Public (Open Source) Election Systems

The problem is that we cannot look at the hidden software from Diebold, Sequoia, Dominion, Hart or ES&S. We can’t know what it’s doing. Disclosed source means that the anybody can read the source code. By making the source code running the election computers public, there is less risk that insiders can manipulate it to their advantage. Open source usually means that anybody can read it, change it, and/or sell it. This reduces abusive vendor control of the counties because they can then go elsewhere for maintenance and support. Public source code is not a panacea. The code throughout the entire computer system is far too complex, and insiders can manipulate it in amazing ways. And it too can be hacked (eg: the Heartbleed bug). We must be able to audit everything.

Why Open Source?
  • The public has the absolute right to know how their votes are being counted. Nobody, and no machine, should be counting votes in secret.
  • Open source software is more secure, because
    • the engineers know that the code is public, so it is risky to insert “backdoors”, “trojan horses” or “easter eggs”. “Security through obscurity” does not work. Exposing the source code is our best defense against sneaky programmers.
    • many more engineers will be looking at the software, and spotting the bugs.
  • The public can finally get access to databases, logs, ballot definition files, ballot pictures, etc. because they are no longer “proprietary”.
  • The software is free, saving taxpayers millions.
  • Profit-seeking vendors do not have taxpayers locked in (addicted) to outrageously expensive upgrades and service contracts.
  • The open source systems that I have seen use standard computers that
    • are cheaper that fancy custom-designed machines
    • can be used in schools, libraries or government offices in between elections, saving, among other things, heavy storage costs.
  • Here is an extensive review by the Calif SoS of the open source situation in 2006: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/open-source-software-voting-systems/
San Francisco’s Public Election System (Open Source)
  • San Francisco County is starting an open source project. The planning budget for this coming year (2017) is $300,000.
  • The “Slalom Report”, an “Open Source Voting System Feasibility Assessment” became public in March, 2018. To this observer, some of the cost estimates are too high. (3/18)
  • The project in Travis County, TX, STAR-Vote system has stalled. LA has said that it’s system will not be open source. This leaves San Francisco as the only remaining viable open source project in the country.
  • The SF Elections Commission has created a Technical Advisory Committee. These are talented people meeting regularly to create a set of recommendations for the new system. The web page is HERE. Their current recommendations are HERE
  • We will want to encourage the legislature to provide financial support to this project, as it will benefit everybody!
  • The California Clean Money Campaign has joined the push to support the San Francisco project! Clean Money Coalition for Open Source Paper Ballot Voting Systems (Facebook)
  • An Open Source Voting Systems Resolution adopted by the San Francisco Elections Commission (11/15)
Other “Open Source” Systems
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