Friday, January 06, 2006

Senator Debra Bowen to Hold Open Source Voting Hearings

Press release issued from State Senator Debra Bowen's office:
CONTACT: Evan Goldberg
January 5, 2006


SACRAMENTO – The issue of whether California should be using electronic voting machine systems that rely on "open source software," instead of the traditional proprietary software being used today, will be addressed in a pair of public hearings by Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee.

"If we want people to have confidence that their votes are being counted accurately, the systems counties use to tally ballots need to be open, accessible, and completely transparent," said Bowen, a long-time open government advocate and the author of the 1993 measure that put all of the Legislature's bills, analyses, and voting records on the Internet. "Nationwide, only 48% of the people are confident their votes are actually being counted correctly or being counted at all and you don’t build confidence in our electoral system by leaving people in the dark. To restore people's faith in the system and ensure ballots are tallied accurately, we need to turn on the lights and let people see how their votes are being counted and protected."

The hearings will be held by March of this year, most likely in Sacramento and Silicon Valley. Members of the open source software community, county elections officials, voting machine vendors, and others will be invited to participate. "Open source software" has been around for several decades but it’s become more popular in recent years. Some of the more well-known names in the open source software world are Firefox (an Internet browser), Linux (an operating system), and Red Hat (which sells and supports a version of Linux for businesses).

"We've worked hard to make elections more transparent over the years by, for example, making it easier for voters to track campaign contributions, but when it comes to the fundamental issue of how the accuracy of the election results are ensured, voters are left completely in the dark," continued Bowen. "Open source software has the potential to make a critical – arguably the most critical – part of the electoral process open and transparent. We're in the middle of an intense discussion over whether Diebold's voting machines should or shouldn't be re-certified for use here in California for the 2006 elections. I want to look further ahead and study what alternatives there are to relying on proprietary software that can't be examined and has turned out to be fatally flawed."

Under California law, an exact copy of the source code for all ballot tally software must be placed in an escrow facility designated by the Secretary of State before a voting system can be certified for use in California. However, that source code is never revealed to the public. Using open source software will make the process more transparent because open source software, by definition, is open to public examination.

"We need to do away with the secrecy and the 'Trust us, we know what we're doing' approach the voting machine vendors and the Secretary of State are taking with this issue," continued Bowen. "Nearly two months ago, the Secretary of State discovered a problem with some Election Systems & Software (ES&S) voting machines and threatened to decertify them. Days later he announced the problem was fixed and ES&S was in the clear, but he still hasn't released any information on what the problems were with the machines, how ES&S proposed to fix those problems, or why voters should have any confidence in their solution. That's unacceptable and California voters deserve better."


Evan L. Goldberg
Chief of Staff
Senator Debra Bowen
(D-Redondo Beach)
I first met Debra Bowen at the California Democratic Convention in April (when I was but a baby activist), where I was impressed with her manner and her positions. My favorable view of her was strengthened when I happened to be seated next to her at an awards banquet in June and everything I've read since has only shown that Senator Bowen is one of the best people we Californians have working for us.

Guess who has my vote for Secretary of State this year?

(Keep an eye on these pages for updates on the hearings.)

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