Thursday, 25 November 2004
I have written very little in this space in the last month or so. My excuse? All my waking time went into a case my firm let me take to trial, sitting first chair — a gargantuan challenge for a first-year lawyer. Jury selection for a two-week trial would have occurred on Monday (the first court day after Thanksgiving), but we settled late yesterday.
The outcome was good for my client, but I have to admit my disappointment at not going to trial. The adrenaline high is gone after 24 hours of hibernation, but I am ready to take on the world again.
This week's FCC ruling [pdf], barring states from specifically regulating VoIP providers, is a good thing in the short run, but the long run is uncertain. On the pro side, VoIP providers are unshackled from a maze of state and local taxes and regulations. On the con side, all the eggs are now in one national basket.
There was much talk of the polarization of America this year; I thought this might subside after the election, but I was obviously wrong. At least now we are getting something funny out of this mess. The rise of apology and anti-apology web sites has been quite entertaining. I especially recommend the panda photo.
Despite the rabid attacks on and religious defenses [pdf] of evoting, cooler heads after the election should admit that problems do still exist but the ones documented for this particular election were relatively minor. Minor, that is, as election-day problems go. Among the most serious problems were Ohio's mysterious phantom ballots. Had Ohio's tally been closer than 130,000, this — and similar problems in other states — might have posed a serious problem.
Proponents of evoting are singing its praises in the wake of a Supreme-Court-free election. Unfortunately, it is unknowable whether evoting really did its job. After all, the number of documented problems includes only those that we could...well...document. Of these, it does not appear that any of them, taken alone, changed the result in any state's Presidential tally.
We should not forget that (1) the undocumented problems are, by definition, more insidious, (2) election problems of all types may be cumulative, and (3) evoting did (and continues to) have problems. A mandatory paper receipt system remains a simple and relatively cheap measure that would resolve many of the remaining issues.
This evening a chilling juxtaposition was brought to my attention. The national red/blue map from this week's Presidential election looks strikingly like this 1860 map of state & territory alignments prior to the Civil War. If ever we needed our President not to make a mockery of reaching out and inclusion, it is now.
I generally respect reasonable disagreements on complex issues. Even when I think the majority gets it wrong, I rarely think voters were bamboozled. Unfortunately, that is what happened yesterday when California voters approved Proposition 69.
The proposition was popularly called a measure to expand the state's "Felon DNA Database" — see, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle's return page for this proposition. I have never seen a ballot initiative so deceptively described. Every supporting editorial, radio spot, and flier touted how it would help "catch criminals" — which it just might do. Unfortunately, they ignored its devestating effect on everyone else's privacy. Privacy was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the supporting arguments — not even to refute the compelling arguments against the measure.
Privacy was not even a blip on the radar screen: it was a speck of dust flicked off the screen by a bored radar operator. I cannot recall the last time my level of frustration with a public debate was this high.
I took Donna's advice and asked for a paper ballot when I voted. (Santa Clara County uses Sequoia Voting Systems' AVC Edge touch-screen voting machines.) My buddy and I were not exactly looking for trouble, but we did go to our polling place prepared — ready to whip out a copy of Kevin Shelley's order if the poll workers gave us any trouble. (What do you expect from a couple of young lawyers with time on their hands?)
We had waited until the evening, hoping they would run out of paper ballots so we could have some fun with the situation. After standing in line for an hour, we were pleased (but, at the same time, slightly let down) to see a tall stack of paper ballots on the front desk. By this time, everyone was tired — the voters in line, the poll workers, and the volunteers — and tempers were short.
When I got to the desk, I did the only thing I could think of to lighten the mood. Rolling up my sleeve, I said, "This was the line for flu shots, right?"