Open-source e-voting gets test run

The system runs on Ubuntu Linux

Computer engineer Alan Dechert didn't like what he saw during the controversial vote tallying in Florida in 2000's presidential election.

That was when he decided that there had to be a better way for US citizens to safely and accurately cast their election ballots.

More than seven years later, Dechert is here at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, publicly displaying the open source e-voting system he helped develop that fixes some of the problems he and other critics saw in the nation's voting systems almost a decade ago.

"I watched the 2000 election and I was stunned that we didn't know how to count ballots," Dechert said.

In Florida, where paper punch-card ballots were used at the time in many counties, the nation watched in disbelief for weeks as the presidential election came down to the wire over punch cards that were analyzed individually by hand and eye by voting officials. At issue was voter intent, as officials tried to decipher who voters had selected on the ballots, which often weren't fully punched out by the machines that were supposed to mark the ballots.

It took analysis of those ballots and a US Supreme Court decision to finally decide the winner of that election almost a month after the last polling place closed.

That December, Dechert co-founded the Open Voting Consortium, he said, to try to help come up with a better way to vote in this country.

"This was conceived as a pilot project for Sacramento County [California] in December 2000," he said. The idea was to create an electronic voting system that allows voters to make their candidate selections on a screen, then clearly print their ballot out and have it scanned and tallied by reliable machines.

By creating such a system, Dechert said, then "there's no ambiguity about what the voter intended," fixing one of the most glaring problems of the old punch-card systems and poorly designed ballot layouts.

The system, which was set here at LinuxWorld for show attendees to view and vote in mock elections, runs on PCs loaded with Ubuntu Linux and the free, open source e-voting application created by the consortium.

For election officials, the system is a simple one that would allow voters to be sure of their choices before they leave the ballot casting area, Dechert said. Officials could set up and create the ballot in any elections intuitively, with a special ballot creation software tool that would add candidate names, office titles and other relevant information, without requiring major computing skills.

The application runs on standard PC architecture and requires no specialized equipment.

"They don't have to do anything special," Dechert said of local election officials who would use the system. "They don't have to know anything special."

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1 Comment

Anonymous

1

Open Source is a False Solution

as several computer security experts have repeatedly warned.

In July 2007, California tested Sequoia:

Manual source code inspection is laborious, time-intensive, and costly. A rough estimate is that a trained software engineer can inspect approximately 100 lines of code per hour, under optimal conditions. If team members did nothing other than read source code for hours on end—something that few developers can sustain for any length of time—then it would have taken us over a year just to read all of the source code. (CA TTBR Sequoia Source Code Review, p.4)

NY State Board of Elections Co-Chair Douglass Kellner explains:

“Fighting fraud carried out by code is also particularly expensive. Some e-voting systems run on 150,000 lines of code and to uncover whether fraud has occurred, or by whom and how, requires an army of programmers, a number of years, and millions of dollars. Even then, there is no guarantee that their examination will produce results."

Rice University professor of computer science, Dan Wallach, advised in 2007:

"This is a classic computer security problem. Whoever gets into the machine first wins. So if the Trojan horse software is in there first, you ask it to test itself -- it will always lie to you and tell you everything is fine. And no matter what testing code you try to add after the fact, it's too late. It can now create a world where the testing software can't tell that the machine has been compromised, even though it has...."

Even the National Institute of Standards and Technology admits that open source is no solution:

"[E]xperience in testing software and systems has shown that testing to high degrees of security and reliability is from a practical perspective not possible." (NIST) 2006

Wallach testified Before NIST in 2004:
"[W]hile 'logic-and-accuracy testing' can sometimes detect flaws, it will never be comprehensive; important flaws will always escape any amount of testing."

California’s TTBR Red Team report drives the point home:

“The use of computers in performing voting and tallying introduces serious concerns about the integrity and confidentiality of the voting process.”

Open source is no solution; software driven devices have no place in honest elections. Software can be changed without detection. It is the worse possible technology for honest elections.

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