Friday, December 04, 2015

Movement on the open source voting front

A reader sent me some interesting news after reading my blog post, "If Volkswagen can program cars to cheat on smog tests, guess who can flip the vote?". It turns out that the city of San Francisco is committed to replacing their aging voting machines with open source voting machines. This is welcome news.

There is similar activity in the City of Los Angeles, too. There are a few other cities around the nation that are working on open source voting, but to see it in two of the biggest cities in California means that a trend is brewing. A big one.

Another reason this is good news is that cities are starting to realize that they're paying a lot of money for licensing Windows and other proprietary software for doing something as basic as counting votes and keeping records. The projections for the new voting systems in San Francisco point to an open source voting system that will cost but a fraction of the proprietary systems. Perhaps our cities will get the hint that open source software can save money in other areas, too.

The best part about this news is that people are waking up to the idea that it's important to know what the source code is doing in voting and tabulation machines. Without source code, it's hard to know for sure if the votes are being recorded and counted correctly. With open source software, anyone can see the code and verify that the voting machines are working according to plan. The People's plan.

I note with interest that there is little public resistance or opposition to the open source plans from the proprietary vendors. Contrast this scene with the ruckus over OOXML a few years ago between Microsoft, the ISO and the State of Massachusetts. In that contest, the Sate of Massachusetts had decided to require all documents create by the state to be in an open format that didn't require proprietary software to read it.

Microsoft didn't take too kindly to this, so they created OOXML as a competing file format designed and promoted for the purpose of keeping the Open Document Format at bay. Most people are unaware of this struggle, but it is well documented on Groklaw. We're lucky to have avoided a similar struggle with voting machines. The debate over standards for documents and voting machine software is about sovereignty so the proprietary vendors may well know it's a losing battle. Perhaps that is why they've been so quiet this time around.

If San Francisco stays on track, they could have open source voting implemented in time for the 2020 presidential election. This could change the course of history and would be a model for other cities and jurisdictions to follow. We might actually be able to trust our voting machines someday, perhaps in our lifetimes.

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