[EM] ABIF: Naming (Re: Ballot Data Format)

Rob Lanphier roblan at gmail.com
Mon Jun 7 01:58:42 PDT 2021

Hi Neal,

It would be delightful to schedule a phone call or something to talk
about your experience working with NIST/OASIS/IEEE/etc on this.  I've
worked with all of them as well (a little bit), but my focus (when I
was doing standards stuff) was IETF and W3C, and it was unrelated to
voting systems.  I was paying attention to this stuff when W3C
splintered off of IETF, and it's been interesting watching WHATWG's
on-again/off-again relationship with W3C.  But we should take that
discussion off of this list.

There's a lot to talk about in your email, but I'm going to zero in on
one particular item for this email:

On Sun, Jun 6, 2021 at 1:01 PM Neal McBurnett <neal at bcn.boulder.co.us> wrote:
> At the moment, hopefully early enough in this discussion, I want to push
> back on the use of the term "ballot image" to mean something other than
> a graphical representation.

As much as I enjoy naming discussions (ALMOST more than I enjoy eating
glass), you're right.  Now is the time to change the name if it's
going to get changed.  As the old joke goes, there are only two hard
problems in computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and
off-by-one errors.  We'll focus on the second one for now. :-)

Speaking of "two hard problems", I've given this the honorary "#2"
spot in the issue tracker:

Something tells me we're going to have more than two hard problems
with ABIF.  I still want to call it ABIF even if we decide that "I"
doesn't stand for "Image".  We have other alternatives (more on that
as a bit).

The reason for sticking with "ballot image" in the name:  it seems
likely that some jurisdictions (like San Francisco) may have codified
the term "ballot image" to refer to a single line of ASCII text
representing a ballot, based on this:

...and this:

It seems as though it's a term of art that has been used in many
places, even if it doesn't make sense.  Given that San Francisco was
arguably where the term "Ranked Choice Voting" was invented (and they
got FairVote to change from "Instant Runoff Voting" to that name), I'm
not sure I want to try to fight the powers that be in SF on a naming

In fairness to your point of view, it would seem that the "Voluntary
Voting System Guidelines" that you cited (published by Election
Assistance Commission - EAC) seems to draw a distinction between
"ballot image" and "ballot record":

That's a pretty compelling reason to stop using "ballot image" for
anything that isn't a scan or photograph of some variety.

This could become a BRAF (Ballot Record Aggregation Format).  I like
that name too, but I'll still call it ABIF unless there's a flurry of
BRAF support.  I like having "Aggregation" in the name to make it
clear that this format is for (optionally) expressing the stated
preferences of many voters (hundreds, thousands, more) in a single,
readable line of ASCII text.

It seems like we can make "ABIF" work. Renaming ABIF at this point is
going to create some busywork for me; not nearly as much as it would
if we wait, but I've already have many little pockets of things with
"ABIF" on it (e.g. https://github.com/electorama/abif ).  Let's not
rename this thing a lot. I'm okay with changing what the "I" stands
for (if we really must)  "Ballot Information", "Ballot Inventory", and
"Ballot Igloo" all work for me (well, maybe only two of those three,
but you'll need to guess which one)  :-D

Assuming you're signed up on GitHub, let's continue the conversation there:

We can also use the mailing list, but I suspect that other mailing
list members will appreciate this list not becoming the ABIF naming
mailing list (or the BRAF mailing list, or whatever we call it).


More information about the Election-Methods mailing list