Shelfware or Liveware?

I’d like to answer a fine question posed by Jered in a comment to a blog posted by my esteemed colleague Pito Salas. Jered allowed as how the basic idea of OSDV was a fine idea, but asked “What’s the plan to get OSDV-based systems deployed?”

A great question, but where I differ with Jered is in the idea that without professional lobbyists or political connections, new election tech would not be deployed — we’d basically be building shelfware. We have a different approach on how to encourage adoption of new election technology, without having lobbying or advocacy being the main driver.

Decisions about election technology are made at the local level, by more than 3,000 election jurisdictions operating with the guidance and oversight of 50 states plus D.C. and the U.S. territories. In many of those states and locales, there is already dis-satisfaction with current election technology, and desire for replacements that are much, much closer to what’s needed.

So, rather than lobbying Federal or state legislators to pass laws to specifically direct election officials to adopt specific new election technology — such as the work product of the TrustTheVote project — we have a different approach.

It’s simple to say, but here is that alternative. What we do is to talk to those election officials, and get them talking with one another, in a stakeholder community of people that help us understand better how to build the new election technology that actually meets the needs that are not met by current voting systems, election management systems, voter registration systems, and so on. We listen to what’s wanted, we build some of it, we demonstrate it, we document next steps, and we get feedback to drive course correction on how to continue to build out the TTV system further.

The basic theory is that if we work collaboratively and iteratively, what we end up delivering is election technology that election officials will want to deploy because it meets the previously unmet needs, because … (drumroll) … it does what they told us it should do. Of course, there won’t be a perfect fit in any case, and those 50+ states and more (to say nothing of the thousands of localities) have distinct local needs. Flexibility of localization and customization features is just as important as getting it right with the core functionality.

So, our job is building the technology with the core functionality that’s needed, and with the flexibility needed for adaption for use in a variety of locales. Lobbying and advocacy may play a role as well, but fortunately there are already literally hundreds of advocacy groups who can do the important work of advocating for adoption of TTV technology — if we also do a good job of building the technology to provide the public accountability and transparency that is needed for public confidence in elections. And we’re working hard on that, too!