Re: Sequoia told

From: charlie strauss <cems_at_earthlink_dot_net>
Date: Thu Feb 22 2007 - 16:00:53 CST

Alan I'm glad to hear it. California is a big market and can force the issue where small states can't. I reserve some judgement till exactly what disclousre means is determined (NDA agreements? access without proving cause? opens source?), but it seems very positive.

In industries one can argue that ultimately companies need a profit incentive so one can't deny them that and expect a manufacturing market to exist. However in this case I don't actually see what they are arguing about. The machines in use are not commodity hardware and they can be patented or copyrighted. And availabiliy of service after sale is as much a selling point as anything. There was only one, now defunct, manufacturuer ( accupol ) that was using such a high level of commodity components and and an open source OS, that one could sympathize with investors who had some trepidation about open sourcing. But in general I don't see the bussiness barrier.

But in general the software really only will differ in craftsmanship and engineering design, which can't be stolen, and ought to be nothing too special in terms of steal-able secrets and moreover it will only run on the customized hardware they sell. So there should be no barrier to releasing it.

 It makes one wonder why.

I can think of six possible reasons.

1) it's so unprofessionally written that not only would it be an embarsssment but that currently the only assurance they have it is reasonably secure is due to obscurity (we know this turned out to be true in the case of deibold's leaked code which hardcoded passwords and used floats for vote counts.).

2) if one did open the source and the others did not then they would be selectively criticized for bugs found in their code leading to lost sales.

3) If all did it, someone's code neccessarily has to be the shodiest, and each is afraid it could be theirs. why risk such a comparison?

4) it contains a lot of routines they liscened but don't own and thus can't open. (think drivers or OS or gui managers)

5) they want to keep the data formats secret.

Personally I think (5) is the elephant in the room. Open data standards are as important as open source. Such standards allow interoperability. It means the central collators don't need to be bought from the same company as the voting machines themselves. It prevents vendor lock in and vertical monopolies. The vendors want to be able to sell a whole package and to be contracted for modifications for diverse reporting requirments. They want this both because it makes them more money but also because it makes reconfigutration more agile for them if they don't have a set of strict interface requirements to follow. But neither is better for consumer risk mitigation.

6) International sales. even with protection against copying equipment in the US, protection in foreign markets may be a legitimate bussiness concern. I find this argument dubious because surely the US market is worth the risk for some company?

-----Original Message-----
>From: Alan Dechert <>
>Sent: Feb 22, 2007 3:34 PM
>To: Open Voting Consortium discussion list <>
>Subject: [OVC-discuss] Sequoia told "NO," again!
>I'm copying this to OVC-Discuss in case anyone here wants to discuss it!
>Yesterday, San Francisco supervisors again held firm and told Sequoia no
>deal without disclosure. The Sequoia contract was number 2 on the agenda,
>and took very little time. There wasn't that much to say after last week,
>and only a few of us got up and spoke during the public comments time. It
>will be on the agenda again next week. This can't continue very long before
>Sequoia will be forced to walk away.
>There was more in print about it today, and I've copied two articles below
>from the San Francisco Examiner [1] and the San Francisco Chronicle [2].
>The Chronicle article is straight forward reporting.
>The Examiner article repeats a couple of specious claims made by Sequoia and
>the SF Director of Elections, John Arntz. It is not true that the Sequoia
>deal would be more economical, and Sequoia's claim that the security of
>their systems would be compromised by disclosure is absurd. I will address
>these issues more thoroughly in a letter I am preparing for members of the
>Board of Supervisors.
>Thank you.
>Alan Dechert
>Software fight delays use of high-tech ballots
>John Arntz, The City's election director, says that in the last election, 25
>percent of voting machines needed in-field service on Election Day. Joshua
>Sabatini, The Examiner
>Feb 22, 2007 3:00 AM
>SAN FRANCISCO - San Franciscans may vote using costlier and older machines
>this November as voter rights advocates staunchly oppose a proposed contract
>between The City and an electronic voting machine company until it agrees to
>reveal its software secrets.
>Electronic voting machines throughout the nation have come under fire by
>voter rights advocates who say keeping private how the software counts the
>votes could lead to voter fraud and provides no assurance that every vote
>is, in fact, counted.
>The City's election director, John Arntz, is trying to convince the Board of
>Supervisors to approve a $12.6 million contract with Sequoia Voting Systems
>Inc. in time to put brand-new machines in place for the November election.
>Arntz said the existing voting machines are old and in the last election at
>least 25 percent of the machines required in-field service on Election Day.
>The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee refused for the second
>time on Wednesday to send the contract out of committee for full board
>approval. Supervisor Chris Daly, who chairs the committee, has indicated he
>will not allow the contract out of committee until Sequoia agrees to
>publicly release its software and how it counts the votes. San Francisco
>would become one of the first cities to require an electronic voting machine
>company to publicly disclose its software.
>"Nobody and no machine should be counting votes in secret. And that's what
>at issue here today," senior software consultant Jim Soper said.
>Arntz said if The City does not approve the Sequoia contract it will have to
>extend the existing contract and pay $4 million, for maintenance and
>operation of the old system, for the four elections in 2007 and 2008.
>The Sequoia contract would result in The City paying $6.8 million over four
>years with half of the contract cost coming from state and federal grants.
>The City would not be able to use any of the grant money for the old system.
>Steven Bennet, a Sequoia representative, said Sequoia won't agree to public
>disclosure since it would "jeopardize the security to all of our customers
>in California and across the country." Electronic voting machine companies
>also want to keep their software secret for proprietary reasons.
>Under the contract, The City would receive 610 optical scan voting machines
>(machines that read a paper ballot) and 610 touch-screen voter machines,
>intended for use only by the disabled.
>Very few people will use the touch-screen machines, which would keep a paper
>record of each vote within the machine itself, according to Arntz. He said
>the system will remain paper-based and the voters won't notice any
>This article appeared on page B - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
>Supes want to know how voting machines count
>Company balks at public disclosure, offers alternative
>Robert Selna, Chronicle Staff Writer
>Thursday, February 22, 2007
>San Francisco supervisors told representatives of a voting machine company
>Wednesday that the firm will need to publicly display details of the
>software it uses to count ballots in order to win a $12.6 million, four-year
>contract with the city.
>At a Budget and Finance Committee hearing, Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Chris
>Daly urged representatives of Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland to place
>software codes for touch-screen voting devices and paper ballot-scanning
>machines on the Internet or in another public forum, so the public can
>review how the machines tabulate votes.
>Some counties have adopted touch-screen voting in response to suspicions
>about the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida. But computer
>experts have warned that the devices are susceptible to fraud and
>programming errors.
>Most of San Francisco's current voting machines use an optical scan to read
>paper ballots. The city also requires at least one touch-screen device to be
>installed in each of the city's 561 polling stations to make voting easier
>for the disabled.
>The city's Department of Elections negotiated a contract with Sequoia in
>which the company would install a new system by this November's elections,
>but it did not require that the firm reveal its software. The contract would
>cost the city's general fund $6.8 million, and the remaining $5.8 million
>would come from federal and state sources.
>Under the City Charter, the contract is subject to Board of Supervisors
>approval because it totals more than $10 million. Daly and Ammiano have held
>up the deal because they want full disclosure of the firm's voting device
>software codes.
>"I have concerns about the public trust, and right now the contract language
>does not have satisfactory language that requires public disclosure of the
>source codes that determine how votes are counted." Ammiano said. "Those
>codes are considered proprietary and only available to the vendor."
>Representatives of Sequoia said the company would make the codes available
>to a third party that could review the software and certify for the city
>that the machines count votes properly and are not susceptible to fraud.
>Ammiano and Daly were unenthusiastic about the offer, but did not commit one
>way or the other. Daly, the committee's chairman, placed the issue on hold
>to be discussed later. The third member of the committee, Supervisor Bevan
>Dufty, was on vacation.
>The delay places Elections Director John Arntz in a bind. He said he must
>know in the next few weeks whether the contract with Sequoia will go through
>because he needs to replace existing machines, train election workers and
>make other preparations for the Nov. 6 election.
>If the contract with Sequoia is not approved soon, Arntz said, the Elections
>Department will propose a yearlong deal with Election Systems and Software
>Inc. of Nebraska, whose contract to supply voting machines was extended
>after expiring in 2005.
>Arntz said the city would ultimately lose money if it goes that route. An
>agreement with Election Systems will cost the city $4 million for one year
>and cannot be supplemented with state or federal funds.
>E-mail Robert Selna at
>OVC-discuss mailing list

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Received on Wed Feb 28 23:17:22 2007

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