I came across an interesting article in Network World, “Open Source: How e-voting should be done”, by Paul Venezia of InfoWorld. It’s a good survey and review of some of the arguments in favor of Open Source in the management, conducting and tallying of elections, so I recommend reading it.

A couple of thoughts. Paul says:

“Another problem of current e-voting systems is that many still in operation provide no paper trail. Americans can’t fill up their cars or access their bank accounts from an ATM without being prompted to print a receipt, but in many voting precincts, we can vote with nothing tangible to show for it.”  (from Open Source: How e-voting should be done)

I have to say that I agree with this (at least for the next few decades.) It seems to me that with all the questions – some more legitimate than others – about election results, we need to preserve a brain-dead-simple way of doing a recount that everyone can understand, and it would seem that a piece of paper that can be re-counted is the way to go. Caveat: I know it’s not really brain-dead-simple, and that conducting a recount of paper ballots can be extraordinarily complicated with lots of possible gaps and mistakes.

Paul further says:

“But the key to securing e-voting resides in making its systems open source. […] It’s time for us to make good on the promise of open elections and open our e-voting systems as well — no black boxes, no intellectual property protections, no obfuscation, and certainly no backdoors. Doing so would require a federal mandate, one that would eliminate the use of closed source devices” (from Open Source: How e-voting should be done)

I (obviously) believe in the open source philosophy, and think it’s an important way that we can improve confidence in our elections. But I don’t think it’s a panacea, or “the key” in any shape or form.

In fact I don’t think in terms of ‘the key.’ There’s a lot of room for improvement for sure. But there’s also quite a lot more to even the technology side of elections than the software inside an optical scanning device.No doubt it’s a complex, decentralized (both technically and in the way it is managed, operated and deployed.)

Check out the article and let us know your reactions too.

3 responses to Open Source e-Voting article in Network World

  1. victor

    Nice article on e-voting i want to say something about e-voting is that e-voting has lots of advantages like it works on 24*7 you can give your vote at any time and now in a modern world there has to be adopt some technology in election so that process can become easier and require less cost as compared to do manually voting.

    • E. John Sebes

      Victor,

      I’m very sympathetic to desire to reduce cost of voting — especially given the very low level of funding for US elections compared to other countries — but at the moment we are working on the low hanging fruit, both of cost and ease of use. The current market (or really non-market) in elections has some compressible costs, for example, ballot printing costs in excess of a dollar per voted paper ballot, or for electronically cast ballots several dollars (or several dozen dollars depending on the real lifetime of voting computers) per ballot.

      Ease of use also has some easy hits, for example, in ballots where the instructions are so obtuse that voters don’t know how to avoid canceling their own votes (e.g. straight party voting and emphasis votes). So there is plenty we can do to help with cost and ease of use in the election methods in use today.

      And it is important to do so because eventually computing and networking is going to get thrown at remote voting. As you have no doubt experienced, throwing computing tech at a low-tech situation can make it a lot better or nightmarishly worse. If we can squeeze out some of the cost and difficulty first, we raise the chances that later on, more technology can actually make it faster, better, and cheaper – without compromise on trust, integrity, security, and transparency.

      — EJS