Movement to Bring Open Source to Government Being Reorganized


Just a quick post to suggest an interesting report out this afternoon on the TechPresident blog.  The move to consolidate the efforts of Civic Commons (home of and Code For America (CfA), notwithstanding the likely trigger being Civic Common’s leader, Nick Grossman moving on, actually makes sense to us.  CfA’s  Jennifer Pahlka‘s write up is here.

Recently in a presentation, I was asked where our work fits in to the whole Gov 2.0 movement.  It seems to us that we are probably a foundational catalyst to the movement; related, but only tangentially.  To be sure, we share principles of accuracy, transparency, verification and security in government information (ours being elections information).  But Gov 2.0 (and its thought leaders such as CfA) is a considerably different effort from ours at the TrustTheVote Project.  That’s mainly because the backbone of the Civic Commons,, and CfA efforts is Web 2.0 technology (read: the social web and related mash-up tools).  There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, its downright essential for transparency.

But to keep the apples in their crate and the oranges elsewhere, our work is about a far heavier lifting exercise.  Rather than liberating legacy government data stores to deliver enlightened public information sites, or to shed sunlight on government operations, we’re building an entirely new open source elections technology stack from the OS kernel up through the app layer, with particular emphasis on an open standards common data format (more news on that in coming posts).

Ours is about serious fault tolerant software architecture, design and engineering with stuff built in C++, Objective C, even dropping down to the machine-level, potentially as far as firmware if necessary, but at the app layer higher level programming tools as well including frameworks like Rails, and UX/UI delivery vehicles like HTML5 and AJAX (to the extent of browser-based or iOS5-based applications).

And that point is the segue to my closing comment:  the Gov 2.0 movement is smartly delivering Government information via the web; the social web in particular.  That’s huge.  By contrast, remember that a good portion of our work is focused on purpose-built, application-specific devices like Optical Scanners to “read” ballots, devices to mark a ballot for printing and processing, or mobile tablets to serve as digital poll books.  Sure, the web is involved in some voter facing services in our framework, like voter registration.  But unlike the Gov 2.0 effort, we have no plans leverage the web or Internet in general for anything (save a blank ballot delivery or voter registration update).

So by contrast, we’re in the rough, while Code for America is on the putting green.  And as such, you should have a look at the TechPresident article today.