Public Election Technology
Brennan Center for Justice estimates that more than $1 billion could be spent replacing outdated election systems. If technology and licensing costs are reduced, the social return on investment will be enormous.
Several jurisdictions and organizations are already working toward open-source public election technologies. These initiatives would benefit from coordinated funding—to share their innovations across America.
Open Election Initiative supports building a coalition of funders and civic innovators to meet this vital need. Our goal is to foster collaboration on open-source voting systems—with transparency, security, and public ownership as core principles.
The Advantage of Open Source
Open-source software combined with paper ballots and off-the-shelf hardware offers several advantages for modern election administration:
- Public: The intellectual property benefits the common good.
- Shared: The software can be used in multiple jurisdictions.
- Cheaper: Cost is reduced from development through deployment.
- Transparent: Source code and election data can be published.
- Secure: Vulnerabilities are reduced by exposing code to greater scrutiny.
- Auditable: The paper record preserves the integrity of the system.
- Verifiable: Voting machines can provide evidence of their accuracy.
- Adaptable: Modular open-source systems can adapt to new demands.
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco Elections Commission recently ruled in favor of charting its own course in open-source technology, canceling requests for proposal from proprietary voting system vendors. This was the result of a multi-year research effort into the feasibility, economics, and security implications.
Los Angeles County, California
Los Angeles County embarked in 2009 on an ambitious Voting Systems Assessment Project to redesign election technology for one of the largest and most complex electorates in the country. The office of the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk conducted public opinion research, formed advisory and technical committees, and collaborated with design firm IDEO to develop the technical specifications of the system. The project has focused on creating an accessible ballot-marking device that improves the voter experience. Source code will be open to public inspection. The system will use paper ballots and produce data to make transparent, verifiable, post-election audits possible.
Travis County, Texas
Dissatisfied with existing options for replacing its electronic voting machines, the office of the County Clerk in Travis County (Austin, TX) decided to partner with researchers at Rice University, Microsoft, and the University of California, Berkeley to develop a secure, transparent, auditable, and reliable voting system. Called STAR-Vote, the basic system design has been established and is moving through the request for information process. It will feature paper ballots, end-to-end cryptography, and facilitate risk-limiting audits.
Free & Fair
Private technology firm Galois specializes in high-assurance systems for major government agencies and private-sector clients. Its staff includes election technology, cryptography, and computer security experts. Galois launched a benefit corporation called Free & Fair in early 2016 for development of open-source voting systems. Their current product offerings include an ePollbook, a Supervised Voting System, and a Tabulator.
Open Source Election Technology Foundation
Open Source Election Technology Foundation and its Trust the Vote Project have been leaders in developing independent, open-source election systems that can be licensed to private or public entities. Building on their success with voter registration services, they are developing other election management technologies.
New York nonprofit organization Democracy Works builds tools to increase voter access and improve election administration. They specialize in voter information services and absentee ballot tracking.
“The Use of Open Source Technology in Elections,” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2014.
“Can Open-Source Voting Tech Fix The U.S. Elections System?” Ann Babe, Forbes, February 2015.
“Open source elections technology: Responses to the San Francisco Elections Commission,” Joseph Kiniry, Galois, October 2015.