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Friday November 28, 2003
11:50 AM

The case for open source

[ #16060 ]

Jack Hitt talks about touch screen voting for This American Life [RealAudio].

He talks about how three closed-source companies provide the software, and that no one can inspect the source, like poll-watchers used to be able to inspect the levers and gears of the mechanical voting machines. Indeed, the Diebold software was so bad that it is trivially hacked, and instructions are floating around the Net. The story points out that Diebold horked elections in California and Maryland (hey Ziggy and Lisa!).

One solution he brings up is voting receipts so people have a record. I think that is a good idea, but not the solution

He did not bring up open-source software at all. He makes the case for inspecting the source of the voting software, and how companies are afraid to do that (security through obscurity). He keeps leading up to the case that poll-watchers should be able to inspect the source, but then stops short of saying that it should be open source.

So, who knows about open-source voting systems and would like to put together a friendly letter with me to Jack Hitt?

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  • One solution he brings up is voting receipts so people have a record. I think that is a good idea, but not the solution.
    Every time the topic of electronic voting in the US comes up (or the farce of the 2000 Florida ballot), some wry englishman mentions, "Paper ballots still work perfectly fine for us. We get the results that night, we have accountability, and the damn things don't need to be rebooted."
    • I mean, they don't vote for the Queen, do they?

    • I'm not English, but I have big doubts about electronic voting. The bigger of them being accountability.

      Open source software sure can help, but it's far more difficult to stuff ballots in every city of the country (in France, there are volonteers (scrutateurs) that check that everything is OK and do the counting after the poll has ended) than to quietly hack the central database.

      On the other hand, I don't think we have more than 3 or 4 ballots a year, the big years. And we vote for one person or a list of

  • There is an open-source voting project named EVM. There was an announcement to the main Python list back in August [] and the project can be inspected here [].

    One of the core ideas in this project is that every machine should produce a paper receipt. I think this is very important because the debate on electronic voting often centers around "bugs" and "secure software" and many people who talk about this miss the core issue of risk management. Since there is no such thing as secure software, we have to ask

  • Nat pointed me at Avi Rubin, who then pointed me at a very thorough, and academic, analysis of Diebold's crap []. They actually got the C++ source, and they do not have nice things to say about either C++ or the code.

    He has a list of questions [] customers should ask about voting machines. He included a note about whether the public can inspect the source.
  • Although this bill [] has been primarily touted for the voter verification and auditing provisions related to using paper receipts as the official vote of record, it also contains the following language (from the text [] of the bill):


    (i) No voting system shall at any time contain or use undisclosed software. Any voting system containing or using software shall disclose the source code of that software to the Commission, and the Commission shall make that source code available