Approaching the Challenges of Digital Voting Technology

That was a term used to describe the name of the Foundation when we began over a year ago. Why?
Well, in part because we’re more – a lot more – than simply a public
open source software project.

In fact, we’re viewing
this as a long term project to re-invent the entire ecosystem of election
systems for the next generation of a digital democracy. To us, open source is more than a type of software. For
us it’s an approach to the design and development of all aspects of the elections ecosystem from
hardware, to networking, to software.

Strictly speaking, "open source" refers to a type of software source code (as compared to closed or proprietary). However, we submit that all work done to advance new draft standard specifications for digital voting technology (hardware and software alike) should be… no, must be OPEN. And the "source" is from whence the results are derived. For software, that’s code. For hardware, that’s circuit design. For user interfaces, that’s the entire design process (research, briefing, prototpying, testing, focus groups, results and feedback and design defenses) captured and accessible for review and comment. So apologies in advance to the strict constructionists among you with regard to the phrase "open source."

In other words, the processes as well as their results should be transparent and accessible down to their "DNA" (if you will). For those of us who identify as software geeks, we know the phrase "open source," and we know what it generally means. The OSDV Foundation is taking that phrase and extending it to every aspect of digital voting. Thus, the name; thus, it is provocative… at least to some.

That noted,
there is another equally clear mandate: holistic

As applied here, holistic approach
simply means that we’re examining all
aspects of digital voting technology though an interdisciplinary lens that
considers the totality of effect that voting technology will have on our
democracy. To that end, we believe the Foundation’s work requires the contributions and participation of not just technology
developers, but election
, and yes, certainly (non-partisan) public policy experts. And it requires even more than these constituents.

Our holistic approach also requires an interdisciplinary view, examining the problems and
solutions from the vantage points of anthropology, sociology, and psychology,
as well as technology.

From all these angles, there is much to
be improved from the design of ballots, to machine interfaces,
data communications security, ballot casting, canvassing, audit and verification, elections information services, and even digital voter registration services, including authentication, authorization, and entitlement.

And clearly, no amount of technical innovation alone will solve these problems.

[So, if up until now you’ve thought that all we’re looking for are rockin developers, you can reconsider. Regardless of your discipline, chances are there are research aspects of the Foundation’s work that aligns with your academic pursuits, professional endeavors, or personal interests. Please join us!]

I raise
this issue because it sets a context for some important content that
will soon appear in our Wiki and some subsequent blog posts you’ll find here
addressing more provocative issues, such as this one tossed to us in recent days on seaprate occasions by a graduate student and by a someone passionate about the process of

"What about using the Internet in the process of voting?"

Hold up. Internet
voting or voting by Internet, is quite possibly the “third rail
of election reform at first glance (this
is exactly why we don’t and won’t touch politics or advocacy – we have nothing
politically at stake in examining all the issues around next generation digital
voting technology or proceeses
). Both election reform and Internet voting are topics that literally everyone has an opinion about — some more informed than others. 😉

Foundation believes that voting by way of the Internet promises important benefits
to our democratic process, and yet is presents significant challenges if not
downright obstacles.

As a
potentially important component of the election ecosystem – especially in a
digital society
– the use of the Internet is a significant research agenda for the OSDV
Foundation. And its an important
part of our work in developing test-beds for examining the viability of technologies such as the Internet. Our goal is that the results of our work will empower citizens and government to make informed decisions about the future of American election systems.

An upcoming
post here will address what we have determined to be research issues and
questions regarding the leveraging of the Internet in e-voting.

And another post will summarize work to appear in
the Lab Wiki on early draft design guidelines for approaching any Internet
based voting technology design effort.

Let me add that we won’t
have a “dog in that fight” – the fight over whether the Internet should be used
for public elections. We will present technology solutions – necessarily separated from their policy points
for a wide range of approaches (and yes, Daniel and Barbara, including the Internet.)

So, before getting your daily dose of
exercise from jumping to conclusions about what we are or are not doing in regard to the Internet in voting, we encourage you to read all that we have to
say on this topic today and in the future… it might save a sweat gland or two. 😉

The digital
surf is up.

[Sorry for being "MIA" … both John and I have been over-whelmed by
the uptick in activities from Media curiosity, to a surge in supporter
interest, fund raising activities, up-coming events, and actually doing real work in the Lab!

2 responses to “Approaching the Challenges of Digital Voting Technology

  1. I believe wholeheartedly in the idea of granting the Internet read-only permission to see the design of a system, from source code to test results.

    Why do the mainstream vendors resist this idea so strongly?

    Possible scenarios include:

    • corporate IP policy forbids it
    • management is afraid of showing source code (because the code is poorly documented, flawed, malicious, they don’t know what the public would find, or some anxiety inducing combination of the prior reasons)
    • business concerns that they lose their ‘secret sauce’ if they license anything open source
    • I can’t speak with authority for these vendors, but I speculate. Opening proprietary systems goes against the gain of IP-based technology corporate culture. And doing so costs time and money like any new initiative in a technology development organization. To date, there has been no business benefit that would give an internal advocate a leg to stand in a proposal to create open access. With New York State waiving fees to vendors for open source systems, that may be starting to change.

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