Jeff Drobman received his doctorate in computer science from UCLA and is a founding board member of the university’s Engineering Alumni Association.
As a result, he’s spent a considerable amount of time with whom he calls “the people who built the Internet” — people such as professor Leonard Kleinrock, from whose laboratory in 1969 the first message was transmitted over what was then called the ARPANET to a computer at Stanford.
Over the years, Drobman, a Thousand Oaks resident, has repeatedly posed a question to these Internet pioneers: “Why aren’t we voting from the Internet?”
Drobman, 65, has formulated his own answer: It’s being done successfully in places such as Estonia and Switzerland; concerns about privacy and security can be adequately addressed; and no reason prevents California from moving forward to start phasing in Internet voting.
This spring, Drobman is running for secretary of state on a platform that is direct: Vote anywhere, anytime and on any device.
“I’ve asked all the top experts,” Drobman said. “They have some concerns, too, but they don’t say that it can’t be done. I absolutely believe that it can be done.”
Drobman’s singular focus on Internet voting is adding spice to possibly the most interesting and competitive race for statewide office in the June 3 primary. He is one of four Democrats among eight candidates seeking to replace termed-out Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
The contest also includes state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles; Democrat Derek Cressman, former vice president of state operations for the advocacy group Common Cause; Republican Pete Peterson, executive director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement at Pepperdine University; independent Dan Schnur, who was spokesman for Gov. Pete Wilson and is now on leave as director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics; Republican Roy Allmond, an Air Force veteran and gun rights enthusiast; and Green Party candidate David Curtis, an architect and Air Force veteran.
Also in the mix is state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who dropped out of the race after being indicted on federal corruption charges but whose name remains on the ballot.
Drobman has pledged to spend no money on the campaign — a position that he believes sets him apart in a field of candidates all advocating for campaign law changes. Others have called for fundraising blackout periods, but Drobman thinks his approach most effectively combats corruption and the appearance of corruption.
“I would go all the way to zero because that’s what I’m doing,” he said.
Drobman, an app developer, tech consultant and expert witness on technology issues, said that in the world of computer science his life has been like that of film character Forrest Gump: He’s managed to show up at many significant events.
He has worked for a number of chip makers, was an early developer of PC software, worked for a startup acquired by National Semiconductor, and generally was an all-around participant in “the genesis of the Silicon Valley.”
Drobman has varied interests, including baseball and politics. He is a former assistant varsity baseball coach at Malibu High School, twice ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles County supervisor and has long been active in Southern California Democratic Party organizations.
But he said his technology expertise commends his candidacy and that he thinks he is uniquely qualified to lead California voting into the digital age.
He says Internet voting can be made more secure than online banking, would provide greater assurance against voter fraud than the current system, would improve voter turnout and would make voting more convenient.
He envisions a system in which voters could cast ballots at any time during the period before an election while mail-in voting is taking place and one that would accommodate “incremental voting,” allowing voters to cast ballots for some offices early while they continue making up their minds on other offices or ballot propositions.
He said he thinks the best course would be to roll out Internet voting incrementally while keeping paper ballots an option. As for security concerns, Drobman said the protocols of online banking “would be my baseline, and we’d build on top of that.”
Drobman acknowledges that his unfunded candidacy gives him only a long-shot chance to finish among the top two who will advance to the general election. Still, with the power of the Internet, one never knows what can happen, he said.
“You never know what can go viral,” Drobman said. “Maybe I’ll have to go out and get some cats.”
Even if his candidacy falls short, however, Drobman thinks he has already advanced his cause of promoting Internet voting. After a forum in San Diego this month in which all eight candidates participated, Drobman said several major candidates approached him and said they would be interested in working with him to study implementation of online voting.
“I don’t fear it,” he said. “It can be done and be a benefit to all of us.”
©2014 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)