Happy Holidays – we’re off and running! This is likely to be one of my longest postings of blather, but I feel it’s important to make this case early on— Why OSET? — and then we can focus on other matters. So bear with me because I’d like to learn what you think in response.
As Chief Development Officer, I continually meet with business executives to discuss how the OSET Institute can raise the funding it needs to accomplish its mission. The good news is the level of enthusiasm I hear from these thought leaders.
Yet, I’m also warned by other so-called “non-profit development experts” that we could face a challenge in directing people’s attention to the imperative need to design, specify, and build examples of draft standards for voting technology in an open source manner and in the public trust. After all, I’m told, unless we’re sheltering homeless children, protecting battered wives, or fostering cures for disease, it’s difficult to raise the public consciousness enough to encourage a dollar or two of support. My reply: “hog wash.”
Don’t get me wrong: the tragedy of homelessness, the ugliness of abuse, and the fears of disease are imperative realities we, as a nation, should give top priority. However, if we can’t trust the cornerstone of our democracy — public elections — to ensure fair, verifiable, and trustworthy outcomes to initiatives (maybe even initiatives affecting homelessness, domestic violence, or public health) then suddenly the priority of those issues changes.
It’s indisputable that notwithstanding these imperative agendas, which garner financial support the easiest, citizens are also sinking their money — in record amounts — into political campaigns totaling hundreds of millions of dollars months ahead of the first primaries (let alone the general election.) The U.S. presidential campaigns of 2008 are forecast to break the $1.0B barrier in total fund raising and costs.
That’s oh-so-wrong for so many reasons beyond the scope of this comment. But what is relevant is that political fund raising of this magnitude is no longer exclusively the domain of corporations. With a digital society comes a digital democracy and the politics are increasingly funded by a populist participation — online — thanks in large part to the phenomenon of the Internet.
The wonders of this medium now make it possible for thousands of individuals to have a real impact — each with only a dollar or two to give. Witness what campaigns have been able to raise through Internet-based donation. At last, collectively, citizens have the impact of large corporate donors; at least in dollar terms. And so too, we believe the OSET Institute can similarly earn the backing and support of this nation’s citizenry necessary to do the hard work we intend to do… not political promises, but tangible results.
Sure, part of it is getting the word out. And that outreach is as important to us as the dollars that we hope come with it. And here is what I think is the kewl part: no one’s pocket is lined with this effort and no political or market influence is being “bought.” The dollars we raise go straight to the operation to develop breakthroughs in next generation voting technology. And remember: all of our finances, operations, and outcomes are wide open to public inspection.
Working under complete transparency, in a meritocratic open source fashion, for the public trust is the message. And getting that message across, combined with simple explanations for how the OSET Institute can offer truly trustworthy voting technology freely available for any state or any vendor to choose to adopt and adapt, is a critical part of my job here.
But I digress, because presuming we can get those messages out there, the issue returns to the likelihood the public will see the value and step up with a dollar or two from everyone who has ever given a dollar to a political cause or campaign. And for that, I am confident that very many of these same individuals who have faithfully donated $10, $25, even $100 to the campaigns online are the same individuals who care HOW America votes as much as they care who or what America will vote for. And I am equally confident that asking for their buck or five, or even just $1.00 per month will have a far greater return on benevolence than dollars donated to their favorite politician… who they may never even meet face to face.
Of course, for whatever its worth to those for whom it matters, unlike political campaigns, dollars given to the OSET Institute are tax deductible.
Think about it: you can send $20 to your favorite candidate or campaign, and if they are elected or the initiative passes in your favor, you might possibly see the results you are hoping for. Maybe. Or you could give 1/4 of that to support the real work of the Open Source Election Technology Institute. This work will ensure one day that the vote you cast for that candidate or campaign will actually count, be secure, and 100% verifiable.
This is the work of OSET: to redefine how American can vote in a digital democracy and what really constitutes trustworthy voting technology. And we can safely promise that you will be able to say, at some point not far in the future, “See that amazing voting system? I helped make that possible!”
You see, unlike the dozens of well intentioned charitable organizations out there seeking to reform elections, the OSET has NO desire to spend any money on lobbying anyone or authoring lofty position papers, commenting on legislation or regulations in the making, or testifying before Congressional bodies, in hopes of changing the way we cast, tally, and secure votes.
More akin to our brethren who have designed and delivered magnificent web browsers, computer operating systems, and kewl web services… free and open for any and all to adapt and adopt… so too are we, the OSET Institute, focused on actually designing and building something real and tangible… trustworthy voting technology standards and reference systems.
To be clear, our large projects are funded by other larger philanthropic organizations. However, ensuring our daily operational continuity depends on individual contributions from supporters like YOU… those individuals who care as much about HOW America votes as who America votes for.
And we need more than just money, although that’s a fine start and an easy Paypal transaction. We also need volunteers: those technically adept who want to leave their mark on this next generation technology, and those who would simply like to give a hand in public outreach — getting that message out, or offer some help with the many things we need to do to keep the operation running smoothly.
So, please join us now, today.
Together we’re going to actually build something rather than just pontificate. We’ll leave lobbying to those far more capable at communicating and persuading. Solving seemingly impossible technical problems is more our domain expertise… and frankly, our comfort zone.
And through your support we will make it happen.
OK? So, tell me what you think.