ACM Washington Update, Volume 10.11 (December 6, 2006)

By David Bruggeman
December 6, 2006


[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] Election Day E-Voting Problems Largely Isolated
[3] Technology Policy in the 110th Congress – Meet the New Boss
[4] Innovation Benchmarks Report Released
[5] E-Voting Troubles in Florida?
[6] Copyright Office Grants Malware Research Exemption to DMCA
[7] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at]


With Congress busy campaigning for, and recovering from, the mid-term elections, this month’s newsletter focuses on activities away from Capitol Hill. Below are highlights of the top stories. There is more detail on each below, as well as on our weblog at

* With the exception of some odd circumstances in Sarasota County, Florida, problems during Election Day were relatively scattered, and by no means limited to electronic voting machines.

* We’ve pulled together a preliminary analysis of how the Democratic takeover in Congress may influence technology policy issues in the 110th Congress.

* The Task Force for the Future of American Innovation, of which ACM is a member, released their second report on different measures of U.S. competitiveness.

* A high percentage of undervotes in Sarasota County for a Congressional race raise questions about electronic voting machines, ballot design, and audit procedures.

* Researchers will now be able to conduct malware research without concerns about violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, thanks to an exemption granted by the Copyright Office.


With the exception of the undervoting issues in Sarasota (which really didn’t emerge until after Election Day), the problems with this election were scattered, both in terms of the kinds of problems encountered and the places where they appeared. (We cover the Sarasota County issues in story #5 of this newsletter.) While early concerns had emerged in the Washington, D.C. area – due to problems with the primary in Maryland and software issues with some ballots in Virginia – there was not a massive meltdown on Election Day. Perhaps that has something to do with the increased numbers of absentee ballots and early voting (which is a general trend nationwide). Some jurisdictions (in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Utah, Florida and Ohio, among others) had trouble with their machines, mainly due to programming errors (such as entering the wrong date). In some places this meant machines were pulled out of service, and in others polls were kept open longer to make up the lost time.

Beyond Sarasota, the most noted trouble came from the Denver area, where the voting process was changed to incorporate new electronic poll books as well as a new series of voting centers. The twin changes, coupled with power failures, led to long lines and high levels of voter frustration. As reported after the election, the new system had not been tested to handle the expected load, which no doubt contributed to the fiasco.

For a listing of some of the problems, please consult the weblog entry at:

Keep in mind that the press articles linked therein may have changed, disappeared behind archive walls, or died since November 7.

USACM issued a press release stressing that there is still much work to be done to make e-voting systems more secure, reliable and usable, and that we need to draw upon the lessons learned on Election Day. The release can be found at:


The 110th Congress will have a new Democratic majority in both Houses. Democrats have the opportunity to make a profound and lasting impact on technology policy. What shape this will take is unclear, because much of it will be dictated by the new House and Senate Committee Chairpersons who have not organized or set any agendas as of this writing. That said, we will try and make some informed assessments of what impact the changes will have on issues where USACM is focused.

Competitiveness/Innovation Policy

The Democrats have been much more open to arguments that strengthening the research and development enterprise is vital to fostering innovation. However, with the current fiscal climate (and their promises to exercise restraint), it’s unclear how much of the American Competitiveness Initiative they will be able to fund. It is also likely that the Democrats will focus more on educational approaches to improving competitiveness over reducing regulation and increasing immigration quotas. for high-skilled visa categories.

Technology Industry Offshoring and Globalization

It is likely that the Democrats will put new emphasis on the impact trade has on highly skilled labor. The incoming Chair of the House Science Committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN) has stated his intention to holding hearings about offshoring in knowledge-based industries (Information Technology, Pharmaceuticals, Chemical, etc.) As stated above, the Democrats are likely to continue educational efforts and put new emphasis on the impact offshoring has on jobs and wages in the U.S. Beyond opposing trade agreements, it is unclear what legislation dealing with these issues might look like.

Privacy Legislation

Legislation to protect consumers’ personal information by mandating stronger business data security practices quickly stalled and died in the 109th Congress. Democrats were strong advocates of more stringent regulation of personal information held by corporations, and will likely pursue this in the next Congress. With privacy and law enforcement, things are less clear. Democrats must balance a campaign pledge to support national security with anger at perceived overreaches by the Bush Administration. Issues such as data retention legislation have bipartisan support and would seem to have momentum regardless of who is in power.

Copyright and DRM

Fights over copyright and technology tend to transcend partisan considerations. The biggest issues in this area are fights over whether to mandate a broadcast flag on digital television and digital radio, how to restructure music licensing for the digital age, and mandating content protection technology in new equipment. Technology groups tend to oppose these measures and media companies tend to support them. But all these issues have champions, supporters and opponents on both sides of the aisle. The most significant change could be the elevation of Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) into positions of power on the key House Judiciary Committee. Both have criticized the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is within the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction, and both are known to be open to pro-technology arguments.


Rush Holt (D-NJ) is the champion of e-voting reform in Congress. His current legislation (H.R. 550) would, among other things, mandate a voter-verified paper audit trail. Its fate is likely tied to Members of Congress’ perception of e-voting machines performance during the elections. The outcome of the Sarasota County undervotes will likely also influence how this legislation (and any Senate counterpart). Other factors influencing this bill include whether the incoming chairs of the House Administration and Senate Rules Committees, which have jurisdiction over elections issues, believe that reform is needed. Notably, the likely Chair of the House Administration Committee, Juanita Millender-McDonald, is not a cosponsor of Holt’s proposal, and gave USACM’s arguments a chilly reception during a recent hearing on the subject. Another factor influencing e-voting reform is whether the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) will be reopened to deal with other voting issues, such as provisional ballots or vote-by-mail proposals. If it is, H.R. 550 could be part of a broader package of voting reforms.

Internet Regulation

Telecommunications reform legislation stalled earlier this year over “Network Neutrality” rules that Democrats favored. Another contentious issue was requiring broadband video providers to “build out” their networks to serve entire communities in areas where they were granted national franchise agreements. Franchise agreements only govern video services, but the networks deliver video, voice and data, so arguably broadband would be built out as well. Democrats generally supported such efforts. However, there seems to be little interest among Democrats in reviving the national franchise issue next year, so attempts to increase broadband penetration may take other forms. In any event, the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Dingell (D-MI), intends to revisit the Telecommunications Act. When it comes to regulating content, Democrats have supported efforts to eliminate minors’ access to harmful content. The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006, which would have required schools and libraries to block minors’ access to social networking sites and chat rooms, passed the House but stalled in the Senate. The issue is likely to be back after a series of high-profile hearings about predators using social networking sites to find children.

Other Issues

We don’t follow patent reform very closely, but our sense is that the the issue has been a fight between industries rather than over partisan ideology. As for the debate over bringing back the Office of Technology Assessment, we posted some thoughts on the weblog when Congress held a hearing on it earlier this summer:

When the Republicans eliminated this agency in 1995, the scientific community generally opposed it. We’d expect a renewed discussion about the issue to emerge, but, it is our view even a revived OTA isn’t likely to have a tremendous impact on the policy decision-making process.


The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation released their 2006 report “Benchmarks of Our Innovation Future,” with a press conference on November 16. The Task Force, of which ACM is a member, advocates increased federal support for research in the physical science and engineering. The report, which follows a similar report released in 2005, focuses on benchmarks in many areas considered relevant and important to innovation and national competitiveness, including patents, scientific papers, education, and research investment. The particular emphasis of the 2006 report, echoed by press conference speakers such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ambassador David Abshire, is on Defense Department research and development, specifically the basic research, or 6.1, account. Working from the idea that cutting edge research in physical science and engineering helps support defense related applications, the report argues that greater support of basic research in the Defense Department will boost other areas of that agency’s science and engineering enterprise.

The report can be found at:

More information about the Task Force is at:


While, as reported above, most e-voting problems were scattered and not necessarily linked to problems with the machines, a Congressional race in Florida may demonstrate many of the problems with paperless touch-screen voting machines. The 13th Congressional District, which covers parts or all of five different counties, was a very close election, with the winning candidate receiving all of 369 more votes. The trouble emerges when you examine the undervotes in this race – undervotes being the number of votes not cast for a particular race compared to other races on the same ballot. There were over 18,000 undervotes in Sarasota County for the Congressional race – a rate of 13%. This is much higher than undervote percentages for this race in the other counties that are part of the 13th. It is also much higher than the undervote percentages for other races on the Sarasota County ballot. Given that the precincts with the highest undervote percentages trended for the losing Democratic candidate, the undervoted ballots trended the same way, and Sarasota County was the only county that went for the losing candidate, there’s enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that the election would have gone for the losing candidate if Sarasota County’s undervote percentage was comparable to the other parts of the 13th District. This does not necessarily mean that the voting machines were at issue (though their lack of an audit trail makes it hard to confirm or deny this), but it would suggest a very stringent review is in order.

Two recounts (mandated by the close margin of victory) noted no errors, although the hand recount simply counted the printouts of the machines (there was nothing else to count). Without some form of auditable material (typically a paper trail) to try and gather voter intent, there is no way to no for certain if voters wanted to vote for a candidate or not. The state is conducting an audit which involves test elections on a total of 10 voting machines (1,498 were used in the election). We have more details on the weblog, and events continue to unfold. But at the moment it does not look like an explanation for the undervotes will emerge with any certainty. And it’s not clear exactly when this will be resolved.

More detail can be found in our weblog entries at:


USACM is the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). ACM is an educational and scientific society uniting the world’s computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.

For more information about USACM and ACM, see:


For earlier editions of the ACM Washington Update, see


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