Re: mechanicals for an open voting system

From: Karl Auerbach <karl_at_cavebear_dot_com>
Date: Sat Jun 24 2006 - 03:37:48 CDT

Tom McCarty wrote:

> What I'm interested in doing is designing and prototyping the
> mechanicals to support the EVM2003

I've always felt that the hardware platform is at least as big an
effort, perhaps bigger, than the software. (And we should not forget
about the procedures that tie it all together.)

And I agree with you that a single board computer design, rather than a
full blown PC motherboard, is a good choice.

I've been working with the PC-Engines WRAP board (about $150 qty 1) for
a while now. It might not be the right choice, but I have found that
these small machines can pack a lot of useful capabilities in a
low-power, very reliable package. (The configuration I use burns all of
about 3 watts; I run a Linux kernel on it and have a reasonable number
of applications. I do all my own coding for it in Python. It's main
drawbacks are lack of USB and lack of a video controller - these could
be remedied by using it's mini-PCI slots.)

It'll be quite something if you can create a design that can be UL
approved, can run all day on batteries, can be tossed about by grumpy
teamsters, is proof against undetected tampering, and can be easily
programmed, etc.

I can't overstate the need to get the right kinds of approval labels (or
use parts that let us inherit such labels) - the last thing a county
wants is for the fire marshall to shut down a voting place because some
electrical or fire safety label isn't present.

And I'm glad to hear that you are thinking about how it would be
incorporated into a booth of some kind.

> First off, has anyone else worked on the mechanicals of an open voting
> system?

We dealt a bit with that in the proposal to the University of
California, but not in great depth.

> The OVC website says that refurbished PCs can be used, but I really
> think an industrial single-board computer (SBC) is the way to go.

I don't know if we need a full blown industrial grade computer - my
experience with the generic kind of single board computers has indicated
that they are reasonably robust if one uses a decent power source and
avoids spinning media (disks) and other things with magnetic heads
(floppys and tapes.)

Your point about drivers is well taken - I've watched what goes on
beneath the sheets for something as seemingly simple as USB, yikes, what
a nightmare of variability!

One thing to be mildly careful about: the bootstrap sequence. It's nice
to be able to build a system that does not have to worry about stepping
into Microsoft proprietary things, like its claims over the FAT file
system. (I don't know if those claims have been disputed or whether MS
still claims patent rights.)

Debugging and testing is also a concern - a board might need interfaces
beyond what will be used by the voting software. I've found a serial
interface to be extremely useful for purposes of testing and such.

A watchdog timer is useful - not so much to restart the system as much
as to send out a signal that something has gone awry and that the
particular machine should be taken out of service at the precinct.

A real-time clock that can survive power outages is a useful thing to have.

Wireless is, to my mind, a no-no. Although I have heard that some
counties want to bulk load using wireless. Personally I think that the
county concern could be answered more safely by designing a package that
easily mates with a docking station - that way we could avoid having any
external connectors of standard formats that unauthorized hands might
want to play with.

> clear
> lexan could be used to allow an unobstructed view at the interior
> components.

I like that idea.

People are also used to those wire and led seals to prevent undetectable
opening of the case. Plus they are cheap, and if there are competing
oversight bodies, each can have its own seal without displacing the others.

> The final obvious part is a stand to hold the touch-screen, computer,
> UPS, and printer,

One of the reasons I like the small computers is that they draw so
little power that they could run all day on a single UPS charge.
Unfortunately we probably can't say the same about the screen and printer.

We have to figure that sometimes the voting place is going to be in an
old garage or something that was wired in 1910, with all kinds of line
noise and no protective ground that can be trusted, all going through an
ancient fuse of limited capacity.

Printers have always been a troublesome part of the design. I've heard
suggestions of using the kind of thermal printers that are used by
airlines for boarding passes.

                --karl--
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Received on Fri Jun 30 23:17:10 2006

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