Monday, April 11, 2005

Open Voting Consortium

At the recent No Confidence workshop in San Francisco, I was given a flier for the Open Voting Consortium. They have an open source electronic voting system that I think could actually contribute to creating a basis for confidence in our elections. This is something we all need to pay attention to.

I was encouraged by the flier and the little pitch I heard and brought up OVC at the next Voter Confidence Committee meeting. We agreed it was interesting and had potential but without a lot more detail and assistance in preparing talking points, there was no way we could bring it to the recent Board of Supervisors meeting where we unsuccessfully plead for clemency against the Diebold onslaught.

So I contacted the phone number on the flier and wound up talking to Alan Dechert, shown on the OVC website as President and CEO. It is still a voting machine company, after all, though run by academics with thoroughly smart redundant counting methods. This .pdf does a really good job of walking through the process.

Big thanks also to Jim Soper and Steven Day in SF for trying to help us get up to speed here in Humboldt. Knowing that I was looking for talking points or a better summary, Jim provided this PERSONAL AND UNOFFICIAL primer on OVC:
Voting is moving to electronic machines

• The public likes it
• Computers can make voting goof proof, for example, no overvotes like in Florida
• Computers can handle multiple languages, reducing printing problems
• Computers can make it easier for people with reading/vision problems to vote. This includes the elderly and new Americans who may have trouble reading English. Specifically, the OVC system will print a ballot that includes a bar code, which voters can insert into another machine and listen through headphones to a description of their votes.

The problem is that the corporate machines are open for cheating

• Show the slide show:
• Some of the companies are filled with genuine crooks. A VP of engineering for the Diebold/GEMS system has 23 convictions of fraud in King County, Washington.
• Even with paper ballots, there are too many opportunities for cheating if Diebold etc control the code. It has to be open source (public programming)
• As R. Reagan used to say about nuke arms control, "Trust, but verify."
• The German word for "thief" is Dieb, as in Diebold. :)

Why not paper ballots?

• Note: Oregon votes entirely by mail. Very successful. I don't know how they handle issues about the disabled.
• Nobody is suggesting taking away absentee ballots, which are always paper.
• Paper ballots are themselves vulnerable to massive cheating and other problems. Election history is filled with examples, but I will list 3:
- 2000, Florida, just thinking about it gives me butterflies & chads. :)
- 2004, Florida, 50,000 absentee ballots lost in the mail
- A couple of years ago, several ballot boxes were "lost" during a very tight election in San Francisco. They were "cast" into the bay, and fished out later, after the election had been decided...

Double/triple audit system

• When the voters are done making their choices, the OVC system will print out the actual ballot, not a receipt, that will be cast. At the same time, it will write the same choices to a non-changeable CD-ROM, which will collect all the votes made on that machine. At the end of the day, you have 2 copies of the vote. If one gets screwed up/lost/stolen, the backup will be there. If the ballots are scanned, you have 3 copies. This is, for me, decisive.


• Before I joined, I wanted to make sure this was a serious effort. I have seen that Alan & co have already thought through a lot of the problems, and that they listen, which is important. I have confidence in their ability to build a good system.
• Part of the advantage of the open source process is to invite examination and discussion. It takes a lot of work, but gets you better software, such as Linux.

Things for meetups to do

• Recruiting and public awareness
- Go to and find the political groups in your area. Ask to give a presentation. This includes republican and civic groups (Rotary, etc).
- Call in to talk radio. Write letters to the editor, etc

• Chain of Custody
Open voting means that the entire chain of custody of the ballots and ballot results needs to be verifiable.
- So go to the county registrar of voters, and get the voting procedures for the county, and identify places where crooks can cheat. Publish it on the web.
- Each county will need to build teams of verifiers who will be ready on election day.
- These activities can be coordinated with other voting groups, especially those working for a paper trail.

• Identify who your county supervisors are, and their opinions voting etc.
- You will have to lobby them about adopting open-source machines and publicly verifiable procedures.
- In one county, the registrar will be retiring. Activists are looking for somebody to replace him that will be pro open voting.

• There will also be lobbying activities at the state level to push for open voting.

• There will be lobbying activities in Washington, to push for positive voting laws. We will need to contact our senators and representatives.

• Coordinate the above activities with groups favoring open elections:


Some of these sites have message boards/forums. We need to make OVC more visible in them.

• Support the campaign (state financed election campaigns)

In addition to trying to get supporters like you and me to talk about and create demand for the OVC system, there is also the bureaucratic mess of getting certification. There is a long way to go before actual votes will be cast on OVC systems. GuvWurld will be continuing the construction of a bridge here.



Guv - Thanks for posting Jim's "OVC primer". I'm sending your URL to Election Reform Meetup Group #52 in New York City. One of its re-enthused members inquired for more info at my e-ddress steven at swingthestate dot org today.

Humboldteers and other Northcoasters can join a local Open Voting Meetup by surfing over to:

OVC uses Meetup dot com. OVC freaks like me can join multiple Open Voting meetups. This'll help strategy and info flow for a COMPLETE PUBLIC-OWNED electoral system (especially that devilish run silent, run deep code essential to any computer program).

HOPE to have at least one advocacy group in each of the 3143 Counties, Parishes or Independent Cities in the USA by July 4, 2005. Our goal: OVC public domain software running county tabulation of precinct counts in 2006!

Group #52 had lost its 'organizer'. It was easy for me to jump in and crank out hello-s to existing members and invite some of my NYC friends. I won't be able to physically meet up with them, but I think it'll work out OK. Need more OVCeers to so this and let me know!

By the way, Guv - is HUM Co. purchase of "thief" machines that give the voter a receipt a done deal? If there's any time left before Elections Clerk Carolyn Crnich commits to Diebold, please get back to Jim. He has a hint that might help at the last minute.

Gotta go write to my Senators and Congressperson about adding 'open source code' and 'tracking the data chain of command' to Barbara and Hillary's Count Every Vote Act (S 450) and Stephanie Tubbs Jones' (HR 939). Your readers can do that too. Find 'em all by surfing to:

By Anonymous Foresteven, at 9:14 PM  

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