After 2016 Election Hacks, Some States Return To Paper Ballots

Going back to paper ballots may seem retrograde. But in the wake of widespread uncertainties during the 2016 election, some states are ditching voting machines and reverting to paper ballots.

According to Governing,

Citing security concerns, the Virginia Board of Elections announced last Friday that it will stop using electronic voting machines in the state. The board’s action is the latest sign that state and local election agencies are trying to address growing concerns that the nation’s election infrastructure is vulnerable to hacking.

During the 2016 presidential election, Russia targeted voting systems in 21 states, according to U.S. officials. Though U.S. security officials say the cyberbreach did not impact vote-counting, they have warned of future, and more intrusive, attacks.

Some states — including Virginia and Georgia, which recently announced a pilot program to use paper ballots — hope eliminating the use of electronic ballots will reduce the threat of cyberattacks.

The move to paperless ballots began after the Florida “hanging chad” fiasco in the 2000 presidential election. Many state and local governments bought electronic voting machines in the mid-2000s after Congress allocated nearly $3 billion to update voting equipment. Electronic voting machines were touted as a way to prevent the potential for miscounting incomplete paper ballots from a punch-card machine. But some computer experts now say election systems should include paper ballots to verify the accuracy of vote tallies.

Virginia is also one of two states — the other is Iowa — that passed requirements this year for post-election audits to compare paper ballots with electronic vote tallies. A handful of other states considered similar bills. But audits are only effective if election officials have a paper trail to verify against the computer counts.

Five states — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina — still use only electronic machines. Another handful of states have a mix of electronic and paper-based machines, depending on the local jurisdiction.

The 2016 election marked the return of paper ballots in Maryland. Maryland used paper ballots until 2004, when it switched over to touch-screen voting machines. In 2007, legislation was passed requiring the state election system to produce a voter-verifiable paper record for each vote cast in an election. A lack of funding delayed the reintroduction of paper ballot voting systems until last year.

Read the full article for more information.

Report Calls for More Career & Technology Education at Montgomery County Schools

A study team is recommending that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) make more of an effort to prepare students for careers, not just for college. Education Strategy Group Fund, a consulting firm based in Chevy Chase, was hired by MCPS to analyze the district’s efforts to prepare students for an ever changing workforce.

According to The Washington Post,

Montgomery County has created “a clear and commendable culture of high expectations” in its public schools, but career preparation “has been marginalized as a priority, sometimes being inaccurately perceived as the antithesis of the college-going culture.” Presented to the school board Tuesday, the report recommended a string of changes, starting with a new vision for career readiness and more meaningful collaboration with key employers.

The 75-page report notes that enrollment in career and technology education lags behind the state average and that relatively few students — about 10 percent of 2016 graduates — complete a program, which requires multiple courses.

The study’s authors note that career and technology education (CTE) has widened in scope over the years, preparing students for jobs in health care and information technology as well as more traditional areas such as construction and automotive repair.

The consultants suggest that MCPS educate parents and students about career readiness opportunities and dispel the stigma associated with CTE programs. The study’s authors also note that MCPS does offer some top-notch CTE, but access to these programs is not consistent across the school system.

CTE should be redefined as offering rigorous academic coursework, state-of-the-art technical instruction, and real-world experiences, the report said. According to the consultants, in a 21st-century economy, more opportunities exist for workers with industry credentials, two-year college degrees, and other postsecondary certificates.

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, is reviewing statewide CTE programs as part of its charge to evaluate a wide range of issues relating to K-12 education in Maryland. Click here to read Kirwan Commission coverage on the Conduit Street blog.

For more information, read the full article from The Washington Post.

Drone ‘Disaster Tourism’ Disrupts Work in Texas Recovery

Drone ‘disaster tourism’ is hindering the response to aid first responders and inspection critical infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a massive hurricane that ravaged Texas and other areas along the Gulf Coast.

According to Bloomberg,

The mass destruction brought on by Hurricane Harvey has been a seminal moment for drone operators, proving that they can effectively map flooding, locate people in need of rescue and verify damage to speed insurance claims. But the event has also illustrated the downside of a technology that has expanded so widely it has attracted irresponsible users who have hampered emergency crews.

The FAA last year approved regulations for the first time allowing routine commercial small-drone flights, making the influx after Harvey possible. Still, flights are limited to low altitudes and operators must keep the devices within sight. The agency didn’t respond to an email request for comment on whether it had begun any enforcement actions related to recent flights in Texas.

“In any young industry, during pivotal moments in its development, there are going to be positives and there are going to be missteps and mistakes that you need to learn from,” said Brian Scott, a drone company owner who was part of an impromptu team known as Humanitarian Drones that helped local officials in Houston, Port Arthur and Rockport.

In Rockport, which is on the Gulf of Mexico coast and suffered extensive damage, their team of six drones was able to photograph 1,650 homes, turning over the data to local government officials, Scott said. The data will be used in the community’s application for U.S. disaster assistance, he said.

“We’ve essentially done in two and a half days what it would have taken them two weeks to do on the ground,” he said. “That’s the kind of efficiency we’ve lent to them.”

The aforementioned Humanitarian Drones were all licensed to fly by the FAA to conduct commercial drone operations and received special permission to fly in some restricted zones. However, some of their work was hindered by amateur drone enthusiasts, many of whom did not have permission to operate their drones in the wake of Harvey.

Houston Fire Department drone pilot Patrick Hagan encountered a different problem: there still isn’t a formal system of keeping drones and the emergency helicopters that swarmed the city apart.

Hagan said the dozen missions he flew last week to document the extent of flooding in Houston provided valuable information that would have been difficult or far more costly to obtain. But he often flew no higher than tree-top level because the emergency helicopters criss-crossing the city had no way of seeing where he was.

An air-traffic system for small drones at low altitudes doesn’t exist and very few of the devices are equipped with the tracking beacons that can be seen by FAA controllers or other aircraft. As a result, managing drones in an emergency environment is still “a work in progress,” Hagan said.

He also encountered two people who were flying drones illegally even though the FAA had issued an order not to fly over the city. One was a teenage boy, he said.

There is no doubt that drones can be useful in the wake of disasters. But it seems clear that local governments need the authority to regulate drone use, especially during an emergency.

Legislation enacted in 2015 made Maryland one of only three states to grant the state government exclusive power to regulate drone usage, preempting municipalities and counties from enacting their own ordinances. MACo opposed this legislation as a preemption of county authority and was able to secure an amendment to assess the need for new laws or local tools after three years of industry maturation.

MACo, along with the Maryland State Police, are among the stakeholders charged with evaluating any safety or security problems arising from drone use as the industry expands in the years ahead. The stakeholder group will report its findings to the governor in 2018.

Useful Links

Flying Rubber Neckers Disrupt Drone Work in Texas Recovery

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Drones Carrying Defibrillators Could Aid Heart Emergencies

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Appeals Court Strikes Down Drone Regulation Law

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Drones Must be Registered Under New Federal Rule

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: General Assembly Passes Drone Bill With Study Amendment

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: To Detect, Deter, & Stop Unsafe Drone Use

Grants Available For Data Center Upgrades

The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) is offering grants to counties and others to make their data centers more energy efficient. MEA plans to make the awards in amounts of $20,000 to $200,000 per eligible project, subject to funding availability.

The FY 18 Data Center Energy Efficiency Grant Program exists to support implementation of cost-effective energy efficiency measures in information technology. Eligible efficiency measures include, but are not limited to, server virtualization; air flow optimization; aisle containment; lighting controls; uninterruptible power supplies (UPS); motors and variable frequency drives; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades; and building insulation and envelope improvements.

MEA will accept applications until 11:59 PM EST, November 2, 2017. Click here for more information and the electronic application.

Image via MEA

Panelists Discuss the TechHire Initiative at #MACoCon

During the 2017 MACo Summer Conference panel “Round Up the (Un) Usual Suspects – There’s a Broader Pool of People for Your Tech Hiring Needs ” panelists discussed TechHire, an initiative powered by Opportunity@Work in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education. TechHire is a nationwide, community-based movement that helps underrepresented and overlooked job seekers start technology careers.

Keyon Smith, Community Engagement Manager, Opportunity@Work began the session by providing an overview of the TechHire initiative, explaining that three Maryland Counties have already implemented TechHire in their communities – Carroll County, Howard County, and Baltimore City. Mr. Smith also provided information on what local officials can do to bring TechHire to their counties.

Kati Townsley, Executive Director, Carroll Technology Council, Inc. and Denise Beaver, Deputy Director, Carroll County Economic Development discussed the TechHire program in Carroll County. Specifically, Mrs. Townsley and Mrs. Beaver described what Carroll County has done to develop a TechHire “ecosystem” and highlighted best practices.

Tracey Turner, Executive Director, Howard Tech Council talked about the TechHire program in Howard County. Mrs. Turner gave insight on how Howard County has partnered with Howard County Community College to focus on internships and training.

Evan Dornbush, CEO, Point3 Security, Inc. discussed what his company is doing to expand technology training, especially for veterans. Mr. Dornbush explained how counties can and should recruit veterans, especially because they often have technology experience and valuable insight into the technology industry.

The session was moderated Washington County Commissioner and MACo Immediate Past President John Barr and took place on Thursday, August 17. The MACo Summer Conference was August 16-19, 2017 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD. This year the conference’s theme was “You’re Hired!”.

Perfecting Public Private Partnerships At #MACoCon


Sallye Perrin, Senior Vice President, WSP USA

Public private partnerships, or P3s, can provide innovative solutions to advancing county projects from economic development and broadband deployment to stormwater management and green infrastructure investment. MACo’s Summer Conference session, “Perfecting the Potential of Public Private Partnerships,” took place on Friday, August 18, at 1:00 pm. Attendees lucky enough to find space in the standing-room-only session heard best practices from national experts and real examples of successful P3s from the private sector and Maryland county officials.


Sallye Perrin, Senior Vice President, WSP USA provided a detailed overview of what constitutes a successful P3 and how they can advance projects such as bridge bundling and LED street lighting installations. Ken Ulman, CEO, Margrave Strategies dynamically presented on all of the benefits coming to fruition from economic development in Greater College Park: over 30 projects and $2 billion in public and

Ken Ulman, CEO, Margrave Strategies

private investment. Jim McCormick,  CIO, Caroline County showed how government and the private sector can partner to advance broadband in rural communities. Adam Ortiz, Director of Prince George’s Department of the Environment rounded out the session with a detailed description of his department’s innovative P3 to address the retrofit of 2,000 impervious acres with green infrastructure. The Honorable Steve Hershey, MD State Senate moderated the fast-paced, detailed session.img_0253



Robots Take Over #MACoCon

Jason Michael Perry, Vice President of Engineering, Mindgrub 

You’ve heard it before: the robots are coming, and they are ready to work. But how can counties put artificial intelligence (AI) to work for them? That’s what 2017 MACo Summer Conference attendees learned at the session, Will Your Next County Employee be…a Robot? on Thursday, August 17, from 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm.

Jason Michael Perry, Vice President of Engineering for Baltimore-based Mindgrub Technologies, opened the session by discussing how counties can take advantage of artificial intelligence. Mindgrub started building robots this year.

Steve Kuciemba of WSP, USA drove home the advantages of automated technology by discussing the advent of driverless vehicles. Kuciemba is a national leader in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and automated vehicle policy, with 30 years of leadership in the ITS field in both the public and private sectors.

AI can go airborne, too. Brent Klavon of Aviation Systems Engineering Company showed how drones can assist county governments with surveillance, security, inspections, and more.

On behalf of the National Association of Counties, Doctor Alan Shark, Executive Director and CEO of Public Technology Institute brought the session home to county governments by focusing on how new technology benefits them specifically. He is a highly recognized leader in technology applications for local government. He is the author of the textbooks Technology & Public Management and 7 Trends That Will Transform Local Government Through Technology, and is co-author of the book Web 2.0 Civic Media in Action, and an author and Executive Editor of CIO Leadership for City & County Government, CIO Leadership for Public Safety Communications, and The Digital Journey in K-12 Education, among many others. Doctor Shark joined the panel to demonstrate how county governments can best harness the power of automation.

The session was moderated by the Honorable Jeff Ghrist of the Maryland House of Delegates.

Local Governments Spur Maryland Job Growth

In June 2017, Maryland’s local governments added 2,100 jobs – a big difference from the other states in the Mid-Atlantic region. Those states – Delaware, DC, Pennsylvania, and Virginia –  lost 6,200 local government jobs.

For the second straight month, Maryland’s unemployment fell by a tenth of a percent, reports Daraius Irani, Ph.D., Vice President, Division of Innovation and Applied Research and Chief Economist, Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI), of Towson University. Maryland’s unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, while the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region maintains a constant rate of 4.6 percent.

According to Dr. Irani:

Maryland’s job growth was robust, with job losses only occurring in three industries:

  1. Manufacturing which lost 600 jobs,
  2. Trade, Transportation, and Utilities which lost 400 jobs, and
  3. Leisure and Hospitality which lost 100 jobs.

Job losses in Manufacturing are not especially surprising. …. The increase in automation has been changing employment in the industry for some time, and it doesn’t seem like the job losses are quite finished. …

Other strong sectors of growth for Maryland include Health Care and Social Assistance, which added 5,600 jobs last month. This dwarfs the total increase in neighboring states, who combined to only add 1,000 jobs in the sector in June. The healthcare industry has been one of Maryland’s employment bedrocks, and this does not look likely to change in the short term. However, this does mean that changes in the sector as a result of the ongoing debate over the ACA and AHCA could have large ripple effects in Maryland’s economy.

With job growth in Maryland booming – particularly for local governments – it is no wonder that this year’s theme for the MACo summer conference next week in Ocean City is “You’re Hired!”

Learn about how automation is changing county employment at the MACo summer conference session, Will Your Next County Employee be…a Robot?

Listen to public health experts discuss potential impacts of ACA and AHCA on Maryland counties at the session, ABCs of the ACA, AHCA, BCRA, and Health Care in Maryland.

And, see Dr. Irani himself, on the panel, Parks & Recreation: A Healthy (and Wealthy) Investment.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

How To Buy A Drone

Brent Klavon, ASEC program manager and drone expert, shares possibile county applications for drone use on the MACo Summer Conference panel, “Will Your Next County Employee Be… A Robot?” Photo credit Bonnie Zerr, WJCT News 

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka drones, increase in popularity and utility every day. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects the number of commercial drones to increase tenfold by 2021 – and two and a half million of them were sold last year alone, reports Governing.

Their uses for county work can range from traffic monitoring and security surveillance to defibrillator delivery and tracking animals. They can conduct safety inspections, and can aid in weather research for emergency management purposes.

But, how should county procurement officers start with procuring drones? Fortunately, the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) is to the rescue.

From Governing:

For government, UAVs present not only an opportunity but also a procurement challenge. Given the rapid evolution of both the technology and the regulatory environment, purchasing a drone is a far cry from buying police cruisers, desktop computers or office furniture. With these complexities in mind, the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) recently published guidance for its members as they move into the new world of UAV procurement.

Learn about how drones, self-driving cars and robots can transform county work at the MACo Summer Conference session, Will Your Next County Employee be…a Robot?

The MACo summer conference is August 16-19, 2017 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City Maryland. This year’s theme is “You’re Hired!”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

“Rise Of The Robots”

A new report by Price Waterhouse Coopers predicts robots will take over 38 percent of American jobs by 2030, reports WBALTV 11.

From WBALTV’s report:

Take, for example, the “taskmate” robot that bevels the edges of a metal rod just like a human would do in a machine shop. One might imagine it would take a robotics engineer hours, even days, to program this multi-step task. Not so.

“I can teach you how to use this in 10 minutes. If you can play Candy Crush on your phone, you can program a robot. That’s the goal of this technology,” said Kel Guerin, the chief technology officer of Baltimore-based Ready Robotics.

Guerin and partner Ben Gibbs see a need for industrial robots that can be used by everyday people.

“Our goal is to make robots as easy to use as your iPhone,” Gibbs said. “There are a lot of dirty, dangerous jobs in manufacturing today that oftentimes lead to injury and death. So instead of having a human doing that job, you can have a robot perform that task instead, thus freeing up a human to do more valuable and complex work that robots are unable to do.”

But in his book “Rise of the Robots,” technology entrepreneur Martin Ford predicts robots will replace human workers.

“I personally believe that, in the future, we could well get into a situation where jobs simply disappear and it will be especially any kind of job that is routine or repetitive on some level. A lot of those jobs are going to disappear,” Ford said.

Read and watch WBALTV 11‘s coverage.

Learn about how robots could transform county employment at the MACo Summer Conference session, Will Your Next County Employee be…a Robot?

The MACo summer conference is August 16-19, 2017 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City Maryland. This year’s theme is “You’re Hired!”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: