Teresa Hommel, Oct. 24, 2007



Free, Open-Source Software for Voting Systems


Waiver of Fees for Certification Testing


The New York State Board of Elections will soon consider a fee-waiver policy for certification testing fees for free, open-source software for voting systems. There are two qualifications for the fee waiver: the software is (1) free, and (2) 100% publicly-available open source.


Background on Free, Open Source Systems


For several years there have been some citizen groups working to prepare to supply the states with free, open-source software for optical scan voting systems. The software would run on Commerical Off The Shelf (COTS) hardware.


The advantages to the people and to the state of New York are that:


1.      the software would be freely open to inspection by everyone, which leads to greater security.

2.      the quality of the software would be superb, as is generally the case with open-source software.

3.      the state could avoid doing business with irresponsible vendors. The major commercial vendors of voting systems have well-earned bad reputations, and do not meet our State Comptroller's Guidelines for vendor responsibility.

4.      the state would not be affected by future vendor difficulties such as bankruptcy etc.

5.      the cost of the optical scanners as well as the election management system would be dramatically lower.


One citizen group is nearly finished with an optical scan voting system -- Open Voting Solutions, based in Suffolk County, New York. Other such groups include a team of university students in the south.


These groups are part of a tradition that is decades old. The Free Software Foundation was founded in the 1985.

Why a fee waiver? Money


The current concern is that these citizen groups do not have the money to pay for certification testing, which requires about half a million dollars.

The New York State Board of Elections budget recently received $5 million to spend "in the public interest" and to serve a public purpose, so the fee waiver is within the capability of the State Board.


Text of the Fee Waiver Proposal


Support from the New York City Council


On July 25, 2007, New York City Council Member Darlene Mealy introduced Resolution 961 to urge the New York State Board of Elections to find alternative ways to obtain HAVA-compliant voting equipment, and to avoid doing business with the major commercial vendors. Resolution 961 currently has 26 out of 51 council members as sponsors.


Resolution 961 urges the NY State Board of Elections to either (1) commission the development of a state-owned Paper-Ballot Optical Scan system or (2) accept one for free from citizens who have created it.

Vendor Responsibility Guidelines


The New York State Comptroller has guidelines for "vendor responsibility" and NONE of the major vendors of voting systems meet these requirements:


Commercial vendors have had difficulties delivering working equipment, high failure rates during elections, and have claimed to own vote data so that citizens and candidates cannot examine the results of the election!


The Dan Rather Report of August 14, 2007, "The Trouble with Touchscreens" provided evidence that the largest voting system vendor the USA delivered touchscreens knowing that 30-40% were defective. Another major vendor intentionally manufactured and supplied defective punchcard ballots to Florida in 2000 in order to stimulate the market for electronic voting systems.


Oklahoma Precedent


Oklahoma created its own optical scanner system in the early 1990s. The state owns it completely, and Oklahoma is the only state with no "trouble reports" in any national database of election problems.


1. Testimony by Georgina Christ, New York City Council Governmental Operations Committee, January 29, 2007


2. Michael Clingman, Secretary, Oklahoma State Election Board:


2.a. Testimony before the EAC, June 3, 2004:


2.b. Radio interview, 2/14/07, in which he discusses 15 years experience in Oklahoma with their precinct-based optical scan system. Operational, financial, and other successes:


Oklahoma owns its own voting software;

Fifteen years successful precinct-based optical scan experience;

No vendors running/involved in elections;

Source code/programming owned by the state;

Low cost to taxpayers;

High rate of voter satisfaction;

Easy to use;

Easy to maintain

Equipment "built like a tank"

Withstood recounts which proved the accuracy of the machines

Unique state-county partnership for smooth-running elections

Citizens and activists work with state to make decisions

A successful state election process in a sea of problems elsewhere.


Interview, version 1

Interview, version 2




Trade Secret and Intellectual Property Claims of Commercial Vendors


Contracts of sale used by commercial voting system vendors require jurisdictions to protect the vendors' trade secrets and intellectual property. Courts have consistently placed these contractual agreements and the trade secret and intellectual property rights of vendors AHEAD of candidates and citizens right to know how votes are recorded, handled, and counted, and AHEAD of the ability to investigate and collect evidence of errors and fraud when the machines are involved in election irregularities.


The most notorious recent example is the Christine Jennings race in the Florida 13th Congressional District election in November, 2006, where in one of the five counties in the district, the undervote rate was 15%, while in the other counties the undervote rate was normal. To date, no technologist has been allowed to examine the machines that were used due to secrecy claims of vendors.


Res 228-A, passed unanimously by the New York City Council on August 16, 2006, urged that the NYC Board of Elections and candidates have some way to confirm that new equipment delivered is the same as that certified by the NYS BOE, and that the equipment contains no illegal components.


The NYC Board of Elections said that it would be illegal to inspect their new electronic equipment. Was that because the software would be a trade secret? Regardless of the reason, it is not responsible for jurisdictions to acquire equipment that they know in advance will not be controllable, which they cannot reasonably guarantee meets legal requirements, and for which candidates will not be able to send their own inspectors to examine the equipment to confirm that it is legal.


California Secretary of State Debra Bowen inspected all the voting systems in her state, and discovered that the software was not what the vendors told the counties it was, and not legal to be used. This is not the first time that purchasers have discovered after using systems that the systems were not legal, and were not what they thought they had purchased.


Secret procedures invite fraud. Unless jurisdictions can inspect and control their own voting systems, and unless candidates can confirm how the votes will be handled, we can expect fraud to occur.

Initial and Recurring costs


Using free software on COTS hardware should reduce the initial cost of acquiring new voting systems.


When vendors charge annual fees for "extended warrantees" or use of their systems, this a way to collect more money for equipment already purchased. In some cases these fees double the cost of the systems within 5-6 years.


If New York State owned our own system, the money saved annually would be substantial.


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