E-Voting in California
Last summer, California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen investigated the state’s electronic voting machines after allegations that they lost, added, or flipped votes. Teams of computer scientists found that the state’s e-voting systems had major security holes in their design and were vulnerable to attacks. California has now replaced its e-voting machines with the optical scan machines that it used for mail-in voting, only leaving one e-voting machine per precinct to accomodate voters with certain disabilities. Secretary Bowen recently explained to Government Technology that the decision to get rid of the machines came down to the concern that the state had no way to ensure that insiders, such as vendors and election officials, had not tampered with the machines’ software to alter the results. This concern is certainly justified. Party officials often control the administration of elections, and partisanship has long been a driving force in election officials’ dirty tricks . (Roy Saltman details these abuses in his comprehensive book on the history of voting machines). Because e-voting machines are black boxes whose actual operation cannot be checked, fraud perpetrated by vendors and election officials would be hidden from view.
Although it seems a colossal waste of the $450 million California counties spent on e-voting hardware and software, democracy will be better served so as long as the optical scan machines provide a more accurate and secure solution. Bowen recently urged Los Angeles to adopt open source e-voting. This is a step in the right direction. Open source code voting machines would be more transparent, accurate, secure, and accountable. They also might be cheaper. Last month’s LinuxWorld conference hosted a mock election of open source code voting machines. At a price of $400, the voting machine is a tenth of the cost of proprietary machines because it is simply designed and based on free software. Open Voting Consortium hopes to announce the adoption of its open-source e-voting system by at least one large county in California soon and would like to provide their services to the rest of the state by 2012.