Chaos in California, the OVC Plan to Bring Order

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Fri Oct 05 2007 - 09:39:34 CDT

This went to our announcements list yesterday....
Dear Friends of Open Voting:

Today, I am announcing the "Open Voting 2009 Plan." Since 2005, we've said
our goal is to have an open voting system certified and ready for use by
2008. I now have to admit that we've failed with that. Not enough money,
among other faults. Barring angelic intervention, it's too late to get a
system finished and implemented on any large scale for 2008.

So, this is our new plan: after 2008, no more secret software for elections.

Our main target will be California, and we think this will have an impact

When Debra Bowen took office in January of this year, we believed we had a
chance to get an open voting system certified for 2008. So far, the new
Secretary of State has focused on reviewing existing systems and on ensuring
a secure vote in 2008. She has not taken any action to support open source,
at this point. Now we expect her to be ready to consider a different model.

I attended the San Francisco Elections Commission meeting last night. The
Secretary of State's office had been invited to send a representative and
ES&S had also been invited. Neither showed. Commissioners complained that
all they had was a cc on a letter from Bowen to ES&S. Most of the animus
expressed at the meeting was directed at ES&S. The 6-page letter amounts to
a scathing review of ES&S's performance and outlines severe conditions on
how the ES&S equipment can be used.

Secretary Bowen also had a letter to the editor published in the San
Francisco Chronicle bashing ES&S, and criticizing The Chronicle for letting
them off easy. She concludes, "Fundamental flaws in some of the very tools
of our democracy should not be ignored."

Considing that Sequoia, Diebold, and Hart InterCivic fared poorly in the
Secretary's top-to-bottom review, this makes it unanimous -- they're all
bad, according to the Secretary of State. It's time to replace this
dysfunctional system with a new plan.

Here is a brief outline. I will post a more detailed version soon.

Basically, we call on the State of California to develop its own Precinct
Based Optical Scan (PBOS) voting system based on open source software and
off-the-shelf hardware (e.g., PCs, printers, and scanners).

We recommend that The State begin with the Open Voting Solutions system
(mostly done already with volunteer work), finish it, and certify it.

No one owns any proprietary rights to the software. It's a gift from the
open source community. The finished certified product must remain public.

Existing closed source systems would be decertified as of Jan 1, 2009. The
State will start over with its own certified system. Any vendor can use the
system with existing customers. Jurisdictions will also be free to contract
with any other service provider to deliver the services needed.

Vendors could elect to get their own systems certified, but full technology
disclosure would be required.

I believe this plan is consistent with Bowen's own words. In her
inauguration speech, she said, "we are going to eliminate private,
invisible, proprietary software...." Just before Election Day last year,
she explained that she could use her authority to open the system.

Existing vendors will not like it. Microsoft will not like it. We will
attempt to gather support to counter what we anticipate will be strong

However, consider this quote: "Why does IBM love Linux?" Driver asked.
"These days, they like it because it hurts Microsoft."
(from ).
We will try to line up support for the Open Voting 2009 plan from all the
Microsoft opponents

Back of the envelope cost calculations:
To convert the whole state to the new open PBOS system, it would cost
roughly $80 million for hardware -- 20,000 poll sites times $4,000 (2 sets
of PCs, printers and scanners). Companies like HP, Kodak, and IBM would be
invited to bid on the hardware part.

(From Dr. Johnson of OVS)
The recommendation is that each voting system (comprised of printer,
scanner, and computer plus software) be convertible into a Ballot Marking
Device/Ballot Printer for the handicapped by exercising a software control
and adding one of: peripheral puff/sip, touch screen, and/or headset with
earphones and mic for VoiceVoting. The message is that all machines will
have the capability of Enhanced Access and there is no need for a special

The state or counties will also need to purchase services: training,
consulting, and service and support. Consulting services include contract
modification of the base Open Source code. Training is needed for those from
precinct volunteers through paid election staff, to personnel in the office
of the Secretary of State. The purpose of the training is to enable local
election staff to do as much of the work as they wish, with no dependence on
contracting out or bundling at high prices. Service and support includes
warranties on the hardware equipment from manufacturers such as HP and
Kodak. Software service and support is available from OVS and from thousands
of independent Open Source programmers.

Security is designed into both software and procedures rather than assumed,
added on, or ignored. Audit procedures are built into the architecture of
the OVS Open Source software and its base in the OASIS Election Markup
Language (a variant of XML). Otherwise, the main programming language is
JAVA, known to hundreds of thousands of programmers all over California.

I don't think this would be the ultimate system, but would be very very
good. We could expect it to last for five years (through the 2014
elections), after which time a better design (all public!) is likely to be

Feedback welcome. We will be changing our web site to reflect our new
flagship campaign. We will continue efforts with legislation at state,
federal, and local level, but I think that the Open Voting 2009 should be
our main focus for now.

Alan Dechert

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Received on Wed Oct 31 23:17:02 2007

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