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Open Source Voting
Jamais Cascio, 21 Jan 04

WorldChanging hasn't up until now done an entry focusing on electronic voting, but regular readers should be able to guess our position: good idea (since it makes voting more accessible to the disabled and non-English speakers) but it needs to be made more trustable. American experiences with electronic voting, by and large, haven't been all that encouraging, including obvious miscounts with no way of recounting, proprietary software found to have serious security flaws [PDF], and more. But there are solutions.

Verifiable voting is key: the e-voting machine produces a paper print-out to allow the voter to check that the machine recorded his or her vote correctly, then stores those paper ballots for later spot checks (and, if necessary, hand recounts).

The buggy proprietary code problem also has a straightforward (if radical) solution: use open source/Free software. It's far less likely that security flaws will slip through (let alone intentional backdoors) if the code is open for everyone to examine. Problem is, the big e-voting companies have no desire to open up their proprietary software.

Fortunately, a solution is at hand. Wired News has an article today about the Open Vote Foundation, a nonprofit started by a 19-year-old political science and math student at UC Davis, Scott Ritchie. This group (which, at this point, may just be Ritchie, but will likely grow quickly) intends to offer open source voting software to the state of California and, later, to other regions. The software they'll use is a modification of eVACS, the Electronic Voting and Counting System created (and GPL'd) by an Australian firm, Software Improvements. And the code isn't untested betaware -- it was used in Australia in 2001, and an updated version will be used again this year.

The use of an open source/Free voting system would be a big step in awakening people to the possibilities inherent in distributed/collaborative security, where we all look out for each other in the ways we know best.

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Comments

Non-english speakers: offer voting papers in *other languages*.

Disabled people: there are *not all that many* disabled people compared to able-bodied people, so there's little reason to turn the system on its head for them. How about a machine that prints out a voting paper?

I suspect that the appeal of voting machines is simply cost. But if your democracy is important, it's worth spending a bit to get it right -- which means a nice, simple, open, checkable, reliable system. It's hard to beat pen and paper and having every single voted looked at by a real live person.



Posted by: Paul Harrison on 21 Jan 04

bob cringely has written some of the smartest stuff on this subject in two recent columns.

http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20031211.html

http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20031204.html


Posted by: tonx on 21 Jan 04

danah boyd has a simple stop-gap for US voters: vote absentee

http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2004/01/22/avoid_diebold_register_absentee.html


Posted by: alex on 22 Jan 04

Well, it allows for more civic participation. I mentioned what we spoke of at the eGov4All conference here:

http://www.knowprose.com/mtentries/000403.html

FOSS systems in place would allow anyone interested - ANYONE - to inspect the code. And that would lead to more trust in the system, though in the short term - because of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) may not be seen.


Posted by: Taran on 22 Jan 04

Thank you for your support, we find it most helpful.

And, while we are still very new, I can assure you that the foundation is just more than myself - the website and server maintenence is being done by other members, for example.

At any rate, wherever I bring this project up I seem to be flooded with inquiries and people asking how they can help. Once our communication software is in place, the foundation will almost certainly grow to the scope that it needs to in order to make a truly open voting system.

Thanks,
Scott Ritchie
Director, Open Vote Foundation


Posted by: Scott Ritchie on 23 Jan 04



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