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November 16, 2005

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alice

How about open source?

Have the source code viewable to all, then complie it onto the server that collects votes? The former process could be done world wide, the later would require only moderate technical competence among observers.

We have relatively secure encryption and verificaton methods that should make it possible for voters to enter data anywhere.

Jeremy Nash

I unfortunately was not able to include every detail of our discussion of e-voting with Doug on Tuesday, but this question was in fact raised. Although no real consensus was reached, there was at least agreement that switching to open source in this context raises a number of other questions that are each difficult to answer.

That is not to say we wrote off open source completely. It remains a promising alternative for reigning in "interested" software developers and ensuring the security of vote casting and counting. Further, absolute (or, nearly absolute, I suppose) trust in the code would diminish the importance of a voter-verified paper audit trail. Relief from the burden of the printer and sealed-box components of an e-voting system provides the flexibility for remote casting of ballots, which Alice mentioned.

The difficult questions switching to open source raises are whether open source would actually secure the code and whether privatization of e-voting could continue.

The details escape me, but Doug told us what he knew of a past instance where an e-voting machine's code required outside review and it took "an army of programmers" nearly a year and $750k to complete the inspection. This was not even all the code mind you; merely the portions most likely to have errors. It is unclear whether there would be enough outside people with enough interest to volunteer efforts on such an enormous scale. The answer to this question is important, because the private market we use today to produce this code largely relies on being able to keep code secret.

Privatized production of e-voting code is certainly not the be-all and end-all, but if the intellectual property rights which protect their primary assets are taken away it is unclear how that market would continue to operate.

And with regard to Alice's last remark about remote voting, Doug expressed again concern over whether such a change would cause more problems than it would solve. On the one hand, remote voting is more convenient and may increase voter turnout. On the other hand, risk of undue influence in the voting process goes up. For example, imagine a controlling parent pressuring a voting-age child to vote one way or the other in order to leave the house. Or worse, a parent voting in the child's stead. It is hard to detect this type of abuse or fraud, so it may not be too much to simply ask voters to appear at their local polling place.

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