Draft 2 -- letter to EAC commissioners

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Mon May 10 2004 - 19:09:23 CDT

I took some of your suggestions and changed things around a bit--also added
a bit. Thanks for your input!

It's not done but it's coming along. Maybe one or two more iterations. FYI,
the eac is at www.eac.gov

I think the main subject is open source software for public elections.
However, in response to Arthur, I did add a few plugs for OVC architecture.

I also tried to clarify what we want: We want to be on a panel at the next
EAC hearing.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., Chair
Gracia M. Hillman, Vice Chair
Paul D. DeGregorio
Ray Martinez III
1225 New York Avenue, NW - Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Commissioners:

We are delighted to learn of your interest in open source software. It is
proper that a public process like voting be best served with public
software. The Open Voting Consortium is the organization most actively
promoting this mode of election administration, and we would be happy to
participate in the next EAC hearing.

As you sort through this, it is important to remember that Open Source does
not simply mean letting people look at the source code. To achieve the
greatest public benefit, engineers must be able to test the code, make and
distribute changes (under the same open license terms), and publish their
findings for public discussion. Since there are many Free Software/Open
Source software licenses, the specific terms that apply to a particular
program must be clearly stated. At the same time, the versions of software
used in elections must be properly certified, and all uncertified variants
of election-related code must be labelled as such.

Public licensing of published source code has served the computing world
very well. Most of the software used to bring us the Internet is open
source with public licenses. Apache (web server software) and Linux
(computer operating system) are outstanding examples of such software.
Studies have shown that these software programs are higher quality, better
performing and have fewer bugs than competing closed source proprietary
software. It is no wonder that most of the web servers on the Internet are
running robust applications like Apache along with an open source operating
system like Linux.

Our approach also allows election systems from different vendors to provide
compatible output. As it is, each vendor of proprietary systems also uses
proprietary file formats. Aggregating the vote count is complicated by the
fact that the results are presented in the various formats vendors have
chosen to use. How can we talk about standards in this regard when the
details are trade secrets? The advent of Open Voting will bring
interoperability, better standards, simplicity and efficiency, as well as

Last month we gave a demonstration of our prototype voting software to a
receptive public audience. This was announced in the New York Times,
Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, San Jose Mercury News, and many other papers
coast-to-coast on April 1st.

People like this sensible idea. After seeing our April 1 demo at the County
Court House in San Jose California, the San Jose Mercury News lauded our
system as the "Touch Screen Holy Grail" (April 8 editorial). Open source is
a key component of the Open Voting Consortium model, and we've thought
through many other issues related to security, accessibility, and usability.

Reading or vision impaired voters can vote privately and unassisted, as with
other electronic voting machines. But they can also use a separate
independent station that enables them to hear and validate their ballot,
giving them the same full rights to a voter-verified paper ballot as sighted

The San Jose Mercury News followed their April 8 editorial with another
editorial (Apr 23) urging our Secretary of State to "replace your
proprietary code with open-source software that voters can trust." At a
minimum, we think that open source public software should be offered as soon
as possible to jurisdictions as an alternative to closed source black box
voting systems.

We have been able to move the project forward with volunteer scientists and
engineers. However, funding will be needed in order to complete and certify
the high-quality production-grade comprehensive software that the world's
greatest democracy deserves. The Open Voting Consortium is working with
states and their public universities to advance our open source voting
software development project.

The Open Voting Consortium intends to be a durable organization that will
provide an on-going structure for maintenance and delivery of Open Voting
systems for many years after the Research and Development has been
completed. Our business model is new: it will foster competition among a
greater number of vendors focused on services.

We look forward to increasing the dialog between the Election Assistance
Administration and the Open Voting Consortium. I would appreciate the
opportunity to present our case for open source voting software at one of
your public hearings.

Alan Dechert, President
Open Voting Consortium

Board members ... etc.
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Received on Mon May 31 23:17:32 2004

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