Re: open source voting links...

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Sun Jul 18 2004 - 15:50:17 CDT


When Arthur set up the voting-project email list one year ago (actually,
just a few days short of one year... precursors of the list go back much
further), we were focused on producing a demo of an open source standalone
PC-based voting machine with a paper ballot printed on the spot in the
voting booth. By Dec of last year, the discussions had gone in many
directions and most of the people wanting to work on the demo had stopped
reading the list because there was a lot of traffic on the list and almost
none of it bore directly on the demo.

I suggested that the ovc-demo-team list be set up so people working
specifically on the demo could participate without wading through tons of
messages on other topics--sort of a filter. This strategy paid off. We
were able to have more focused discussions about the demo and the work
actually got done. On Apr 1, we put on the first of several demos.

I felt that the ovc-demo-team list had served its purpose and should be shut
down. Here's what I wrote in late Apr:

The ovc-demo-team list was continued largely at the urging of David Mertz
and Fred McLain. All of this raises fundamental issues about the OVC idea.
The OVC has three lives:

1) Demo
2) R&D
3) Industry supported trade association

The Demo phase has been all volunteer. The R&D phase cannot be all
volunteer. Funding is absolutely required. For example, it will cost on
the order of $100,000 in fees to the ITA to get the software certified. And
this is just for ver 1.0 of a voting machine. In fact, I expect that over
time we will be submitting many pieces of software for certification. The
plan is to get one specific hardware/software set up certified for use, and
then get more set ups certified as needed. We could conceivably require
hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for some years just to pay ITA

Also, it's clear that to meet deadlines, we need paid staff dedicated to
getting the job done.

So, right now, we're at the boundary of phase 1 and phase 2 in the life of
the OVC. In practice, this boundary is not quite as clear cut. In a sense,
the early part of the R&D phase may be considered an "enhanced demo" phase.
However, I think it's clear that phase 2 begins when we get some
institutional funding support. At this moment, we have exactly zero
institutional funding support. There is good reason to believe this will
change soon and we may have some announcement about this within the next few
weeks (okay, I've been saying that for a long time... I think it's true

There may also be some overlap between phase 2 and phase 3. We may have
some industrial partners before we have completed the R&D. In fact, I am
cultivating some relationships right now, and it's possible we will have our
first industrial partner ("strategic member" described in Bylaws) around the
beginning of the R&D phase.

Back to the ovc-demo-team list issue... There has been a great deal of
communication between OVC participants in recent months through list email,
off-list email, phone conversations, and personal meetings. And, especially
in the last week, a lot of discussion with the media. Almost none of this
communication has taken place on the ovc-demo-team list. I wouldn't use
traffic on the ovc-demo-team list to measure the project in any way. That
particular list is just not being used right now. I have made my views
about that known, and David, Fred and others have made their views known.

In the R&D phase, we hope to continue drawing on the energy and expertise of
volunteers. Some OVC project participants will be paid (a few are likely to
be full time paid staff of the OVC or related university research projects).
It will be a challenge to manage this large mix of project participants. I
hope I can do it with the help of my friends and associates.

We don't want to stop work and say, "we've done enough for free, it's time
to give us money." We have to keep going. I think we all agree on that.
On the other hand, preparing for meetings with budgets, proposals, and such
take a lot of time and energy for those of us involved in that. We had
seven people on our side of the table (and David Jefferson was on the other
side of the table!) in our meeting with the CA SoS last week. Karl
Auerbach, Deirdre Mulligan, Joe Hall, Amy Pearl, Bruce Perens, and Arthur
Keller were there.

In addition, there is a tremendous amount of other work to be done that is
neither direct fundraising nor software development--generally described as
being involved in the public policy debate. I am very grateful to have
people like Joe Hall taking initiative in this area. Richard Dawson wrote
the resolution (ACR 242) that recently passed the CA Assembly. It is likely
to pass the CA Senate next month. We could use more people taking
initiative like Richard Dawson. He just wrote the thing on his own and gave
it to his Assemblymember. Others picked up on it and it got passed.

I agree we should not belittle competing projects. Certainly, I have never
done that. I pointed out that the people starting these other open source
voting software projects face some large challenges. I am very well
qualified to know what these challenges are. The OVC has met these
challenges pretty well and we now face the responsibility of living up to
our claims.

In Dec of 2000, the CalTech/MIT folks claimed they would build the U.S.
voting machine and bring about a "uniform" voting system. They made such a
strong impression that it virtually precluded others. I was in several
high-level meetings in 2001 where we heard, in effect, "Isn't CalTech/MIT
taking care of this? I don't think your efforts are needed."

We have displaced the CalTech/MIT voting project. Now, the OVC has built up
this expectation in a similar way that CalTech/MIT did almost 4 years ago.
We have a tremendous responsibility to follow through. All the experts and
decision makers know about the OVC project.

Teresa Hommel brought this one to my attention yesterday:
Here is a resolution (called "Action of Immediate Witness") of the Unitarian
Universalist Association. Note where it says, "open-source software for
voting systems is expected to be available by 2005." Where do you suppose
that came from? It's not hard to find many other examples of how the OVC
idea has spread.

This is important work we are doing. We need to work together to pull this


Alan D.

> On Saturday 17 July 2004 06:42 pm, Alan Dechert wrote:
> > Frankly, it's very hard to get a serious open source voting software
> > development project going. More that a couple of people have tried.
> > now that OVC has some visibility, it's probably even more difficult (the
> > first thing the media or prospective participants ask is, "Who else is
> > working on open source voting software?").
> >
> > Like, the Open Vote Foundation ( ) seems
> > have the most recent message on their web site dated around Feb.
> >
> The last message sent to OVC-demo-team (besides a ping I sent yesterday)
> dated 6-3-2004; so yes it is hard to get a serious Free/Open Source
> project going, and it can apparently be even harder to *keep one going*.
> Here are some thoughts on how to keep such a project going:
> 1) Don't discourage work as being not needed with promises of
> grants/funding/whatever being "just around the corner".
> 2) Don't discourage work as being not needed because "we'll soon have an
> of graduate students to do that". Armies of graduate students are
> good for one or two purposes: earning their Masters degrees and keeping
> professors gainfully employed, IMHO. At the very least, an army of grad
> students would benifit tremendously by *partnering* with an even larger
> of passionate volanteers.
> 3) Don't belittle other competing Free/Open Source projects. Period. Court
> them, partner with them, borrow their ideas, and borrow their code. But
> all, respect them as members of the same community.
> Sincerely,
> Nathan
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Received on Sat Jul 31 23:17:06 2004

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