Voting technology has come a long way. For the ancient Athenians it entailed dropping black and white rocks into clay pots. Today, voting technology in the U.S. is largely contingent upon proprietary code, developed and owned by private enterprise. This begs the question, “Is this working for voters?”
Most proprietary systems have been operating under the failing concept of “security by obscurity.” This is a principle that has guided organizations to maintain exclusive access to their code, which can leave them more vulnerable to both internal and external threats.
Kammi Foote, the elected Inyo County clerk/recorder & registrar of voters and president of the California Association of Voting Official (CAVO), and Brent Turner, the secretary for CAVO, argue that traditional voting technologies aren’t cutting it when it comes to access to and the security of our elections.Proprietary systems for voting have been operating under the failing concept of security by obscurity.
In turn, many are left out. Vote by mail or absentee voting is a popular choice for those serving in the military, people who live in remote areas, and individuals with disabilities. However, the security of mailed-in ballots presents a unique problem.
“More than half of all ballots cast in California are sent via mail,” said Foote. These ballots “must be opened and processed by more hands and raises the potential for human error.”
Likewise, costs are rising. Technology that was designed to count ballots a decade ago isn’t keeping up with regulatory and electoral changes.
“These machines can run anywhere from 3-4,000 dollars,” said Foote. “There were major concerns in the previous election cycle based on this antiquated voting system.”
What's on the Horizon?
The time to rethink voting tech is near. Turner and Foote both agree that Open Source Voting is a viable solution. Turner’s rationale is simple:
“[O]pen source is a software that utilizes transparency to minimize vulnerabilities. It is a publicly owned software that’s security is not compromised by proprietary involvement or interests… Open source does not mean open or available to hacking, but rather is open to inspection… Although more eyes on the code does not guarantee security.. its availability creates a proper foundation for security.”
To put it in perspective, implementing Open Source would allow registrars to replace current voting machines without the need to equip them with proprietary software. In theory, they could use any tablet or PC running an Open Source program.
Foote says the cost savings could be substantial — a few hundred dollars versus several thousand for proprietary systems.
Has Open Source Voting Been Done Before?
We have seen success with open source in other countries, and we are currently at a crossroads with our own voting system. Ms. Foote mentioned that registrars offices around the country will be upgrading their voting systems which begs the question: