29 September 2005

Security Through Transparency

I'll just come right out and say it: I am not opposed to electronic voting systems. The problem is that corporations making them have motivation to rig the results, and with proprietary software, they can hide behind 'intellectual property' to cover up their fraud. It is not impossible to make electronic voting secure and reliable, though. A wonderfully simple solution is open source code. Of course, that's just part of it, but it's a step in the right direction. A secure, dependable, and inexpensive solution might work something like this (there are other ways to do it):
  1. An off-the-shelf computer, selected from some random government insitution (say, schools), is booted directly from read-only media running open source software and never connected to a network. It is, however, connected to a printer. With open source software on read-only media, the inner workings are publicly known and the lack of a network connection prevents remote tampering.
  2. When someone casts a vote, their result is recorded to a removable device (e.g., an external hard disk) that cannot be removed until voting is complete (by, e.g., physically locking it in place). Additionally, their vote is printed (with no identifying information) for verification.
  3. Once the voter has verified the recorded vote is correct, the paper is passed through a scanner into the ballot box, where a similar computer, connected only to the scanner, records their vote. The voter may verify this result.
  4. When all voting is complete, there are three verified votes to compare: the original electronic vote (with any potential tampering publicly known), the voter-verified paper ballot, and the doubly-verified central electronic vote.
I hope I explained that clearly, and anyway, as I said, it can be done other ways. But the important points are transparency, anonymity, and voter verification. Fellow BARBARians will be pleased to learn that California appears to be leading the way in creating such a system to follow the letter of the HAVA while disobeying the spirit (rigging elections):
CA Sec. of State Forming Panel to Investigate Open Source Software for Elections

OVC Related NewsCalifornia Secretary of State Bruce McPherson is forming a panel to investigate using open source software in elections. He has invited OVC president Alan Dechert to be on the panel, and has asked for Dechert's input on who should be on the panel.

Many people, including Charlene Woodcock, have written to Secretary McPherson asking him to meet with OVC. In a letter to Charlene dated SEP 21, 2005 [], McPherson wrote:

My staff has met with Alan Dechert of the Open Voting Consortium and continues to communicate with him on this subject. My office will be appointing a task force consisting of experts such as Mr. Dechert to conduct a study of Open Source Code and provide it to the Legislature. We have also asked him to recommend participants on our panel that will study open source code for voting systems.
Engineer extraordinaire, Amy Pearl and OVC co-founder, Board Secretary, Professor Arthur Keller also attended the July meeting (referred to in McPherson's letter). Amy and Arthur deserve much of the credit for bringing the Secretary of State's office around.

In to Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, McPherson referred to the "committee" he was forming. The exact nature of this "committee," "task force," or "panel," has not quite been determined. We expect this to involve public hearings.

Among the many illustrious individuals indicating they want to participate in the panel (and whose names Dechert submitted) are Bruce Perens and Brian Behlendorf. Behlendorf started Apache -- open source free software on which 70 percent of the web sites on the Internet are running.

This all started when OVC supporter Richard Dawson drafted a resolution and gave it to his representative in the State Assembly (Jackie Goldberg). Goldberg introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution 242 (ACR 242). OVC supporters helped to get the resolution passed in the State Legislature over some industry opposition. Alan Dechert testified in favor of it before the Senate Elections Committee on AUG 11, 2004.

As a State Senator at the time, McPherson voted for it -- one of few Republicans that did so.

The report could form the philosophical basis for our Open Voting bill and could also provide the justification for getting HAVA funding for voting system Research and Development. OVC is asking that the CA State Government hire the University of California to do this work. McPherson has also made public statements indicating that he is in favor of this. A recent article in the Oakland Tribune says, "McPherson proposes pooling federal voting-reform money for several states and devoting it to research on the best way to verify electronic voting."

With any luck at all, California will show the way to get Open Voting instituted across the U.S.!

Bruce McPherson deserves credit here for being a pro-democracy Republican. I should also add that I'm pleased to see my CA Assembly representative, Gene Mullin, co-authored ACR 242. Found via /., where you'll witness the depressing spectacle of libertarians decrying this as "unamerican" since there's no room for corporate profiteering. Of course, this just illustrates why I'm often puzzled by the libertarian affinity for FOSS, since Free Software is fundamentally anarcho-syndicalist (left-wing anarchist) in nature. You'd think the term "copyleft" would make that obvious enough for even the slowest of them.

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