Open Source Election Systems
There is a major need for transparency and accountability in election technology.
Yet the current generation of opaque, proprietary systems has failed to guarantee secure democratic results. Time and time again when tested by elite computer scientists, America's voting machines have been shown to have severe faults that make them vulnerable to industry insiders and motivated outsiders.
Open-source software development could have eliminated many of these critical flaws before the machines were sold and deployed across the country.
As counties upgrade their voting machines over the next 5–10 years, we have a chance to build them the right way. Open-source election systems using paper ballots offer several potential advantages over closed proprietary systems:
- Public: The assets can be owned in common.
- Shared: Code can be copied for use in multiple jurisdictions.
- Cheaper: Development and implementation costs can be reduced.
- Transparent: Anyone with technical knowledge can validate how a system works, and independent technical committees can be established for this purpose.
- Secure: Open-source software development is used for critical high-assurance systems. The feedback provided by exposing code to multiple developers has been shown to result in more reliable programs.
- Adaptable: As new contingencies arise and technology changes, an open process is likelier to respond to evolving needs.
Good software is no substitute for overall vigilance: It is but one piece in the election defense puzzle. From voter registration through manual verification of election results and secure ballot chain of custody, transparency and accountability must be the guiding principles.
Who's Doing It?
The San Francisco Elections Commission recently canceled requests for proposals for proprietary voting systems in favor of charting its own course in open-source technology. This was the result of a multi-year research effort into the feasibility, economics, and security implications.
Open Source Election Technology Foundation and its Trust the Vote Project have been leaders in developing independent, open-source election systems that can be licensed to private or public entities.
Private technology firm Galois specializes in developing high-assurance systems for major government agencies and private-sector clients. Its staff includes election technology and computer security experts. They are developing an open-source election platform and plan to spin off a benefit corporation for its deployment in early 2016.
The Use of Open Source Technology in Elections, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
Trust the Vote Project, OSET Foundation
"Can Open-Source Voting Tech Fix The U.S. Elections System?" by Ann Babe, Forbes
Open source elections technology: Responses to the San Francisco Elections Commission, Joseph Kiniry, Galois