Meeting Minutes: July 26, 2017
City and County of San Francisco
Don Chan, Secretary
Christopher Jerdonek, Chair
Open Source Voting System Technical Advisory Committee
of the San Francisco Elections Commission
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Order of Business
1. Call to Order & Roll Call
The meeting was called to order at 6:02 p.m. All members of the committee were present at roll call. Deputy City Attorney Josh White was also present.
Each member gave a short self-introduction about themself and their professional lives.
3. General Public Comment
Mr. Brent Turner commended the Committee members for participating in this important endeavor not just for San Francisco but for the nation in general.
4. Sunshine Ordinance Overview
Presentation by Deputy City Attorney Joshua White regarding the Sunshine Ordinance, reviewing how the committee can and cannot communicate with each other in order to meet the restrictions on public meetings and public records. Highlighted points were to: not hold substantive discussions on a single topic with a quorum of the committee members, either en-masse, or in seriatim, either in oral or written fashion. Substantive discussions with a majority of the committee can only be held at a publicly noticed meeting.
For all written communications that deal with the work of the committee (by whatever means: electronic or hardcopy), it can possibly be considered public record and subject to public records requests.
A question about doing collaborative work in docs via google docs? Deputy City Attorney White said that creating such documents that could be shared by every member of the committee and be edited would probably constitute a meeting. And despite it being a public document that everyone can share, it would not meet the public meetings notice requirement. If a document (or work product) were openly distributed, any reply to it would appear to be a substantive discussion, and not allowed.
All of these restrictions are to preserve as open a process of government as possible so the public can be included in each step.
Committee members asked if they could get individual city email addresses to use for their committee work, so it could be kept separate from their personal emails. Deputy City Attorney White will look into that.
Public Comment: None.
5. Committee Goals
President Jerdonek commented that this item was where the committee members could have a brainstorming session and offer ideas for what the committee should take up. He first recounted the past events leading to the committee’s establishment. In 2011, the Voting Systems Task Force issued a report and recommendations on open source voting in San Francisco. In 2014, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution supporting open source voting. The Elections Commission passed a resolution in November 2015 regarding open source voting. A year ago, the Mayor and Board of Supervisors allocated $300,000 towards a planning phase for the project. The Department will hire a staff person to assist in voting system related tasks and enlist a contractor to develop a specific business model for what the project will look like and what it will take to implement it. This plan has to be ready by January 2018 for consideration of funding. Concurrent to that project, the Department must take steps to secure an elections system that can be utilized when the current contract with Dominion expires at the end of 2018, but one which will not conflict with the eventual open source system that is being developed.
President Jerdonek referred to some of the language in the Bylaws that addressed goals of the committee, and then he talked about some processes; suggesting that nothing in the process should be set in stone and unalterable; that there should always be room to revise and improve. Another thought was to have something like a body of resources and recommendations that can be publicly viewed and commented on. Also inviting subject matter experts to speak on specific topics.
Member Bafundo offered 3 goals: 1) informing the factors that will drive the decision that will fund the construction of the system, 2) describing the key parameters, decision points, and trade-offs, for example between security and accessibility, and 3) recommendations for an approach.
Member Hage commented that the committee could set technical requirements, for example auditability and trackability.
Member Wasserman asked if there would be a list of non-functional requirements vs. functional requirements (e.g. shall do this or that). But success or failure many times is based on the non-functional requirements.
Member Hage said it should be data-driven, defining a set of data and seeing how it goes from one step of the process to another: to seek smaller programs (less lines of code) to keep costs down, the problem being many parts of that are the property of private vendors
Member Bafundo commented that the committee should stay away from being overly prescriptive and maintain its role as guidance, therefore, setting parameters.
President Jerdonek said the committee should think about how to articulate things like this in a format that the Department can understand, and to concentrate on higher-level topics focusing on what’s appropriate for the phase that the Department is at now.
A question was asked about what the deliverables and target goals are. The question was answered that anything that is currently the responsibility of the Dominion system now, including hardware and software. It was suggested to possibly arrange a tour of the City’s system to get a better picture of what elements are included.
There was a question of how far forward the committee should be looking in its recommendations. President Jerdonek thought not beyond current election laws (anticipating what future legal proscriptions may arise). But at the same time, not just focusing on San Francisco and State election laws, but federal laws also. Member Kattouw felt the committee should produce a set of design principles (and not a prescriptive solution) that speaks to modularity and accessibility in its approach.
The discussion was leaning toward the committee producing a document that laid out principles and not prescriptions that could be used to engage subject matter experts and the general public.
Public Comment: Commissioner Donaldson commented that it would be important to define statutorily what the scope and objectives of the committee are, keeping in mind that it cannot directly inject changes to extant contracts but can be a reference to developed materials/documents and recommend changes. He felt the committee could create a manifesto so to speak which lays out parameters, both functional and operational, including their principles, e.g. transparency, auditability.
Such a document could address the issues from an election cycle perspective and a voting cycle perspective (all the processes involved in holding an election vs all the steps in the actual voting process). He also thought it good for them to do the tour.
Mr. Brent Turner mentioned some issues brought up by committee members such as reducing lines of code, and referred to Ka-Ping Yee as a resource for this. For database management, he named a David Webber as a resource. He suggested the committee talk with Brian Fox, another noted name in the open source community.
He wanted to hear the committee’s position or thoughts on mobile voting (via smartphones, etc) because it is a subject not dealt with by the open source community.
He said that while auditability is fine, there is no substitute for first counts in the precincts. His final points were to make sure the system was General Public License and not the Open Public License; and that it is open source and not disclosed.
President Jerdonek commented that the Bylaws say that another committee member needs to attend Elections Commission meetings to report on what the Committee is doing and to answer any questions. Member Kattouw offered to do that but can’t attend August. Member Wasserman agreed to attend the August meeting. Further, the Bylaws state the Committee produces reports to the Commission every 3 months. For the first report (due Sept) it would have to be written before the August Commission meeting and presented then, and so will be fairly limited in scope. President Jerdonek offered to draft the first report and let the rest of the committee review it for revision and finalization at the August 30 Committee meeting.
He said that if committee members ever had materials for the Committee’s agenda packet, to give them to himself or Secretary Chan for distribution.
The Committee website: President Jerdonek reviewed that the Commission’s web page is part of the same system as the Department of Elections. It is a Drupal-based system, but he suggested using GitHub Pages. He offered to “stub” out a home page for the next meeting to review. This could serve as the City’s first official page for the open source voting project.
How to solicit feedback from the public: have a document hosted on Github as its own Git repository, written in Markdown format. It would be a “living document” that the committee works on. People could issue “pull requests” to contribute pieces to the document and those could be discussed at a meeting, with any decisions made as to revising the document being an administratively easy task to perform.
President Jerdonek said that what San Francisco comes up with will basically be a guide for the rest of the nation as there is no other effort being carried out that is committed to an entirely open source system (Los Angeles and Travis Counties have not clearly stated they are targeting an open source system). A request was made for some background information on the New Hampshire system. President Jerdonek said he’d look into that. Another comment was made as to the scope of the San Francisco project, that if it was going to be developed with an eye to being a model for the rest of the nation, it would have to include elements addressing the particular laws and regulations for voting systems in each locale. Such a requirement would have to be specifically stated.
Member Bafundo asked whether we are dismissing the Los Angeles and Travis County efforts. President Jerdonek said they were not dismissing them but they have no assurances of being open source. He was open to collaborative work.
7. Topics for future discussion
President Jerdonek said this agenda item was for the Committee to start thinking about how it wanted to organize a written document (e.g. sections and topics for them), and to come up with topics for future meetings.
The following were suggested topics:
The results of the RFP: invite the winner to come to the Committee.
Speaking with someone from New Hampshire via video conference.
End-to-end verifiability, counties going to a vote-center model, procurement.
What requirements for an interim system will make phasing into open source easier.
Ways to implement and roll out the system incrementally, rather than a full-blown roll out. Interactions with other aspects of the interim system.
Open source not just about code, but documentation, testing, Creative Commons (e.g. Attributions License).
What recommendations are necessary now (in the development stage) so that long-term maintenance doesn’t become a nightmare. Also: open-source governance.
President Jerdonek said there is no concrete project plan or timeline with milestones.
How to interact with the community.
Member Wasserman wanted clarity on the scope of the system’s requirements that will be in the RFP, like whether it will ask for pieces that will be delivered sequentially, or will the entire system be completed at once.
Member Kattouw mentioned that knowledge and understanding of how the elections are run in SF would beneficial to potential bidders for the development of the open source system.
Public Comment: Commissioner Donaldson said that EML should certainly be referenced. Also, video conferencing with experts should be pursued.
8. Election of Vice-Chair
Member Bafundo expressed a willingness to serve as Vice Chair. President Jerdonek nominated Member Bafundo, and he accepted the nomination. There were no further nominations. The vote was unanimous to elect Member Bafundo as Vice Chair.
No public comment.
Adjourned at 7:58 p.m.