D.C. launches test of open-source online voting
Washington, D.C., will let overseas voters cast ballots online using open-source, standards-based software, not the closed, proprietary mechanisms that have dominated electronic voting throughout its troubled history in the United States.
Open Source Digital Voting Foundation, a Palo Alto, Calif., developer of election software is providing the District's new system. Company representatives explained in a conference call with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics how this absentee-voting option will work.
Starting with September's primary election, D.C. citizens serving overseas in the military and others posted far out of town won't have to choose between voting secretly but slowly by mailing in a paper ballot or voting quickly, but with no guarantee of secrecy, by submitting a ballot by fax or e-mail.
(Voters living in the District will continue to use closed-source, proprietary hardware, although the next batch of machines [PDF] will generate a paper record, visible to the voter, confirming that that the machine registered the ballot accurately.)
Instead, after applying to vote online--using the same kinds of forms required to obtain an absentee ballot today--overseas voters will receive a one-time personal identification number. They'll use the PIN to log on to an encrypted site hosted by the District, on which they will fill out a PDF form and submit that under two forms of encryption--one to confirm the integrity of the ballot, a second to attest that it was completed by the holder of the PIN.
Voters will be able to check online to see that their ballot (or, for the first time this year, their mailed-in form) was received. The Board of Elections and Ethics will confirm receipt of the ballot and then discard the identifying information attached to the ballot itself.
Rokey W. Suleman,, executive director of the board, called the process "completely auditable, completely transparent."
That's a sweeping claim to make. But with an open-source system--in which anybody can inspect the program's instructions, as in such widely used programs as the Firefox Web browser--we won't have to take his word for it once OSDV posts that source code on its site this summer.
This is an overdue step for electronic voting. It may also be the only hope left for electronic voting, considering the woeful history of closed, proprietary systems that on good days merely confuse voters with badly designed interfaces and on bad days lose votes for mysterious reasons (as happened in the District in the 2008 primary).
But first, other jurisdictions will have to show some interest in open-source voting. Anybody want to make a prediction on that?
June 22, 2010; 11:57 AM ET
Categories: Digital culture , Policy and politics
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