The Open Source Digital Voting Foundation (OSDV) announced the availability of source code for its prototype election system Wednesday night at a panel discussion that included Mitch Kapor, creator of Lotus 1-2-3 and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; California Secretary of State Debra Bowen; Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan; and Heather Smith, director of Rock the Vote.
The OSDV, co-founded by Gregory Miller and John Sebes, launched its Trust the Vote Project in 2006 and has an eight-year roadmap to produce a comprehensive, publicly owned, open source electronic election system. The system would be available for licensing to manufacturers or election districts, and would include a voter registration component; firmware for casting ballots on voting devices (either touch-screen systems with a paper trail, optical-scan machines or ballot-marking devices); and an election management system for creating ballots, administering elections and counting votes.
“How we vote has become just as important as who we vote for,” Miller told the audience of filmmakers and technologists who gathered at the Bel-Air home of film producer Lawrence Bender to hear about the project. “We think it is imperative that the infrastructure on which we cast and count our ballots is an infrastructure that is publicly owned.”
Miller said the foundation wasn’t looking to put voting system companies out of business but to assume the heavy burden and costs of research and development to create a trustworthy system that will meet the needs of election officials for reliability and the needs of the voting public for accessibility, transparency, security and integrity.
“We believe we’re catalyzing a re-birth of the industry … by making the blueprint available to anyone who wants to use it,” Miller said.
The foundation has elicited help from academics and election officials from eight states as well as voter advocacy groups, such as Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters, to guide developers in building the system. Technology bigwigs such as Oracle, Sun and IBM have also approached the group to help with the project.
“That was unexpected,” Miller said.
The code currently available for download and review represents only a small part of the total code and includes parts of an online voter registration portal and tracking system, election management software and a vote tabulator. Prototype code for producing ballots has been completed and will be posted soon. Code for auditing is still being designed.
The voting firmware and tabulator program are built on a minimized Linux platform (a stripped down version of Sharp) and the election management components are built with Ruby on Rails.
The foundation already has California, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington interested in adopting the system and is in talks with 11 other states. Florida, which has been racked by voting machine problems since the 2000 presidential debacle, has also expressed interest, as has Georgia, which uses machines made by Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) statewide.
“Currently two vendors impact 80 percent of the vote” nationwide, Miller said, referring to Premier/Diebold and Election Systems & Software, which recently merged in a sale. But if all the states that have expressed interest in adopting the open source system follow through with implementing it, about 62 percent of the nation’s electorate would be voting on transparent, fully auditable machines he said.
The foundation is especially interested in getting a system that would be workable in Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest and most complex election district with 4.3 million voters casting ballots in seven languages.
“If Los Angeles County figures this out, we will have solved the problems for the rest of the country,” Miller said.
Kapor called the project “a breath of fresh air” and said it symbolized the kind of “disruptive innovation” that has characterized all of the best technological developments over the last thirty years.