My talk in SLC on Tues

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Sat Jul 10 2004 - 20:47:46 CDT

Here's what I'll say in Salt Lake City on Tues.

Thank you. I am glad to be here on this beautiful day in your beautiful
Capitol City! I thank Utah Count Votes and Kathy Dopp for inviting me.

Four years ago, America learned there were some serious flaws in our voting
system. Personally, I was embarrassed that my country-a country that prides
itself as a champion of democracy and a champion of technology-was having so
much trouble with such a basic thing as counting the votes.

I was one of those that jumped into the debate, determined to see the
problems corrected. Four years later, we've made some progress but we still
have a very messy situation on our hands. Mistakes, conflicts of interest,
entrenched interests, incompetence, and outright corruption are a few of the
factors that are turning the issue of voting modernization into a national

At a time when budgets are constrained everywhere, billions of dollars have
been allocated to improve the voting system. Already, hundreds of millions
have been squandered on technology that should never have seen the light of

One of the ideas for a sweeping solution to the voting problem involves
using Direct Record Electronic voting machines, also known as "DREs." The
voter makes their selections on a computer screen-often a touchscreen-and
then selects a button that says, "Cast my ballot." But where is the ballot?
It's invisible! How does it work? "You don't need to know," say
proponents. "Trust us," they say.

To the election administrators, DREs seem to solve every problem. They're a
little expensive. But they accomplish everything. They eliminate the need
to print paper ballots; they can accommodate voters with special needs; they
can easily handle multiple languages; they can tabulate the vote very fast.
If they seem too good to be true, it's because they are too good to be true.
They are absolutely untrustworthy! The concept of invisible ballots created
with secret software is fundamentally flawed.

Regarding DREs, the consensus opinion of computer scientists and engineers
has been well known for a long time. The Association for Computing
Machinery, the oldest and largest group focused on computer issues,
currently has a poll that is running 95% against DREs. Back in 2000 and
2001, almost every computer scientist asked about paperless DRE voting
machines said it's a bad idea. But were they organized to stop them? No,
they weren't. Why should they have to organize to stop people from buying
these machines? Wasn't it obvious?

Now the computer scientists and engineers are organized against DREs, thanks
to David Dill, Ellen Theisen, and many others. The days are numbered for
the voting machines with the invisible ballots and secret software. In
California, as of 2006, paperless DREs will no longer be permitted in public
elections. We expect this trend to be nationwide, and we are looking to
have a better solution ready to go in the not-too-distant future.

My organization, the Open Voting Consortium, is advocating public software
for public elections, and we're building this software now. You may not see
our system in use in 2004, but you are likely to see it in some
jurisdictions in 2005 or 2006. You will see a system with all the
advantages of the DREs, except that the voter will print out their finished
ballot on the spot. The software will be free and open for public
inspection and testing. The Open Voting Consortium system will utilize
off-the-shelf PCs and printers along with our free software so it will be
very inexpensive. No need to warehouse expensive dedicated components! No
secrets! A visible ballot!

I am very impressed with the decision-makers here in Utah. You have not
jumped into buying voting technology that just isn't ready. I have noticed
the thoughtfulness and integrity here. Your government is one of the first
to join the Government Open Code Collaborative. I believe there are now
eight states that have joined, and Utah is one of them. This organization
of state and local governments, in collaboration with academic institutions,
intends to facilitate the development and use of open source software in
governments. This is a great idea and I commend your CIO Val Oveson and his
staff for taking this step.

Last Friday, the Utah State Government issued a Request for Proposal, or
ELECTIONS OFFICE. Given the fluidity of the voting technology world, this
was a great challenge. It's going to be a difficult process. Your
officials took into consideration a great many variables. And yet, this RFP
raises many questions.

Utah has taken the extraordinary step of centralizing the purchase decision.
This move has its advantages, but it also adds gravity to the decision.
Most states allow their counties to make their own voting system purchasing
decisions. Your Director of Elections, Amy Naccarato, Val Oveson, and
others involved in evaluating responses to the RFP have their work cut out
for them. Since computerized voting systems will be included in the bids, I
recommend at a minimum that they consult with computer science faculty at
the University of Utah before drawing any conclusions.

These decisions are coming under closer scrutiny. Every day, we see more
articles about what's being done to modernize the voting system-including
mistakes that have been made along the way. There is likely to be more
coverage on television. Don't try to hide anything! There is no excuse for
hiding any part of the public process of voting, including the software
code. And, whatever you do, don't hide the ballots!

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Received on Sat Jul 31 23:17:08 2004

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