Open source: How e-voting should be done

An open source approach to open voting systems is essential to the integrity of an electoral process. Here's a technical blueprint for securing the vote

Most voters already know these systems are flawed. It's the relative lack of outrage that is troubling. Perhaps trust in the electoral process is still sufficient to assuage fears of stolen elections, or the issue of flawed voting technology itself has become a running joke, like cracks about an honest politician. Even The Simpsonsparodied the situation recently.

Those of us who live in IT every day know better. We know exactly how poorly designed some software frameworks are. We see the security challenges presented by Web servers, mail servers, remote access, and so on, but when it comes to the foundation of our democracy, we just shake our heads and move on.

Maybe it's time for us geeks to come to the rescue, with a little help from Congress. We've built the Internet, designed staggeringly complex technologies for conducting lightning-speed financial transactions, securing sensitive patient data, even our own entertainment. After all, you'd be hard-pressed to say that there's more complexity in an e-voting machine than in, say, your TiVo or even your mobile phone.

But the key to securing e-voting resides in making its systems open source.

Opening the polls to open source

If you look around the open source community, you will find a wide variety of projects that are not only widely used but extremely well designed and very secure. Apache, Perl, PHP, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and the Linux kernel are just a few examples. Coders who contribute to these projects generally do so without remuneration, producing some of the best code available.

It's time for us to make good on the promise of open elections and open our e-voting systems as well -- no black boxes, no intellectual property protections, no obfuscation, and certainly no backdoors. Doing so would require a federal mandate, one that would eliminate the use of closed source devices.

This being a free-market economy, vendors should certainly be able to participate in the construction of truly secure e-voting systems. But to ensure the integrity of our elections, the code they run on their products must be open. Moreover, it should be the same across all e-voting platforms. Just as the PC industry produces multiple PC brands that all run Windows, e-voting vendors should produce systems that run the same open source voting software.

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Paul Venezia

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