Thursday, November 09, 2006


Question: Why not open-source voting machines?

I've been meaning to write about voting computers, but there is so much out there already that it is hard to know where to begin.

Many of the articles refer to problems with proprietary software - software that is owned by companies like Diebold and supposedly unavailable even to state elections officials. This means that they cannot check if the software is suitable, nor is it possible to dive in to the operating system to retrieve votes in the event something has gone wrong.

Here's part of an article from the Wall Street Journal website, Touch Screen, Tough Recount:
There's another potential problem for those touch-screen voting machines that millions of Americans used on Tuesday: It's tough to recount their votes.

The machines work by collecting votes on a memory card that's inserted in each machine and backed up by an internal memory. The memory cards and internal memory record an image or "screen shot" of each ballot--that is, a record of each voter's choice on every ballot question.

But many state recount laws call only for an examination of the totals on the memory cards--in other words, reading the votes rather than examining the screen shots.

The backup memory records the same data as the memory card, moreover. That means that any glitch will be recorded the same way in both memories. Some voters complained on Election Day of a software glitch called vote jumping, which occurs when a vote for one candidate jumps to that of another. If that happened, and a voter didn't correct it, the wrong vote would show up on both tallies.

Most election offices don't have the technical skill to retrieve the screen shots, and most vendors don't allow them access, claiming the software is a trade secret. "You would need involvement by the company," said Matt Zimmerman, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which follows technology and privacy issues. That has raised the ire of voting-rights groups, which contend that the introduction of high tech voting equipment is "privatizing" elections and taking them out of the hands of public officials.
Most readers of this blog are probably Internet-savvy and know about the open-source movement. You can now run a desktop or laptop computer without depending on proprietary software from Microsoft. Open Office, for example, provides word processing, spreadsheets and more and is compatible with the proprietary product. Not only is the software free, but it is completely open to inspection.

So: Why not open-source election software? There. Disappeared News has asked the question.

It would take a couple of years to develop, but not many. Maybe also an act of Congress, but that might be easier now.

Honest elections are not rocket science. Other countries manage to do it, why not the USA?


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