Ballot ( @clearballot ) which two counties would be participating in the program. Clear Ballot responded Monroe and Schenectady Counties would be participating:

@dragonflyeye We’re working directly with the NY State Board of Elections, and then Monroe and Schenectady counties.

That tweet has since been removed.

State officials say the new pilot program will not be done with live ballots, but with ballots from this September’s primary elections. The counties of Monroe and Schenectady were selected as test centers because they tally votes using different ballot scanning systems.

Monroe County Board of Elections Commissioner Tom Ferrarese replied via email to my query that they had been contacted about a potential test of a new ballot counting system. But they said they have not heard anything further from the State:

A few months ago the State Board of Elections asked us if we, the Monroe County Board of Elections, would at some point in the future be willing to participate in a pilot testing a new system that would allow us to audit ballots using high speed scanners in an independently programmed system.  We indicated that we would be willing to do so.  Since then, we have heard nothing back from the State Board and are not in communications with the Clear Ballot folks nor were we even aware of their existence.

Mr. Ferrarese further stated that they would not feel comfortable changing their hand-count auditing system for this election cycle, which he says has worked well for the County in the past.

It’s not clear why the state would use Election Day to run tests, if the tests don’t require live ballots. Perhaps story got that part of the story wrong.

I contacted Schenectady County Board of Elections officials to find out if they knew anything about Clear Ballot, but they have not yet responded.


The second Presidential Debate was yet another fail for science

We have now had three hours of Presidential level debates and an hour and a half of Vice Presidential debates. And how much time was devoted to any serious discussion of any of the plethora of issues important to our nation and rooted in science have their been? By my estimation, diddly shit.

The closest we’ve gotten have been repeated, vague nods towards “green energy,” all of which were more concerned with the economy than with anything else. This, by the way, was only in the most recent debate. The first debate was devoted – to the extent that any particular focus could be considered present in the moderation – on economic issues. Most of which were so vague and wonky that I doubt anybody got much out of that debate besides the fact the Obama stunk the joint out.

We have one and a half hours of debating to go before America makes her decision. And that debate will focus on foreign policy. No where in this so far discussion has there been:

  • Climate change
  • STEM education funding
  • The space program
  • Our underfunded planetary science program
  • Technology, security and medical records
  • Cybercrime and terrorism
  • The Internet and Net Neutrality
  • Mobile bandwidth
  • The role of science and religion in public policy making
  • Vaccinations and public policy

What else have we missed out on? And for what? An hour and a half long, meandering debate primarily about the deficit neither man will realistically cut. And binders. Which, while nothing short of entertaining, aren’t exactly an exercise deep-delving public policy cogitation.

Hope you’ve all heard enough to make up your minds, people. Because this is pretty much all you get.


An important data point on employment number conspiracy theories

Just heard on the radio that there are 157,000,000 people working in the United States. That means that, if the jobless numbers are off by 0.1%, they’re off by 157,000 workers.

Never say never, but  assuming the current batch of numbers is off by half a percentage point, its hard to fathom how publicly-available job numbers can be cooked up in such a way that nobody notices 7 to 8 hundred thousand uncounted workers? And I think we can agree: half a percentage point is the bare minimum you’d need in order to make cooking the books worth the effort in this case?


Romney, Iran, Libya and political theater no one watches.

Perhaps Mitt Romney should suspend his campaign to help address the growing geopolitical crisis(es) in the Middle East?

While the Netanyahu government plays a dangerous game of chicken with the Obama Administration over Iran and as protesters in Libya give way to rockets and bombs that take out one of our Ambassadors and three staffers, the Republican Party and the Romney Campaign have decided that it is time to foreign policy the center of the campaign through bluster. This after Mitt Romney’s utter lack of foreign policy gravitas was already laid bare by his failure to even mention the war we’re fighting in his RNC acceptance speech.

Setting aside the lack of patriotism displayed in choosing any other side but the American President in a time of geopolitical crisis (whoa. Who sounds Republican, now?), there is also the matter of what exactly this crass political stunt will accomplish. Certainly, the idea is to lower a national crisis to a political advert or two. Certainly, the idea is to take Barack Obama’s foreign policy chops away from him. But is that really what is going to happen?

As I alluded to at the beginning, so much of this Republican campaign reminds me of shades of light and dark of the McCain Campaign of 2008, this latest political stunt being only the most recent. A weak candidate picks a running mate that is stronger among his base than he is, but which proves to be a fact-checking and general election nightmare. Just wait: I promise that will get worse. Then in a time of crisis – the economic meltdown for McCain, Israel/Libya for Romney – the candidate declares the stage his only to find….

John McCain twiddling his thumbs among the people whose job has been made infinitely harder by his presence. John McCain may be a bellicose asshat, but many people listen to the old War Veteran™ on issues of national security and foreign relations. He does not, however, come to mind when I think of fiscal policy. Nor should he: John McCain is in no position to offer anything in the way of experience with banking, finance, or economics, macro or otherwise. He was the last person who should have been in those meetings and it showed. His next step was to have to restart his campaign with nothing solved.

Now we find that the merry-go-round has been stopped by yet another weak candidate and once again, he chose to stop it at the moment when it becomes clear to everyone that he has no policy experience or business “helping” the president with the current set of crises.

Even our overly pliant national media cannot help but ask Mitt Romney what he would do in Barack Obama’s situation? Would he accept an Israeli attack on Iran? Would he join in? Back them up? Whistle and walk in the other direction?

Would he drop bombs on newly liberated Libya? Would he declare the revolution an Evil Empire™?

And when does he get back to running the campaign he wants? The one where he ignores foreign policy outright and sticks to cranking about our shitty economy?

Politics Rochester

Science Debates: the local races

As we focus in on the upcoming elections and get ready to ask local pols about the issues that matter to us in the science and technology community, I figured it was worth putting together a quick list of the local elections in Monroe County. Feel free to ask your questions of your local candidates, directly!

The thing that stands out to me in this list is the number of unopposed candidates in local elections and how very red that list of unopposed candidates is.

State Senate:

  • 55th District – Ted O’Brien (D) vs. Sean Hanna (R)
  • 54th District – Michael Nozzolio (R) unopposed
  • 56th District – Joseph Robach (R) unopposed

State Legislature:

  • 133rd District – Randolph Weaver (D) vs. Bill Nojay (R)
  • 134th District – Bill Reilich (R) unopposed
  • 135th District – David Koon (D) vs. Marc Johns (R)
  • 136th District – Joe Morelle (D) unopposed
  • 137th District – David Gantt (D) vs. Jose Cruz (D) vs. John Lightfoot (D) vs. Andrew Langdon (G)
  • 138th District – Harry Bronson (D) vs. Peterson Vasquez (R)
  • 139th District – Stephen Hawley (R) unopposed

County Clerk

  • Susan Vandervoort (D) vs. Cheryl Dinolfo (R)


Politics Science

Politics 2012: will Rochester candidates be asked for science-based answers?

As we get closer to that time in the election season where we hope we see debates between Congressional candidates, it is worth asking whether those moderating those debates will seek out concrete, science-based answers. A myriad of issues facing our nation concern themselves directly with science, from energy policy to education to food and water policies. the ScienceDebate 2012 site lists a number of other issues that bear directly on objective science.

Neither does this mean an open invitation to bash Maggie Brooks over the head with questions about rape and abortion[1. But, hey! It if happens, it happens]. There is no particular reason why the former Chair of the House Rules Committee should not be able to answer a straight-forward question about her view of the government’s role in driving innovative research and how that affects her district. Voting for our President is important. But sending a representative to Washington who is clear on our scientific priorities and will vote that way is at least as important.

But don’t let national politicians be the only ones who get queried on these important science issues. Considering the primacy of fracking in our state government debates, we should probably as Ted O’Brien or Sean Hanna their positions on fracking, what they support and what they do not. And most importantly: why.

A representative that can’t articulate an intelligent answer for why the support a position is probably doing so for the benefit of a donor or a perceived constituency, not because they understand the issue. That bodes poorly for their ability to adapt to emerging information on the scientific issues of our time. That’s not someone I want in office, how about you?


Obama campaign sues third party vendor. Should political campaigns be able to copyright?

Not sure how many of my readers are particularly interested in copyright law as it pertains to political campaigns, but I found this article from the First Amendment Center interesting:

A federal judge in Washington issued a preliminary injunction barring Washington-based from selling merchandise with the “O” logo. But the judge reserved judgment on whether the website should also be barred from selling merchandise with a logo that uses the distinctive “O” as part of the year 2012.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said lawyers for the campaign had shown the campaign owns the trademark on the so-called “rising sun” logo, a blue “O” with red and white stripes at the bottom. The campaign has also applied for a trademark on the 2012 logo, but it has not been granted. Sullivan ordered both sides to provide more information.

This strikes me as odd for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is, as the article notes, that other Democratic campaigns have used the same company without incident. But the second reason is: why should a political campaign even be allowed to copyright its goods? Why should a group whose sole purpose is to elect a President of the United States even be allowed to have discrete intellectual property?

Imagine, for example, a White House that decided to file for intellectual property rights for some of the policies the Administration put into place? If the White House and the halls of Congress are (at least ceremonially) the property of our democracy, then surely so are our democratic processes and the tools that go into it?

Commie that I am, I’m not that big of a fan of intellectual property, of course. I’ve made that point clear enough. And commie that I am, I’m very-much in favour of publicly-funded elections. So, maybe this is just the confluence of those two beliefs. But why would an election campaign for office not for sale need intellectual property to sell? Does that not seem contradictory?


Your “holy shit” number of the day: did SCOTUS uphold the ACA?

According to Pew Research Center, only 55% of Americans know that the SCOTUS upheld the ACA health care reform law, nearly in its entirety. And 19% of Republicans believe that the SCOTUS actually rejected the law. Willful thinking, much?

Via Pew Research, this is the picture of an uninformed public.

What are people watching for news that they didn’t get this message? Fox News, certainly. But every other major news outlet must have covered this topic, how could people not have known?

But then, Americans seem tired of the whole political charade, these days. Pew’s research also shows that people generally find the presidential election to this point dull, overly-negative and entirely too long. Which is not to say they don’t find it important, which they clearly do.


Just one thing: Romney’s anaemic, flaccid Super Tuesday is a warning, not a joke

We’ve all had fun, haven’t we? The gaffes, the hopeless out of touch statements, the painfully awkward exchanges with voters – or “little people,” as I’m sure most of us assume Mitt Romney refers to them outside of ear-shot. A parade of “surge candidates” have come and gone, each goofier and less-plausible than the next. And now finally on Super Tuesday, his opponent is the froth that rises to the top, Rick Santorum. And Rick picked up some seriously-conservative states, with more waiting in the wings.

Its been fun watching Republicans and especially the Tea Party (remember them?) alternately spitting in his direction and making lame attempts to support him in the face of that boogeyman, President Obama. Its been fun watching Fox News try to deal with what may be the first-ever legitimate primary fight in the Republican Party in a generation. Who, oh, who should the Fox News team fellate?

But if you think it’s all fun and games, consider this: Romney’s party clearly does not want him, but they’re getting him. What does that say about how the general election might go?

The obvious observation of the Republican primary season is that each challenger to the Romney nomination has been more conservative than the last. Clearly, the fire-breathers in the Republican Party do not like Mitt at all. But the extremes of either party do not win elections. It is hard – very hard – for a Republican to win the general election without their base. But it’s not impossible, and with each challenger seeming less palatable to the wide swath of Middle America that  does win pols elections, Romney’s actually seeming more sane than ever.

The other obvious observation – and really, the one that ought to have the Obama Campaign up at night – is that if nearly the entire Republican Party is against Romney and he still wins, there is a reason. What is that reason?

Money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money.

And so forth. Sleep tight, Dems.


Time to Think 2012? No, But Let’s Do It Anyway.

Nauseating, I know. But the pollsters are out in force today, testing the pulse of Americans – those willing to sit on the phone and answer survey questions, at least – for the likelihood of a second Obama term. Pew and Quinnipiac both have polling data released today, both showing roughly the same thing, but with remarkably different editorial conclusions.

Pew has a poll showing that less than fifty percent of the public would like to see the president elected to a second term, but points out that previous presidents have faired little better. Quinnipiac, for its part, has a poll showing that about fifty percent believes the president does not “deserve” a second term. Note that this is not what the question asked, exactly, its just what the editor chose to use in the summary. They point out that this is his lowest number since they’ve been tracking it and also that he loses by a slim margin to an Unnamed Republican Candidate.

So the numbers are around fifty percent with almost two years left to decide. My expert opinion is that “these numbers are likely to change.”


Down With Earmarks!

Well, the Republicans and Tea Party Activists have laid down their marker for the next session, and it appears to be the abolishment of the much-balleyhooed earmarks from Federal legislation. Mitch McConnell, after first requesting a billion dollars in pork for his state, then opposing the “earmark reform” efforts, now seems to be bowing to the pressure and supporting it.

Only problem is: earmarks only define the way in which money gets spent when a budget gets passed. They don’t actually spend money nor create the expenditures. Its just a way of allowing Congressmen to accept a bill by assuring them that a little bit of that pork barrel spending – if such is the term your most comfortable using – gets “earmarked” for them and their district.

Oh, and the earmarks only represent about 11 billion dollars. Which sounds like a lot, unless you consider the fact that that 11 billion dollars represents less than ten percent of discretionary spending in the federal budget, which itself is about 38% of the total budget. Don’t get out your calculator, I’ll save you the trouble. They’re going to change Washington by adjusting the way 3 percent of the budget gets spent – without actually cutting it.

Supporters of the ban will say that three percent is a good chunk of money. And I agree. But Democrats learned a hard lesson in the last two years, which is that in a bad economy, the American people have very little patience or good-will for the incumbent party. Mitch McConnell may indeed have opposed the earmark reform on the basis of his own personal pork barrel spending. But as a veteran of Washington, he just as likely opposed it for what it is: a complete waste of time.


I’m a Thinker: Palin Polls

Apparently, seventy percent of Republicans would support Sarah Palin for president, and this number is being touted by people from Red State and other places as a reason that Palin should not be discounted.

Now, I’m no mathematician, but if less than 25% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans right now, seventy percent of twenty five percent doesn’t really seem like a very compelling number. Does it?