Interesting things I learned while training to be a Fairfax County Election Officer

I spent a few hours yesterday training to be a Fairfax County Election Officer. At some point in the next few weeks I will be assigned a precinct for the March 1st primary.

These are a few things I found noteworthy:

  • Voter ID Cards: if you don’t have a driver’s license,  state ID, or any of the myriad accept forms of ID,  you can get a Voter ID.
  • Cards that have an expiration date are valid for voting up to a year after that date.
  • ExpressVote-right_webThe ExpressVote machine “neither votes nor is particularly fast”.  It’s an accessible way to fill out a ballot,  for people who are unable to do it on paper.  The machine can be operated by touch-screen,  a combination of headphones and a braille keypad, or the breath input built in to some wheelchairs. The screen also has a high-contrast mode for color-blind voters. It prints out a little slip of paper. Just like the regular ballot, you have not actually voted until you feed it into the vote scanning machine, the DS200.
  • If the DS200 had legs it would look like Gonk.
  • Voters who are over 65 or disabled can vote curbside.
  • There is no trash and no souvenirs– every bit of detritus produced by the voting process gets filed away in a particular places. Spoiled ballots? There’s an envelope for that. The zip-tie that keeps the DS200 closed until just before the polls open? Envelope 7C.
  • Those zip ties have serial numbers.

Geeky bits:

  • The laptops in the precinct used for checking voters in are on a physical LAN, and share (peer-to-peer) an MS-SQL database, exported from the county registrar’s master database within the last day or so. Each laptop starts out with a complete copy of the database, on a thumb drive. It seems like this would be unnecessary if all of the laptops are networked (since a single database could propagate out to the other stations, through the same mechanism they use to keep in-sync), but it’s probably a significant speed-up, and more fault tolerant.
  • There’s no connectivity to the internet or elsewhere on on those laptops, and no other software besides the “Pollbook” app.
  • Attempting to do anything else on the laptops is probably  a felony.
  • The DS200’s are not networked at all, all votes are stored on a thumb drive. At the end of the polling day, the machine spits out a paper tape with the day’s results, along with images of any right-in votes. The Chief Election Officer uses that print out to fill out the final paperwork and report on the precinct’s results.
  • When using the DS200, you’ll see a count of votes for the current election, and a”protected count”. This second number is the total number of votes cast over the lifetime of the machine.

Explaining Reproducible Builds

Reproducible Builds is the sort of idea, that once I started to grok it, I started thinking about how I would explain it to others.

Luckily, I work in a place where, every quarter, there’s a chance to give a lightning talk, or short presentation. The audience is generally tech-savvy, but only some people are part of systems management, devops, or related disciplines where they have probably already encountered the idea. Here’s what I came up with: