Hundreds of millions of people rely on the accuracy of voting machines and the polling process to form our government. New voting machines are being developed, moving from paper-based ballots to electronic voting.
How accurate are those digital voting machines? How unbiased? Do they count every vote? Do they count every vote accurately and completely? How do they work? How tamper-proof are they? Is there a way to audit results? How good is the audit process? How would we know?
Right now it’s hard to tell. It turns out that how digital voting machines work is a secret. Voters are not allowed to know, to see or to test those machines or how they work. (I’ll speak of California here, as a result of talking to the California Secretary of State, but this is only an example of the problem.) We’re asked to “trust.”
The OSDV Foundation exists to change this. OSDV is a non-profit organization building open source voting machinery. This is important for several reasons:
- This allows voters to verify what our voting machines are doing. Like other open source projects, those of us with enough technical expertise can serve as consumer advocates and validate that our voting machines operate as they should.
- In voting, 1 or 2 percent is a giant amount. Many elections — at least in the US where I’m most familiar — are very, very close. A 1% to 2% margin of error may be acceptable in many business settings, but it is not acceptable in a critical election where it can change results. With open source products we can see and test and improve the quality, rather than simply trust that all is well.
- Casting and counting votes should not be a for-profit enterprise; it is the foundation of elected governments.
- Proprietary ownership of the means of voting IS a conflict of interest. According to the OSDV Foundation, right now something like 88% of the US voting infrastructure is owned by two companies, which will soon be one company.
- Good open source alternatives are likely to cause an improvement in the quality of the dominant (close to 90% market share) product offering.
OSDV is just reaching the point where its first products are just about ready for use. Having a viable alternative in the market is critical. Having a viable alternative that is open source and public-benefit is even better. OSDV is building a system that citizens can actually verify — a system we trust based on that ability to verify what is actually happening.
You can find out more about OSDV Foundation’s Trust the Vote project at trustthevote.org/background