Re: Your Op-Ed piece

From: Jerry Lobdill <lobdillj_at_charter_dot_net>
Date: Wed Oct 25 2006 - 05:08:10 CDT


Excellent piece. See my suggestions in bold below.


Jerry Lobdill


At 01:08 AM 10/25/2006, you wrote:
> > From: Arthur Keller
> > To: Open Voting Consortium discussion list
> > Sent: Tuesday, October 24, 2006 3:45 PM
> > Subject: [OVC-discuss] Draft OpEd
> >
> >
> > This is the draft of an OpEd piece I'm writing for the Palo Alto
> Weekly. Comments welcome. Please send them by Wednesday afternoon.
> >
> >
> > Best regards,
> > Arthur
> >
> >
> > The Importance of Openness in Voting
> >
> > The principle of voting in the United States is that votes are
> cast in secret but tallied in public. This principle is
> incompatible with the current practice of using voting systems
> whose inner workings are trade secrets owned by the voting machine
> vendors. Those same vendors pay for their systems to be tested,
> and the results of those tests are also trade secrets - you guessed
> it - owned by the vendors. Something is wrong with this picture.
> >
> > The usual claims for secrecy are that it somehow enhances
> security. The evidence for security through obscurity is quite
> limited. For example, the Apache web server compares favorably
> with Microsoft's web server even through every line of the Apache
> source code is publicly available. While the source code for
> Microsoft's web server is not publicly available, it is available
> to large customers in source code under license, but the source
> code of voting systems is not even available for inspection by
> counties that purchase these systems (but may be in escrow by
> limited third parties) and certainly not for inspection by you or me.
> >
> > We're all familiar with how the excuse of military security is
> often used to cover up embarrassing information that has little
> security value. Why wouldn't vendors use trade secrets as an
> excuse to cover up flaws in their systems or merely shoddy
> workmanship? In fact, the exposed Diebold source code has shown
> embarrassing details. We do not know what lurks in the programming
> of the other vendors. Fortunately, ES&S and Sequoia have promised
> San Francisco and Alameda counties, respectively, that they will
> cooperate with source code disclosure rules if the State requires
> it. However, the California legislature and the California
> Secretary of State have not yet promulgated disclosure rules.
> >
> > The Open Voting Consortium ( is creating a
> registry where vendors can publish voting systems. This registry
> will include requirements for what must be disclosed, such as
> software source code, specifications, documentation, and hardware
> designs. While vendors may retain proprietary rights to the
> software, vendors must allow testing, experimentation, analyses,
> and publication by anyone. While anyone will be allowed to inspect
> the software, of course not everyone has the skills to do so
> effectively. But individuals or groups will be able to hire the
> expert of their own choosing and to publish their analyses. Today
> the experts are chosen by the vendors themselves or by election
> officials, and those analyses are usually kept secret, and when
> released, are heavily redacted (censored).
> > This secrecy makes voting systems vulnerable to inaccuracy, or
> worse, fraud. In turn, voters lose confidence that their votes are
> counted as cast and cast as intended.
> >
> > The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was enacted in 2002 in the
> aftermath of the 2000 Presidential election, when it became clear
> that our current voting systems were inconsistent, unreliable and
> unfair. The mandated updated Federal standards were not even
> created until late 2005, standards that are voluntary and do not
> require auditing or adequate testing. No wonder most computer
> scientists have concerns about existing voting systems and want
> paper ballots, or at least a voter-verified paper trail, to enable
> recounts and auditing. Are the newly purchased systems themselves
> inconsistent, unreliable, and unfair?
> >
> > While there may be some risk in publishing software developed in
> secret that was not designed to be published, continued secrecy is
> not the solution. Rather, the solution is replacement of the secret
> software too fragile or embarrassing to publish with a more robust
> open source voting system. Just as the security of Apache is
> enhanced by its publication, the publication of an open source
> voting system will help ensure that the system is secure and reliable.
> >
> > It is a myth that anyone can make changes to open source
> software like Apache. Certainly anyone can download Apache, make
> changes to it, and run the changed version. But changing the
> official version of Apache can be done only by a small number of
> people in a carefully controlled process. Anyone can report a bug
> or a suggested improvement. But any suggested improvement will go
> through levels of analysis and scrutiny before it is adopted. And
> that scrutiny is far higher than voting system vendors, testers, or
> inspectors can muster.
> >
> > In a variety of industries, the government has sponsored
> research and development work that has produced systems adopted by
> industry. Military-funded research leads to the creation of
> products and services that the military can buy. It is time for
> the government to fund the creating of an open source voting system
> that vendors can adopt to provide more choices to election
> officials to buy on behalf of the voters. Those additional choices
> should not only be at the initial procurement of the voting
> systems, but also for ongoing maintenance and support, and for
> auditing and reporting systems. It is reported that years ago an
> IBM salesman said to a prospective customer, "Be careful not to get
> locked into open systems." Now IBM is one of the biggest
> proponents of open systems. It is time for our election officials
> to become proponents of open systems too.
> >
> > (845 words)

You might add that the military does not buy any mission critical
systems that embody secret, undisclosed proprietary software-- for
good reasons--the same as those that should be invoked to safeguard
the integrity of our voting systems.

> >
> > Arthur Keller is a founder and board secretary of the Open
> Voting Consortium and a precinct inspector in Santa Clara
> County. He can be reached at
> >
> >
> >--
> >-------------------------------------------------------------------
> ------------
> > Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303-4507
> > tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424
> >

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