RE: Australia reverts to closed source

From: Popkin, Laird (WMG Corp) <"Popkin,>
Date: Thu Aug 05 2004 - 09:38:57 CDT

Perhaps we could follow up on this story with journalists who cover it, to
see if we can promote coverage of the Open Voting Consortium (since it's
larger, has more work done, a better system (IMO), etc.)?

-----Original Message-----
[]On Behalf Of Charlie
Sent: Thursday, August 05, 2004 12:36 AM
Subject: [voting-project] Australia reverts to closed source

here is a article from slashdot. in it it is revealed

1) australia ACT's new voting systems contractor has decided to revert the
open souce code to closed source.

2) The Open Vote Foundation may get a boost of renewed activity in
developing open source voting for the US.

Scott Ritchie ended up delivered an angry rebuttal to Friday's OSCON
presentation on the credibility of election software: What's strange is that
his rebuttal came in response to a talk he himself had just delivered.
Ritchie doesn't have a split personality, and wasn't simply playing devil's
advocate. He found himself, though, in the strange situation of having
agreed (as a last minute stand-in) to deliver a presentation he hadn't yet
had a chance to read, provided by Dr. Clive Boughton of Australian software
developer Software Improvement. (Boughton is also a Computer Science
lecturer at Australian National University.) Between agreeing to fill in and
arriving at the conference, Ritchie found that Software Improvement was
switching its eVACS voting software from a Free, open source software
license (specifically, the GPL) to terms "even worse than that on MS's
shared source," and decided to do something about it. (Read more below.)

>From Diebold's last-minute installation of uncertified software updates on
its touch-screen election machines in California (leading to decertification
of the company's machines in several California counties) to ethically
troublesome relationships between politicians and the companies whose
machines count the votes that determine their employment, the possible
benefits of electronic voting seem swamped at the moment by objections (from
simply prudent to caustically cynical) to its security and integrity.

Within the world of electronic voting, though, eVACS (for "Electronic Voting
and Counting System") has been a rare success story both for open source
development methodology and for the benefits that electronic voting can
offer. The first generation of eVACS (running on Debian Linux machines) was
developed starting in March 2001 in response to a request for bids by the
Australian Capitol Territory Electoral Commission (ACTEC), and it was done
on a budget of only AUS$200,000.

(The Australian Capitol Territory includes Australia's capitol city,
Canberra, as well as surrounding suburbs and Namadgi National Park.)

Besides a respectable list of features driven by ACTEC's initial
requirements (like support for 12 voting languages, and audio support for
blind voters), eVACS has an advantage not enjoyed by many electronic voting
systems: it's been successfully, uneventfully used to gather votes in a
national election. The election in which it played a part went smoothly, and
the eVACS system itself functioned as hoped.

This year, though, ACTEC asked Software Improvement to update the code for
future elections, and Software Improvement decided to go them one better --
or, in the eyes of open source enthusiasts, one worse. The notes Ritchie was
provided to deliver announced a change to the process under which the code
is released; specifically, a switch from an open source license to something
the company calls "controlled open source."

According to Software Improvement, simply releasing election-machine code
under a liberal license such as the GPL is undesirable for two reasons: it
means a loss of the company's intellectual property, and unfettered access
could lead to a compromise of the voting system, if a determined cracker
could find and exploit flaws in the code. (Software Improvement has not
supplied any examples to show that this has happened, however.)

The company's use of "open source" would find little support from
organizations like the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source
Initiative. Software Improvement's idea of software openness is rather
limited. Claiming that open source development is insufficient, even
inimical to creating trust in election systems, the company now says that
portions of eVACS's codebase will be released only to approved analysts, and
in encrypted form, to enable viewing only for auditing purposes, rather than
code contribution. Repeated viewings would be reported to the company, and
only a limited number of views would be permitted before the code would

After delivering the prepared presentation, Ritchie took a few minutes to
react to the changes it announced.

"Six hours ago, while I was reading through this on the plane," said
Ritchie, "I was infuriated to read what it actually says."

Ritchie, though, is a computer-literate political science student at the
University of California - Davis, and behind the Open Vote Foundation. He
said he's decided to resume the project represented on that site, started
with the intent to fork and bring to the U.S. the first generation, GPL'd
version of eVACS.

"A long time ago, I read the first news report about Diebold, wondered why
we didn't have open source election software for our voting machines.
Eventually, I found out that Australia had apparently beaten us to it. It
seemed like a good thing; the eVACS system was developed and released as GPL
code, it was checked and rechecked by computer science people and all kinds
of election officials. I said, 'Why don't we bring this to the U.S.? It's
GPL, let's do it.'"

So he started the nonprofit Open Vote Foundation to bring the software to
the U.S., specifically to California. Ritchie went to the meeting at the
California Attorney General's office which resulted in decertification of
Diebold machines in that state's 2004 election process, and his involvement
in the fight against Diebold's secret-source voting machines is what led him
to the open source eVACS; now he finds that the restrictions on the formerly
GPL software are "even worse that that on MS's shared source. To call that
open source is a bit dishonest."

"As of 6 hours ago," he said, "I've decided to start that again. It's not
that hard; I mean how hard is it to say 'add one to this vote'? ... I
remembered my old plan, and thought 'Let's take the old Australian code,
fork it, and work from that -- and that is still an option. This is the
great thing about open source software. If the old lead developer goes
insane, you can always fork it, right?"

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Received on Tue Aug 31 23:17:03 2004

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