OSDV Testifies (sort of) at CA Voting Systems Hearing


So, I’ve taken a couple of days to decompress after a marathon of preparation for the Hearing this past Monday held by the CA Secretary of State.  Unfortunately, Secretary Bowen could not attend and preside over this important hearing as she was a victim of the global weirding that is dumping snow in multiple feet on Washington, D.C.  Somehow, I have to believe that had the Secretary presided as planned, things might have gone a just bit differently.

I took a couple of days before posting this because [a] I wanted to take in all of the kind messages we received from so many of you regarding our participation and the Hearing itself and weigh what others had perceived in watching online; and [b] give myself a chance to ensure that I wouldn’t whine (too much) about how it went.  And the reason for that: whining is a waste of energy and the fact of the matter is the Hearing was a very important opportunity for everyone.

As to the way the Hearing went, the goodness of the digital world means all of it is recorded, archived, and on the public record.  So, I will not waste your gracious time reading our blog, nor my precious time writing posts completely regurgitating the turn of events.  However, I provide a couple of things here for your consideration.

First, my take is the CA Secretary of State needs to conduct another Hearing that is strictly focused on the challenges and opportunities of open source technology in elections systems.  Even had I been afforded the same amount of time as the other panelists (or even just the amount of time originally allocated) there is no way we could have had any sort of intellectually honest discussion about the many aspects of this increasingly popular topic. 

Sincerely, the fact that the topic made the agenda is an important step in the right direction.  However, there were just three questions fired at me in the midst of my providing some background on our project, and they reflect the reason I believe another Hearing is necessary.  Here they are/were, roughly paraphrasing (its on the record; you could look it up):

  1. When will your project have anything to deploy?
  2. Will your technology really be free?
  3. Is open source really better than closed, and why?

You’d probably concur that answering those questions alone should engage more than five minutes of discussion; well at least the 3rd question.  As I reflect, I goofed up the 1st answer leaving the Dias unimpressed (I suggested 2016 is when we anticipate our full system will be ready to deploy, although we have deliverables as early as, like, now) but there was simply no follow-up from the Dias, rather they fired a 2nd question as to whether our technology would be “free.”  And my 2nd answer appeared to be met with doubt (at least two of the County Registrars on the Dias shook their heads in disbelief), because I answered, Yes.  But then I honestly conditioned it by adding,

If what you require is what we provide out of the box, then certainly.  If, however, you require some modification or tuning for your particular jurisdiction and you do not want to do so yourself, we ask for a donation to the Foundation to keep the project alive and defray the costs of work.

It appears I had them at “free” and lost them at “If.”  Perhaps that’s the challenge of a sound-bite world.  Let me just make this point at the risk of launching down a rat-hole of discussion like a Luge pilot *:

Just because the software is developed or deployed on an “open source” basis doesn’t mean its free of development cost.

OK, on to my second point.  Rather than blather on about what we had to (or attempted to) say, you can read our prepared written testimony from which I derived my planned oral remarks here.  Please spend 20 minutes to give it a read because it will:

  1. Provide an overview of our motivation, charter, and project and explain clearly why (regardless of what the detractors are beginning to suggest about the potential of open source in elections) our project is viable, sustainable, adoptable, and deployable (sic, but you get the idea);
  2. Summarize our achievements, accomplishments and milestones for 2009;
  3. Offer some insight to how we believe what we’re working on can help the State of California; and
  4. Present our perspectives on [a] the market transformation that can occur through open sourcing the underlying software technology of voting machinery, [b] the sustainability of the technology once our work here is complete, [c] describe 4 prospective deployment models for elections jurisdictions deciding that an open source based solution is right for them, and [d] present some thoughts on the simmering issue of re-thinking the process and model of certification.

Here’s the bottom line: please indulge me, I’m really trying not to whine, because again, this was an important meeting regardless of time management issues)

What we’re working on is very real, viable, sustainable, adoptable, deployable, and not disappearing any time soon.

We have over 200 hundred members in our Stakeholder Community representing a dozen States and its growing.  We’re feeling increasingly validated about what seemed like a pie-in-the-sky notion three years ago.  And maybe we’re starting to feel just a tiny bit justifiably irreverent towards those who insist on believing that what we’re doing can’t possibly be the kind of change agent we believe.

We took this Hearing pretty seriously.  So, OK, I guess I’m a wee bit miffed that after all of the hard work a number of our team members like Matthew Douglass and John Sebes put into preparing for this Hearing, and the number of Advisers who graciously took time to provide their two-cents on our prepared testimony, that I had the worst performance of my life in a regulatory testimony setting.

As one individual who was watching online sent to me in a text, I was essentially “run” after just less than 12 minutes of participation, when legacy vendors had earlier been afforded 2x or more time allotment to make their case for what: a promise of an endless supply of spare parts?  A promise of thinking about maybe considering the possibility of some common data formats for interoperability, someday?  For  a bunch of buzzword compliant hand-waving phrase dropping about transparency and open (read: disclosed) source?  Really?

Don’t get me wrong, its on the public record: we support a healthy viable commercial industry for voting systems.  We believe our open source technology can pave a new road to a more competitive, customer-centric market.

But for the moment, if we’re to have an intellectually honest discussion about the future of voting in California: the people, the equipment, and the costs, then surely the topic of open source technology deserves equal time to the well over an hour afforded the vendors, rather than barely 12 minutes and three questions of which the answer to the last was aborted mid-sentence.

That’s weird.  And that’s not the technically adept and pragmatic California Secretary of State office I’ve come to know.  Seriously, I refuse to believe there was any malice, just simply a series of fumbles on time management and facilities (e.g., how is it that the guy helping with AV disappears just when I’m trying to light up the LCD projector with my Mac connection?)

Again: I know the Secretary and her Deputy of Elections (at least) are committed to exploring the opportunities of innovation and new technology approaches just as much as they are intent on working with vendors to improve current offerings.  I remain convinced of this. However, we had an opportunity to provide some insight to our work and educate the Dias and the audience on the challenges and opportunities of open source, and that didn’t happen as hoped… this time.


Oh yeah, for those of you who made it this far and wondered about my red asterisk, I promised myself I’d find a way to weave in the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, opening Friday evening. Snap. 😉

One response to “OSDV Testifies (sort of) at CA Voting Systems Hearing

  1. Good grief. Here I was trying to inject some humor last evening about integrating some reference to the Olympics opening in just three hours up in Vancouver, Canada just to the north of us. And of all the sports I picked to draw a humorous pointer to, I chose Luge; a dangerous high speed sport on ice to be sure, but not one to take the life of a competitor in any recent memory… until today. Tragically, this afternoon Georgian Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili lost his life in a horrible training run accident at 90Mph on the new $100M track. Story here: http://bit.ly/agzNEP I deeply regret my unforeseeable poor timing in choosing Luge piloting for my humorous reference. May the Games proceed victoriously for all and in memory of this brave athlete. And forgive me for an unfortunate reference.

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