Ok, so rumors of my being radio silent for months due to my feeble attempts to restore my software development skills are greatly unbounded.  I’ve been crazy busy with outreach to States’ elections officials, as our design and specification work is driven by their domain expertise.   In the midst of that, I received a question/comment from a Gartner analyst, Brian Prentice, who I consider to be very sharp on a number of topics around emerging technologies, trends, and open source.  If you have a chance you should definitely check out his blog.

In any event, I thought it would be interesting to simply post my reply to his inquiry here, to potentially shed some light on our strategy and mindset here at the OSDV Foundation and the TrustTheVote Project in particular.  So with that, here it is…

Greetings Brian
I am replying directly (as Marie requested).   Please let me train on your specific question with regard to the TrustTheVote Project and States’ participation to ensure viability, “adoptability” (sic) and of course, sustainability.   Quickly, if I may, I owe you a background brief in ~150 words…

I can understand if you’re wondering “Who are these guys, and if they matter, why haven’t I heard of them?” Fair enough.  Backed by the likes of Mitch Kapor, a team of notable Silicon Valley technologists have been (intentionally) quieting plowing away on a hard problem: restoring trust in America’s voting technology by producing transparent, high assurance systems… and helping it to be freely deployed as “public infrastructure.”  To avoid the trouble with announcing vaporware (and because we have no commercial agenda wrapped up in a competitive first-mover advantage stunt), we’ve remained under the PR radar (except for those avid OSS folks who have been following our activities on the Net.)  Now we’re being pressed by many to go public given the level of work we’re accomplishing and the momentum we’re achieving.  So, here we are.  Now, to your question:

To what extent has the TrustTheVote Project displaced bespoke state-specific VR efforts. The success of any open source project is directly related to the vitality of the community that supports it.  As I would see it, TTV needs states to move away from their own software solutions and instead to contributing to TTV project.

1. All states who register voters are under a HAVA mandate to provide for a centralized voter registration database, and to varying extents are either self-vending or looking to outside (expensive) proprietary solutions.

2. Early on in our nearly 3 year old project we recognized that we did not want to build the ideal “Smithsonian solution” (i.e., an elegant solution that no one adopted, but made a perfect example of how it could’ve and should’ve been done).  Therefore, we realized that amongst all stakeholders in America’s elections systems, the States’ Elections Directors and local elections jurisdictions officials are the front lines and arguably have the most at stake — they succeed or fail by their decisions on what technology to choose and deploy to manage elections.   So, we created a stakeholder community we affectionately call the “Design Congress,” comprised of States’ elections directors.   Ideally, at full implementation, we will have all 50 states and 5 territories represented.   Currently, 18 states have expressed interest at some level, and about 12-15 are committed, on board, and advising us.  In many cases, we even have Secretaries of States’ themselves involved.

3. The TTV Project’s voter registration system is part of a larger elections management system we’re designing and building — under the advice and counsel of those very States’ elections directors and other domain experts who are actively “weighing in.”  We use a process very similar to that of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) called the “RFC” or “Request for Comment.”

4. In the case of our Voter Registration Design Specification, we were encouraged by a number of States to freely adopt specs of their own, and in fact, CA encouraged us to look closely at theirs as a basis. We did.  In other cases (such as for our work on Ballot Design Studio, Ballot Casting/Counting services, Tabulators, etc.), some States are freely contributing to our overall code base (their “IP” is generally paid for by taxpayer dollars and they necessarily cannot sell, but can give it away, so they are eager to contribute to this public digital works project.)

5. So, you are 110% correct in your observations, and the TrustTheVote Project is already fully on track with you in building a strong stakeholder community to drive the design and specifications of all parts of the voting technology ecosystem we’re examining, re-thinking, designing, developing, and offering in an open source manner.

Our goal is simple: create accountable, reliable, transparent, and trustworthy elections and voting systems that are publicly owned “critical democracy infrastructure.”

And our work is gaining the attention of folks from the U.S. DoJ, the Obama Administration’s OSTP, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institute, several universities, States’ Secretaries, and of course, folks like Rock The Vote, and the Overseas Vote Foundation.

I (and our CTO or anyone here appropriate) would love an opportunity to brief you further; not because we have anything to promote or sell in the commercial sense, but because a growing group of some of the best in technology and public policy sectors are working together in a purely philanthropic manner, to produce something we think is vitally important to our democracy.

Cheers
Gregory Miller, JD
Chief Foundation Development Officer
Open Source Digital Voting Foundation