Open Source Voting: The Future of Elections

Created: 23 January, 2014
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

The integrity of an election is equally, if not more, important than the outcome. If voters have no confidence in how their vote was counted, do the results matter? Do you know how your vote will be counted this November?

In California, and many other states, election results are processed using equipment that was cutting edge when Y2K was still a thing. A maze of state and federal regulations transpiring from the Gore v. Bush 2000 election debacle has made it difficult for registrars to receive authorization from state and local authorities to implement new technology.

Kammi Foote, the elected Clerk-Recorder for Inyo County, says time is running out to fix California’s aging voting infrastructure.

 “Most of the registrars in California are now working with technology that was designed back in 2000” said Foote. “Think 8-track tapes.”

California in particular uses a mixture of proprietary software run on the hardware provided by four different companies. These include the AccuVote TSX created by Premier (aka Diebold), the AutoMARK from Election Systems and Software, the Optech Insight from Sequoia (aka Dominion) and the eSlate manufactured by Hart Intercivic.

In August 2013, California's Auditor discovered millions in wasted state funds that went toward unusable voting technology. Additionally, registrars now need to accommodate the state’s new nonpartisan election system which was passed by a majority of voters in 2010 under Proposition 14.

A task Foote says registrars can handle, but need to implement a long term solution:

“[Prop 14] sort of changed the way our systems report voting results. Our voting systems weren’t designed to report ” explained Foote. “But because the certification process is so onerous to have any change made to any already certified voting systems... it has created this system where we haven’t had any new voting technology in California.”

California's Legislature did pass Senate Bill 360 last year which addresses some of Foote's concerns. Authored by State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacioma), it cut out the federal requirements for certifying voting systems, which now paves the way for new open source voting systems to be vetted by the state and implemented.

Here’s where a new approach to voting systems comes in. Brent Turner, the secretary for California Association of Voting Officials, says Open Voting, or open-source voting, can bring voting systems into the 21st century while improving their transparency and reliability.

“Open source voting is a designed system that creates transparency within an election system, relating to the software code” said Turner. “And it allows for a higher degree of security within the system as well as creates an environment for less expensive systems as you now eliminate the literal cost of the software code.”

Turner has seen the effects of faulty voting software first hand. In 2012, Newt Gingrich was incorrectly declared the winner of the Republican primary election due to a coding glitch. Romney was the actual winner.

Critics of open-source software are skeptical of the security aspect, which is often confused with online voting. An open-source system would not be open for editing; rather, the processes that will determine how votes are tabulated could be cross-examined by many different parties before being ‘locked-down’ well before an election takes place.

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For Turner, leaving oversight up to one for profit voting technology company isn’t enough:

“In a closed system you are reliant upon the oversight of a limited amount of people and you have to trust that their conclusions and motivations are appropriate. But with an open-source system it takes the trust factor out of the equation.”

Foote and Turner are in agreement that relying on a proprietary system to ensure accurate, reliable, and transparent elections won't be the future of elections. Rather, Open Voting, or open-source systems, are the 21st century solution to the age-old democratic process.

“If you had an open source vote tabulation software then you would have transparency in the system,” Foote said.

Photo: Stored voting machines go unused in Raleigh / Raleigh Public Record

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