American voting technology is trapped in the last millennium. This lifeline to democracy is kept secret—closed off from public inspection and controlled by large businesses. It is decades old to boot. Our voting methods ought to be at least as cutting edge as our selfie apps, but they’re not. “Our nation’s elections systems and technology are woefully antiquated. They are officially obsolete,” says Greg Miller of the TrustTheVote Project, an initiative to make our voting system accurate, verifiable, transparent, and secure. He adds: “It’s crazy that citizens are using twentieth-century technology to talk to government using twentieth-century technology to respond.” Miller and others are on a mission to change that with an entirely new voting infrastructure built on open-source technology. They say open source, a development model that’s publicly accessible and freely licensed, has the power to upend the entire elections technology market, dislodging incumbent voting machine companies and putting the electorate at the helm. With Miller’s system, we’d still go to the polls to vote and use a machine to cast our ballot. But the software on that machine would be completely open to public inspection. While coders wouldn’t be able to edit or tamper with the code, technically literate citizens would be able to, in effect, cross-examine the processes tabulating all of our votes, verifying their integrity and assuring accountability.
The organization behind TrustTheVote, the Open Source Elections Technology Foundation (OSET), believes open-source voting software can instill confidence that people’s votes are being counted. “Make that machine a glass box instead of a black box,” says Miller, who chairs OSET. He says that will get more voters to the polls.
Other organizations like the California Association of Voting Officials (CAVO) are also working to bring open-source principles to American elections. “Every ballot that’s cast in the United States is counted by a machine, so we owe it to the voters and the public to use the most secure, most transparent, most auditable technology,” says former CAVO President Kammi Foote, who is also the elected registrar of voters for Inyo County, California. “Open source has proven itself in the private sector,” says Foote. “Now governments around the world are starting to look at open source as a good business model.”