Lawmakers and policy experts are demonstrating increased interest in open source technology as a means to solving longstanding challenges and road blocks around election security. State and local governments rely on proprietary software and hardware from a small handful of private vendors to power their voting machines, voter registration systems and other technologies. Those vendors have historically been reluctant or unwilling to allow third-party audits of their products, and when outside researchers have gotten their hands on voting machines or probed commonly used software like voter registration systems, they’ve found extensive and worrying cybersecurity vulnerabilities in nearly every model. That reluctance has led to a number of projects that have sprouted up over the past year from organizations aiming to disrupt the status quo. One such organization, Voting Works, was created last year in partnership with the non-profit Center for Democracy and Technology and seeks to build “secure, usable, affordable and open-source voting machines” that will help to restore trust in the modern election system.
For years security professionals and election integrity activists have been pushing voting machine vendors to build more secure and verifiable election systems, so voters and candidates can be assured election outcomes haven’t been manipulated. Now they might finally get this thanks to a new $10 million contract the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched to design and build a secure voting system that it hopes will be impervious to hacking.
The first-of-its-kind system will be designed by an Oregon-based firm called Galois, a longtime government contractor with experience in designing secure and verifiable systems. The system will use fully open source voting software, instead of the closed, proprietary software currently used in the vast majority of voting machines, which no one outside of voting machine testing labs can examine. More importantly, it will be built on secure open source hardware, made from special secure designs and techniques developed over the last year as part of a special program at DARPA. The voting system will also be designed to create fully verifiable and transparent results so that voters don’t have to blindly trust that the machines and election officials delivered correct results.
California: Los Angeles County’s new ‘open source’ vote tallying system isn’t open source just yet | Statescoop
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.
Los Angeles County’s open-source vote tally system was certified by the secretary of state Tuesday, clearing the way for redesigned vote-by-mail ballots to be used in the November election. “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,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “Los Angeles County’s VSAP vote tally system is now California’s first certified election system to use open-source technology. This publicly-owned technology represents a significant step in the future of elections in California and across the country.”
California: State funding proposal for open source voting gains support | The San Francisco Examiner
Supervisor Malia Cohen has announced she now supports a state-level effort to provide matching funds to develop an open source voting system in San Francisco after hearing from thousands of residents backing the effort. Cohen’s support comes after the San Francisco Examiner reported Sunday that she was not willing to commit to sending a letter to Sacramento representatives backing the funding plan to help cities like San Francisco develop an open source voting system. Cohen said she changed her mind and sent a letter in support Tuesday after hearing from “thousands of our citywide constituents over the last 24 hours” supporting open source voting.
California: Open-source voting in San Francisco may require match of state, local funds | The San Francisco Examiner
If San Francisco wants an open-source voting system that supporters say would be more reliable and transparent than current proprietary machines, it could cost between $11.5 million and $27.8 million, according to a new consultant’s report. The report comes as supporters of an open-source system, which includes the Elections Commission, are calling on Mayor Mark Farrell to help fund the effort. An open-source voting system means the software used to tabulate the ballots is open to public view. Anyone with computer knowledge can examine the software code and look for vulnerabilities or bugs.
Election security, especially when it comes to electronic voting, is not just a matter of trust. Following last year’s elections, and reports that Russian intelligence agencies probed and tested U.S. election systems, it’s now also a matter of national security. Yet last week, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told county commissioners that she was canceling an initiative to give local voters a revolutionarily and trustworthy system because no firm would step up to design and implement the software and infrastructure it would require. That system is called STAR-Vote: an open-source electronic voting machine with the kind of verifiable and independently auditable paper trail that transparency groups have for years demanded. Prior to 2001, Travis County shipped every single paper ballot from every polling station in the county to a central location, then put them through an optical scanner – a process that Rice University professor and STAR-Vote team leader Dan Wallach called “a logistical nightmare.” In 2001, the county became one of the first in Texas to adopt the Hart InterCivic eSlate system, picking it over the biggest competitor, the Diebold TSx. That’s proven a wise choice in hindsight; the TSx later faced accusations of being disturbingly easy to hack.
California: San Francisco could become first local government to use open-source voting system | San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco has taken a tentative step toward deciding on whether it will become the first local government in the country to run its voting machines on open-source software. The notion of shifting away from using proprietary technology sold by private companies to computer code made freely available for anyone to use and modify has been talked about for years. But it’s been getting more attention since the city allocated $300,000 to study the issue. Last week, Elections Director John Arntz opened discussions with Slalom, a consulting group selected by the city to prepare a detailed report on what San Francisco would face if it decides go to an open-source voting system. The report is expected to be finished by January at a cost of around $175,000.
The technology behind elections is hard to get right. Elections require security. They also require transparency: anyone should be able to observe enough of the election process, from distribution of ballots, to the counting and canvassing of votes, to verify that the reported winners really won. But if people vote on computers or votes are tallied by computers, key steps of the election are not transparent and additional measures are needed to confirm the results. In a New York Times op-ed a couple weeks ago, James Woolsey and Brian Fox proposed using “open-source systems that can guard our votes against manipulation.” Their hypothesis is that “open-source software is less vulnerable to hacking” than proprietary voting software because “anyone can see how open-source systems operate. Bugs can be spotted and remedied, deterring those who would attempt attacks. This makes them much more secure than closed-source models.” This sounds reasonable, but in fact, open-source systems are only one step towards guarding our votes against manipulation—and the hypothesis that using open source software will by itself improve security is questionable at best.
Revelations that Russian hackers tried to break into Dallas County’s web servers, likely with the intention of accessing voter registration files, in the lead up to last November’s election renewed concerns about Texas election security. Both Wednesday night’s news out of Dallas and a Bloomberg report on Monday—which said that the Russian hacking attempts affected 39 states—are forcing states to look inward and re-examine the security of their local and state-level electoral technologies. The particular targets of Russian hackers were the accounts of elections officials and voter registration rolls, which are connected to the internet and are unlike the voting systems that actually do the recording and vote tallying. But a possible security breach of one area of electoral technologies has the potential to ripple out and affect the integrity of other ones. “The reason why this whole Russian hacking thing is a wake-up call is because we’ve been caught not paying as much attention as we should have in an area that all of us didn’t think was that vulnerable,” Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk since 1987, says. “And yet it has turned out to be extremely vulnerable in ways we did not expect.”
California: San Francisco Elections Commission asks mayor to put $4M toward open source voting system | The San Francisco Examiner
While the Elections Commission may be among the least followed city bodies, the seven members are playing a critical role in determining whether San Francisco will begin to use an open-source voting system. For years, open-source voting advocates have called on San Francisco officials to part ways with traditional voting machine companies. Open-source voting is widely considered the best defense to voter fraud with the added benefits of cost savings and flexibility. Much to chagrin of these advocates, The City has continued to sign contracts with nonopen-source voting companies. While no open-source voting system has been deployed elsewhere, other jurisdictions are currently working on it, such as Travis County, Texas. After The City allocated $300,000 in the current fiscal year to move San Francisco toward an open-source voting system, the effort has gotten off to a slower-than-expected start. Advocates worry if funding isn’t committed to building out such a system, the effort will face further delays.
California: Clock ticking on open source voting effort as San Francisco extends voting machine contract | San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco is expected today to extend a voting machine contract for two years, even as The City plans to switch over to an open source voting system. An update on those open source voting plans are expected to be provided during the upcoming budget process before the Board of Supervisors later this year as the board is expected to approve the extension today. In the meantime, John Arntz, director of the Elections Department, said The City needs to extend the contract with Dominion, formerly known as Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., for the two scheduled upcoming elections in 2018 – the Statewide Primary Election on June 5, 2018, and the General Election on Nov. 6, 2018. The two-year contract extension from Dec. 11, 2016 through Dec. 31, 2018, totals $2.3 million, for a total of $21 million since The City first entered into an agreement with the voting machine company in 2007 through a competitively bid process. There is also a chance there may be a special November election through a local signature gathering effort.
San Francisco’s open source voting project is quickly becoming a reality. Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed budget includes $300,000 towards planning and development of an open source voting system that would allow the city to own and share the software. Dominion Voting Systems, formerly known as Sequoia Voting, has provided San Francisco’s voting technology for years, but its contract with the city and county expires at the end of the year, according to KQED News. “When you rely on an outside vendor, it’s their technology, which is proprietary and confidential, and the public really doesn’t have access to the code that they’re relying on,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who’s running for state Senate. “It’s very ‘black box,’ so we just have to have faith that their machines are producing accurate results,” he told KQED.
California: San Francisco Officials Push for Adoption of Pioneering Open-Source Voting System | KQED
San Francisco could launch a major makeover of its voting systems this year, an effort that supporters say will lead to cheaper, more transparent elections in the city. On Tuesday, Supervisor Scott Wiener will call for a Board of Supervisors hearing into the city’s efforts to adopt a voting system that would use off-the-shelf hardware and…
San Francisco, home of the tech startup, is trying to show its tech credentials by becoming the first city to use open source software for elections. The proposal to adopt a solution in time for the end of the current contract on January 1, 2017 reappeared at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday when Supervisor Scott Wiener called for a hearing on how the city is progressing with the plan to use standard hardware and open-source software to carry out future balloting. The hope is for the city to develop balloting systems that can compete on reliability and security in time for the November 2019 elections. That plan has been a long time in the making. Back in 2013, a bill was passed by the California Senate and signed by the governor, allowing cities to use public funds to “research and develop a non-proprietary voting system.”
America’s voting machines are archaic and rundown, a recent study showed, and security experts have warned that voter machines are vulnerable to hacking. Enter Blockchain Technologies Corp, a company that hopes to replace existing proprietary machines with secure, open-source voting machines that use the blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin. … Advocates say blockchain-based elections are transparent and secure. They’ve been tested by the Liberal Alliance in Denmark and the European Pirate Party. And now, Blockchain Technologies Corp. is developing an actual voting machine that will record votes using a blockchain. … However, there’s only so much that blockchain technology can do. “Blockchain technology can provide untamperable audit trails, but it doesn’t solve the hard problem that erroneous or malicious software in the voting machine may cast votes other than how the voter intended, and the voter will never be able to know,” explains Jeremy Epstein, senior computer scientist at SRI International who actively warned about the security of Virginia’s machines.
Los Angeles County is home to a burgeoning technology industry. It boasts a roster of high-profile companies including Hulu, Snapchat, and Tinder. As of 2013, it offered more high-tech jobs than other major markets in the country, including Silicon Valley and New York City. Come election time, however, its residents cast their votes by marking inkblots on ballots that resemble Scantron forms. This discrepancy hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, thanks to recent efforts, it’s gradually narrowing. LA County is finally in the process of developing an open source voting system, purported to be a flexible, intuitive replacement of the incumbent method. Under the new system, slated for public use in 2020, voters will indicate their choices on a touchscreen-operated tablet, after which a machine at the voting booth will print and process their paper ballots to be tallied. This is a leap from the ink-based system, which has remained unchanged since its adoption in 2003. The project, which began in 2009, stems from a combination of misfortune and luck. After the 2000 presidential election, many jurisdictions adopted paperless voting systems in compliance with new federal legislation. LA County couldn’t make the shift; the electronic systems on the market lacked the capacity to process its high volume of votes, and the county was forced to develop its own software. Eventually, some of the other jurisdictions’ machines began to fail and lost their certification. Though spared, Los Angeles County recognized this volatility, and it started drafting plans for a more sustainable solution.
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 last surge of investment in voting technology happened a decade ago. Since then the regulatory apparatus for election reform has broken down, and voting machines themselves are starting to fail as well. Every election shines attention on a different bit of dysfunction, from long lines at polling places to cyber security risks. Open source to the rescue? Maybe, although probably not in time to have much impact on the 2016 election. Silicon Valley’s Open Source Election Technology Foundation (OSET) is methodically chipping away at the problem, building credibility with software for voter registration and election-night reporting while also working on the more challenging problems of improving the casting and counting of votes. Meanwhile, a few brave — and impatient — county election officials are embarking on their own voting technology design and development projects, which may or may not intersect with OSET’s work. The bottom-line goal of these initiatives is the same: to move away from reliance on proprietary technology while boosting transparency and leaving a reliable audit trail — making it clear that the victor in any contest really is the candidate who won the most votes.
With counties staring down eventual replacement of their election management systems, some in California and Texas are leading the charge for an alternative that could save counties a lot of money and change an industry. Open-source voting would use software designed by counties, which could run on inexpensive computer terminals to design, print and count paper ballots. All of which purportedly increases transparency and security, Most of the savings would come from eliminating the software license fees charged for management system vendors’ proprietary programs. Twelve years after the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandated new voting technology, the machines and software are reaching the end of their usable lives in counties nationwide, and voting officials are feeling pressure. Travis County, Texas’ machines have generally been reliably operational — though a few have begun freezing — but County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said she is worried they won’t remain in working order for long. HAVA’s $3.5 billion that helped fund the new election management systems will likely not be replenished to help replace them. “It’s the same urgency we all feel in counties everywhere,” she said. “We all bought new voting systems at the same time and now we’re all watching them approach their ends-of-life at the same time. Counties just don’t have multi-millions to pay for new voting systems.”
Editorials: How the Open Source Election Technology Foundation is Remaking the Voter Experience | TechPresident
In its report released earlier this January, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration noted how an online registration tool developed by the Open Source Election Technology (OSET) Foundation that being used by Virginia and groups like Rock the Vote “highlights the way that voter information can be entered by a user in one setting and, through a simple platform, seamlessly integrated with a state’s registration list.” Now, ahead of the 2014 midterms and with an eye to 2016, OSET”s Trust the Vote Project is stepping up its efforts to expand that functionality and other election innovations across the country, at the same time that the Bipartisan Policy Center has taken up the task of more broadly implementing the commission’s recommendations as a whole throughout the states. As techPresident wrote at the time, the commission’s report highlighted how it had identified technology and data problems at the root of the “long lines” that President Obama had directed the commission to address. “We have been working on various piece of what I call the overall ecosystem…of election administration,” Gregory Miller, co-founder and chief development officer of OSET said in a recent interview. “We’ve been looking at the pieces that do not require federal certification since the federal certification model is so broken.” While OSET has also been involved in discussions about changing the certification model, the more immediate focus of the initiative, he said, has been improving the voter experience rather than ballot transactions.
How was your last voting experience? Smooth? Perhaps not. The Open Source Election Technology Foundation wants to change that by making voting simpler and more transparent. Its chief effort, called TrustTheVote, is a push to develop airtight, open-source vote casting and tabulation software that can be paired with off-the-shelf hardware. Open-source code and off-the-shelf plastic mean that TrustTheVote will, if it meets its goals, sell better, transparent voting machines to precincts at a fraction of the current cost. Each major election cycle in the United States brings the same whispers: Irregularities in Ohio counties, odd voting machine behavior in Iowa, and constant fringe intrigue about which candidate is getting a secret electronic bump due to a distant relative’s relationship with a voting machine company. It’s not healthy for our democracy.
After spending tens of millions of dollars in recent years on ineffective voting systems, California election officials are planning to experiment with an “open source” system that may prove to be the cure-all for secure, accessible balloting – or just another expensive failure. Most computer programs, such as the Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X operating systems, are “closed source” programs. That means the original computer code only can be examined by the program’s owners, in these cases Microsoft and Apple. “Open source” means the original computer code is made public so it can be used and examined by anyone, in particular to find security holes. According to Damicon, “True-open-source development requires that a community of software engineers band together to work on the software. The idea is that more minds create better software.”
With Norway holding parliamentary elections this week, the country has taken the opportunity to hold its second e-voting pilot. The pilot follows an earlier trial which took place during the local government elections in 2011. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, the ministry responsible for running elections in Norway, the e-voting participation increased significantly compared to 2011. The trial was carried out in 12 municipalities, chosen for geographical and demographical diversity, which play home to 250,000 of Norway’s 3.6 million voters. … Even though the e-voting system with security front and centre, it still has attracted some criticism from security professionals. The first and most discussed issue were concerns raised over the encryption used in the pilot. The encryption software on the voters’ computers was thought to not have a good enough random number seed for the algorithm and, according to the security company Computas which was engaged by the government to control the system, the seed value was “very predictable”.
In 2006, John Seles and Gregory Miller hatched a plan to rescue democracy. At the time, the United States was pumping nearly $4 billion into new voting machines, spurred on by Florida’s 2000 presidential election fiasco. But the shift to machines built by companies such as Election Systems & Software and Sequoia Voting Systems (now called Dominion Voting Systems) had introduced all sorts of new problems. Academics were finding deep flaws in the systems, and during every election, they seemed to fail somewhere. Earlier in 2006, voting machine problems marred primary elections in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where officials scrambled to hire temp workers to reprocess thousands of unreadable optical-scan ballots. For Seles and Miller, the answer was open source software. As employees at Netscape in the late 1990s, they had helped usher in the internet age, and now they were eying another tech revolution. Voting machines seemed to be a perfect place for open source software to do what it does best: create standard pieces of technology everyone can freely share, review, and improve.
A group of IT experts says it intends to carry out a test attack on Estonia’s e-voting software following the release of the source code two weeks ago. Although it was possible to test the system before the code was made public, only administrators had access to the results, reported Õhtuleht. The group of volunteers, led by security expert Renee Trisberg, says it hopes to finish testing the voluminous and complex system one month ahead of Estonia’s next local elections, on October 20 (electronic voting begins 10 days earlier). Since the general framework of the e-voting system has been public for years, Trisberg said, he believes that it is generally secure and that his team can only expect to find minor errors. “I have been a supporter of the e-elections. One must do his part to ensure that nothing happens, even just a simple mistake. Years of finger-pointing will follow if a malfunction were to occur,“ Trisberg said.
Tarvi Martens, a creator of Estonia’s e-election system, countered recent criticism of an open-source license, saying the continued development of the Internet voting software code must be conducted in a controlled and coordinated environment. Last week, the National Electoral Committee, which Martens heads, publicly released the source code of Estonia’s e-voting software. However, the binding Creative Commons license that accompanied the code was the topic of heated debate among IT specialists who disagreed with the restrictions on amending the code. Yet Martens said allowing derivative code and free sharing of it was not the goal of publishing the details of the e-election system.
For six years, Estonians haven’t had to set foot in a polling place or wait in line to cast their votes for President — instead, they can do it online. And on Thursday, the country’s Electronic Voting Committee released the entire source code of its voting server software on open-source platform GitHub — a move that not only gives Estonians a glimpse into the workings of their e-voting system, but that also gives them a chance to help toughen it up from a security perspective. The Estonian e-voting process is based on the country’s identity card, which is mandatory and issued when a citizen is 15 years old. The card has a built-in electronic authentication system that allows secure voting online from any computer, and each citizen is allowed to submit and change their vote until Election Day. At the last Parliamentary Election in 2011, one in four people chose to cast their ballot via e-vote. While there isn’t enough data to conclude whether e-voting has raised voter turnout overall in the country, the country’s electoral committee views the process as successful.
Estonia, which created the world’s first nationwide Internet-based voting system, has finally released its source code to the public in an attempt to assuage a longstanding concern by critics. “This is the next step toward a transparent system,” said Tarvi Martens, chairman of Estonia’s Electronic Voting Committee, in an interview Friday with ERR, Estonia’s national broadcaster. “The idea, which was the result of joint discussion between numerous Estonian IT experts and the Electronic Voting Committee, was implemented today. We welcome the fact that experts representing civil society want to contribute to the development and security of the e-elections.” Martens and his colleagues have now put the entire source code on GitHub—previously it was only made available after signing a confidentiality agreement.
A consortium of university computer science departments has warned the Federal Government that all future computerised voting systems should be made open source to ensure that no votes will be miscast. In a submission (PDF) to the House of Representatives review into the 2010 Federal Election, the Computing Research and Education Association of Australia (CORE)…