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Supporting San Francisco's project to build an open source paper-ballot voting system.

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Subject: May 1, 2018 Open Source Voting Update

Hello SF Open Source Voting Supporters!

Below is an update on open source voting in San Francisco.

Campaign Kick-off Event!

On Sunday, May 6 at 2pm in San Francisco’s Mission District, an open source voting “campaign kick-off” is happening with many city and state leaders speaking in support.

Please RSVP and attend if you can! It’s important to show our elected officials there is strong community support.

For more info and to RSVP, visit this page.

Confirmed speakers include State Assemblymember David Chiu, State Senator Scott Wiener, Assembly Speaker pro Tem Kevin Mullin, SF Board of Supervisors President London Breed, SF Board of Supervisors Budget Chair Malia Cohen, former State Senator Mark Leno, and Christine Pelosi, Chair of the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.

Finally, whether or not you can attend on Sunday, please ask the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors to fund the open source voting project in this year’s budget. You can do this by visiting this link. It has instructions to let you send emails to them automatically.

Latest Developments

To bring you up to speed on where things are currently at, below is a timeline of key events (in chronological order) since last my last update. My last update was in September.

  1. Fall 2017: If you recall from my last update, last fall the San Francisco Department of Elections issued an RFP for someone to write a report that analyzes the feasibility of the City and County of San Francisco developing and certifying an open source voting system. This was at the request of the Mayor’s Office during Mayor Ed Lee’s tenure.

    The consulting firm Slalom won the contract out of three bidders. The contract was for $175K to write the report. This was taken out of the $300K that Mayor Lee allocated in 2016 for the planning phase of the open source voting project. Slalom’s report was originally supposed to be finished at the end of January 2018, but it wasn’t finished until a couple months later (more on this below).

  2. January 2018: San Francisco’s budget process started around January like it does every year. It will continue until around August 1. Mayor Farrell will propose a budget to the Board of Supervisors around June 1, which is one month from now. After that, the Board will have a chance to make changes to the Mayor’s proposed budget.

    It’s important for the Mayor’s initial proposed budget to include adequate funding for the project. It is much harder for the Board to change the budget after the fact because there are less funds to work with.

    In parallel and on a similar schedule, the California State government is also going through its own budget process.

  3. February 2018: In February, a good government group called the California Clean Money Campaign stepped up in a big way to help build support for and secure funding for San Francisco’s open source voting project – both at the city level and at the state level. California Clean Money is a statewide non-profit with over 100,000 members or supporters. Last fall they capped a successful 7-year campaign to pass the landmark California DISCLOSE Act. They have a lot of grassroots organizing clout, so their help has been tremendous! They are the ones organizing the kickoff event on May 6 in San Francisco.

  4. March 8, 2018: At its March 8 meeting, the Elections Commission’s 5-member Open Source Voting System Technical Advisory Committee (OSVTAC) approved a brief letter to send to the Elections Commission. The letter spells out some brief recommendations on how initial development funds should be spent.

    Briefly, it recommends that the City hire a full-time lead for the project as a first step to coordinate and decide next steps. Currently, there is no staff person in City government with the time and expertise to lead the project. TAC’s recommendation also says that the vote-by-mail components of the system should be developed first. It outlines a number of reasons for this, including because it would be easier and cheaper to do, and because 63% of voters voted by mail in the last election. So this would be a way to get a bigger bang for the buck initially. You can read OSVTAC’s full 2-page letter here.

  5. March 21, 2018 (#1): Slalom’s feasibility report was originally supposed to be finished at the end of January. Instead, it was completed in mid-March and published in the agenda packet of the San Francisco Elections Commission’s March 21 meeting, which you can find here. The Elections Commission briefly discussed the report at that meeting.

  6. March 21, 2018 (#2): Also at the Elections Commission’s March 21 meeting, the California Clean Money Campaign announced some exciting news during public comment. They announced that State Assemblymember David Chiu and State Senator Scott Wiener both agreed to submit a budget request in the State’s budget process for $8 million in matching funds for the development of an open source voting system licensed with GPL version 3, a strong copyleft license.

    The funds would be made available to one county in California. California Clean Money is working with them on the request. However, to proceed with the request, they needed a letter of support from one or more of Mayor Farrell, Supervisor Malia Cohen (because she chairs the San Francisco Board’s Budget Committee), and President of the Board London Breed.

    Assemblymember Chiu and Senator Wiener are two of San Francisco’s three representatives in the State Legislature. Senator Wiener is also the one who authored the Board of Supervisor’s December 2014 resolution that committed the City to moving forward on open source voting. The resolution passed unanimously at the time. Mayor Farrell, Supervisor Cohen, President Breed, and Supervisor Kim all voted in favor of the resolution at the time.

  7. March 21, 2018 (#3): After discussing the Slalom Report and hearing the above news at the meeting, the Elections Commission then voted unanimously to do three things:

    • To adopt the recommendations of the Commission’s Technical Advisory Committee and send them to the Mayor’s Office, as well as the City’s Committee on Information Technology COIT. (COIT is a large 15-member body within San Francisco government that reviews and decides on funding allocations for any technology project over $100,000. The Mayor uses COIT’s funding recommendations when crafting a budget to propose to the Board of Supervisors, but isn’t limited to following COIT’s recommendation.)

    • To request that the Mayor and Board of Supervisors budget at least $4 million for the first year of development.

    • To ask Mayor Farrell and Board Budget Chair Malia Cohen to send a letter to the State Capitol in support of the budget request that California Clean Money was working on with Assemblymember Chiu and Senator Wiener.

  8. April 1, 2018: The San Francisco Examiner published an article on April 1 about the developments at the March 21 Commission meeting, including the possibility of $8 million in state matching funds, and whether Mayor Farrell and Supervisor Cohen were willing to send a letter: “Open-source voting in SF may require match of state, local funds.“

  9. April 4, 2018: A few days after the first SF Examiner article, Supervisor Cohen agreed to send a letter in support of the budget request. However, Mayor Farrell still hasn’t agreed to sending a support letter, even though sending such a letter wouldn’t commit San Francisco to allocating any funds towards the project. The Examiner published a second article on April 4 covering these newer developments, including Supervisor Cohen’s support: “State funding proposal for open source voting gains support.“

  10. April 13, 2018: At its April 13 meeting, COIT’s Budget & Performance Subcommittee voted unfortunately to recommend allocating only $300K for the first year of the open source voting project. It’s not clear what that money would or could be used for, though, since it falls below the estimates for any of the next steps outlined in Slalom’s Report. You can see their matrix of recommended funding amounts (including the open source voting project) in the document on this page called, “FY 2018-19 & FY 2019-20 Subcommittee Budget Recommendations.pdf.”

  11. At its May 4 meeting, COIT will be voting on whether to approve its Budget & Performance Subcommittee’s recommendation to allocate only $300K to the project for the next fiscal year (from August 2018 to July 2019). Mayor Farrell will use COIT’s recommendation in deciding how much money to allocate for the project in his proposed budget due to the Board by June 1.

    To email the Mayor and other key people in the City’s budget process to ask them to fund the project, visit this link.

–Chris J.