[OVC-discuss] IEEE Spectrum, "Open-Source Voting"

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 23:54:00 CDT


Besides me, they quote Rebecca Mercuri. It's an okay article, but I think I
should respond to some of the comments by Mercuri.

     The problem with the OVC model, says Rebecca
     Mercuri, owner of computer security firm Notable
     Software, in Philadelphia, is that while OVC may
     be more secure than today's proprietary systems,
     it is no more secure than electronically scanning
     paper ballots. ?

This is a bald assertion. Of course, this is a short article and there
isn't room to develop much of an argument. It's merely opinion -- mostly
just a guess. We hope to be able to evaluate questions like these we some
serious funded research.

     "In poorer precincts or in precincts where there is
     some deliberate disenfranchisement going on, we
     find that the machines aren't quite working properly,"
     resulting in long lines at the polls, says Mercuri, ....

This may be true, but it has nothing to do with the OVC system. The system
is cheap enough that plenty of units can be provided. At LinuxWorld, we had
plenty of units. Where one of them wasn't working, the voter would just go
to another. It was no problem. There were no practically no lines, while
816 voters cast ballots.

     Earlier this year, Mercuri taught a class at the
     University of Pennsylvania that built an OVC
     system from material available on OVC's Web
     site and ran a mock election. The vote-counting
     database was buggy, she says.

I appreciate her doing the tests with her students. However, it's a little
like going to a site where someone is building a house and has the
foundation and framing up, and saying, "the roof leaks," when the roof
simply hasn't been installed yet.

     And OVC's software for designing ballots was so
     complex that even her Ph.D. students were
     scratching their heads.

We were well aware that it was difficult to create the ballot definition
files. I asked Brian Fox of The Okori Group to build an easy-to-use
form-fill application so no special knowledge would be required to create
these files. They did a great job. It's now very easy compared with what
the students saw earlier in the summer. The article goes on to say further
development might remedy these issues.

The article ends on a somewhat positive note:

     Those problems aside, if open-source voting gains
     in popularity, says Mercuri, it could pressure
     proprietary voting-machine companies to open their
     systems to greater scrutiny. "The viability of a real
     open-source product out there in the market would
     now kick open the door of the vendors who are
     saying we're never giving out our source code,"
     she says.?

I'd rather just replace those systems rather than pressuring them to open up
to scrutiny.

Alan D

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Received on Fri Oct 31 23:17:02 2008

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