Election officials in Los Angeles County are touting the state’s approval of a new system of tallying absentee votes, one they say will allow the county to distribute redesigned mail-in ballots in time for the Nov. 6 general election. The system runs on technology owned by the county, rather than a private vendor, and in what officials say is a first for California, it’s an open source platform. “With security on the minds of elections officials and the public, open source technology has the potential to further modernize election administration, security, and transparency,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who certified the new system on Tuesday, said in a press release. The one catch? The new system might not count as “open source” just yet, as the agency that created it hasn’t shared the underlying code with the wider programming community.
“My takeaway is that their intention is to make it freely available to other organizations, but today it’s not,” said John Sebes, the chief technology officer of the Open Source Election Technology Institute, a nonprofit that develops publicly available voting software. “It’s open source in the sense that it was paid for by public funds and the intent is to share it.”
Open source software, which allows outside programmers to download code and tinker with it for the purpose of offering improvements or adapting it to their own use, actually has support in the often skittish community of election-security advocates. In particular, supporters point to how an open source model can free election authorities from relying too heavily on equipment and software manufactured by private corporations that are motivated by earnings, rather than service to voters.