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Free at Last: We Earn Our 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status

I am pleased to announce to our readers that the IRS has granted our 7-year old organization full unbridled tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as a public charity.  This brings to a close an application review that consumed over 6 years—one of the longest for a public benefits non-profit organization.  Our Chief Development Officer, Gregory Miller has already offered his insight this morning, but I want to offer a couple of thoughts from my view point (which I know he shares). By now, you may have seen the WIRED Magazine article that was published this morning.  Others here will surely offer some additional comment of their own in separate posts.  But it does set the context for my brief remarks here.

First, to be sure,  this is a milestone in our existence because the Foundation’s fund raising efforts and corresponding work on behalf of elections officials and their jurisdictions nationwide has been largely on hold since we filed our original IRS Form 1023 application back in February 2007.

The Foundation has managed to remain active through what self-funding we could afford, and through generous grants from individuals and collaborating organizations that continued to support the “TrustTheVote™ Project” despite our "pending" status.

A heartfelt "thank you" to Mitch Kapor, Heather Smith and Rock the Vote, Alec Totic, Matt Mullenweg, Pito Salas, the Gregory Miller family and the E. John Sebes family (to name a few of the those who so believed in us early on to offer their generous support).  The same thanks goes to those who wished to remain anonymous in their support.

In addition to our being set free to move full speed ahead on our charter, I think this is interesting news for another reason: this project, which has a clear charitable cause with a compelling public benefit, was caught up in an IRS review perhaps mostly for having the wrong words in its corporate name.

Our case became entangled in the so-called “Bolo-Gate” scandal at the IRS Exempt Division.  And we unintentionally became a poster child for be-on-the-lookout reviews as such applied to entities involved in open source technology.

In sum and substance, our case required 6 years and 4 months for the IRS to decide.  The Service ultimately dragged us into our final administrative remedy, the "conference-of-right" we participated in last November, following their "intent to deny" letter in March of last year.  Then it took the IRS another 220 days to finally decide the case, albeit in our favor, but not before we had a] filed close to 260 pages of interrogatory responses, of which 182 were under affidavits; b] developed nearly 1,600 pages of total content; and c] ran up a total bill for legal and accounting fees over those years in excess of $100,000.

We’ve definitely learned some things about how to handle a tax exempt application process for an organization trying to provide public benefit in the form of software technology, although frankly, we have no intentions or interest in ever preparing another.

But there is a story yet to be told about what it took for us to achieve our 501(c)(3) standing—a status that every single attorney, CPA, or tax expert who reviewed our case over the years believed we deserved.   That noted, we are very grateful to our outside tax counsel team at Caplin Drysdale led by Marc Owen, who helped us press our case.

I am also deeply relieved that we need not raise a legal defense fund, but instead can finally start turning dollars towards the real mission: developing accurate, transparent, verifiable, and more secure elections technology for public benefit rather than commercial gain.  Its not lost on us, nor should it be on you, how we could've spent the money we need to pay to our lawyers and accountants on advancing the substantive cause of the TrustTheVote Project.

So, now its time to focus ahead, get to work, and raise awareness of the TrustTheVote Project and the improvements it can bring to public elections.

We're a legitimate legally recognized 501(c)(3) tax exempt public benefits corporation.  And with that you will begin to see marked changes in our web sites, our activities.  Stay tuned.  We're still happily reeling a bit from the result, but wrapping our heads around what we need to do now that we have the designation we fought for 6 years to have in order to fund the work our beneficiaries -- elections jurisdictions nationwide -- so deserve.

Please join me in acknowledging this major step and consider supporting our work going forward.  After all, now it really can be tax deductible (see your accountant and lawyer for details).

Best Regards, Christine M. Santoro Secretary, General Counsel

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A New Voice

Hello - My name is Christine Santoro, the Foundation's General Counsel.  Although you probably have never heard from me before (well, at least read my writing here anyway), I am responsible for the legal machinery underneath the OSDV Foundation and TrustTheVote Project.  We've heard from our readers that they would like to read more from us on issues of law and policy concerning elections and voting technology.  So, I've decided to start voicing my thoughts and musings on topics of interest to our readership ranging from election law to issues of technology policy related to voting systems and machinery.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, and more importantly, reading your comments and feedback and engaging in a conversation.  If you have anything in particular that you would like us to talk about let me know.  Talk to you soon.

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The D.C. Pilot Project: Facts vs. Fictions - From Our Viewpoint

The TrustTheVote Project of the Open Source Digital Voting (OSDV) Foundation achieved another important milestone two weeks ago this morning, this time with the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, although not without some controversy.  The short of it is, and most important to us, the Foundation has been given the opportunity to put real open source elections software into a production environment for a real public election.  But it turns out that milestone is struggling to remain visible. [Note: this is a much longer post than I would prefer, but the content is very important to explain a recent announcement and our role.]

I’ve waited to launch a discussion in this forum in order to let the flurry of commentaries calm on the news.  Now we need to take the opportunity to speak in own voice, rather than the viewpoint of  journalists and press releases, and provide insight and reality-checks from the authoritative source about what we're up to: Us. For those of you who have not read any of this news, here is a sample or two.  The news is about the District of Columbia is implementing a Pilot program to digitally deliver ballot to a group of qualified overseas voters, and accept digitally returned ballots from them.  (Actually, D.C. already has accepted digitally returned ballots via Fax and eMail.)  So, the headline might be:

District of Columbia to Launch Pilot Program to benefit Overseas & Military Voters with Digital Distance Balloting Solution Using Open Source Software from Non-Profit Voting Technology Group.”

I believe that is as simple and factual as it gets, and IMHO a fair headline.  However, here are two alternative headlines, depending on your view, interests, or issues:

  1. Open Source Voting Project Succeeds in Production Deployment of New Transparent and Freely Available Elections Technology.” -or-
  2. OSDV Foundation Advances Misguided Cause of Internet Voting, Despite Well Settled Dangers, Putting Election Integrity at Risk.”

If you follow our work or have read our statement on these topics before, then you recognize the headline #1 is where our interests and intentions are focused. Over the past two weeks, though, we’ve received plenty of feedback that some believe that headline #2 is the real and unfortunate news, undermining the efforts of those who tirelessly work for elections integrity. Well, that is not what we intended to do. But we do need to do a better job at communicating our goals, as the facts unfold about the project. So, let me back up a bit and start  an explanation of what we are really doing and what are real intentions are.

But first let me make the following statement, repeating for the record our position on Internet voting:

The Open Source Digital Voting Foundation does not advocate the general use of the public Internet for the transaction of voting data.  The technical team of the TrustTheVote Project strongly cautions that no Internet-based system for casting, let alone counting, of ballots can be completely secure, nor can a voter’s privacy be ensured, or the secrecy of their ballot protected.

We do not recommend replacing current voting systems by adopting Internet Voting systems. However, we think that there may be a use case in which Internet-based ballot return may be the only course of last resort for rapid delivery of a ballot in time to be counted. That case is the very limited situation of an overseas or military voter who believes that they may be disenfranchised unless they rely on a digital means to return their marked ballot, because physical means are not timely or not available. That is the situation that we genuinely believe is being restrictively addressed in the D.C. Pilot project that we are participating.

And to be crystal clear: OSDV's role is supplying technology.  The District's Board of Elections and Ethics is running the show, along withe the District's I.T. organization. But why did we chose this role? The success of the TrustTheVote Project is predicated on accomplishing three steps to delivering publicly owned audit-ready, transparent voting technology:

  1. Design;
  2. Development; and
  3. Deployment.

Design.  We are employing a public process that engages a stakeholder community comprised of elections officials and experts.  We cannot design on our own and expect what we come up with will be what will work.  It is, and must be, a framework of technology components in order to be adoptable and adaptable to each jurisdiction that chooses to freely acquire and deploy the Project’s work. None of the TV Framework specifically addresses any transport means of ballot data.   The Framework voting systems architecture includes accessible ballot marking ("ABM") devices, optical scanners for paper ballot marked by hand or ABM, and tabulators.  The Framework elections management services architecture includes EMS components, poll books, and ballot design studio.

Development.  We are employing an open source method and process, somewhat modified and similar in structure to how the Mozilla Foundation manages development of their open source software – with a core team that ensures development continuity and leadership, complemented by a team of paid and volunteer contributors.  And the development has to be open, to go along with the open design process, and open testing, delivering on the commitment to building election technology that anyone can see, touch, and try.  We’re developing for the four legs of integrity: accuracy, transparency, trust, and security.

Deployment. But “open source” at the Foundation is also about distribution for deployment.  As we've said before, the  OSDV Public License, based on our “cousin’s” license, the Mozilla Public License, meets the special needs of government licensee.  And in so doing we avail the source code, and where required, resources (in exchange for a development grant to the Foundation) to make the necessary refinements and modifications to enable the adopting jurisdiction to actually deploy this open source technology.  The deployment will generally be managed by a new type of commercial player in the elections technology sector: the systems integrator who will provide qualified commodity hardware, with the Project’s software, and the services to stand it up and integrate it with other jurisdiction’s IT infrastructure where required.

Motivation One critic has asked, “Why would you agree to support any project that uses the Internet in elections or voting?”  Our motivation for working with the District of Columbia is all about the third “D” – Deployment.   All of our efforts are merely academic, unless stakeholders who have contributed to the specifications actually adopt the resulting open source technology as an alternative to buying more proprietary elections technology, when the opportunity arises to replace or enhance their current solutions.

Now, what about that “Internet” element?

The District of Columbia Board of Elections & Ethics (B.O.E.E) was in search of a solution to enhance their compliance with the MOVE Act.  Of course, people in many election jurisdictions were asking:

If I can deliver the blank ballot and reduce the cycle time for qualified overseas voters, then why shouldn’t we go all the way and facilitate digital return of the marked ballot?

Well, there’s a host of reasons why one shouldn’t do that.  For one quick example: our valued strategic technology partner collaborating with us on data standards, the Overseas Vote Foundation, not only offers digital blank ballot delivery, but  also have renewed their courier services through the assistance of the US Postal Service and FedEx to ensure that the Military voters' marked ballots can, in fact, make it back in time.   But on the other hand, there is an unfortunate reality that once the digital path is open, OVF, US Mails, or FedEx notwithstanding, jurisdictions will explore leveraging the Net; its happening already in several locations.  That does not make it right or preferable, but it does make it a reality that we need to address.

So, the District at least – at our encouragement dating back to March in Munich – heard our encouragement to explore options, but they did have some requirements.

Specifically, they wanted to conduct a Pilot of a solution that might be a better alternative to accepting returned marked ballots as eMail attachments or Faxed marked ballots exclusively for their overseas and military voters.  And particularly unique to their requirements was – to our delight – a fully transparent open source software solution with unbridled ownership of the resulting source code for all elements of the Pilot solution.  That, of course, is in complete harmony with our charter and mission.

Again, for those readers who know us, and understand our motivations and position on the Internet issue, you can understand our acute focus on the opportunity to deploy open source elections administration software in a real election setting. In the after-glow of this real possibility, and drilling into the details of how the ballot design studio could work for this, we realized we needed to get back to grappling with this digital ballot return detail of the Pilot project.

Initially, we were definitely concerned about how to approach this aspect of the Pilot, since we’ve been clear about our position on the use of the Internet.  But to be frank, with the prospect that the District could simply turn to commercial proprietary Internet voting systems vendors, we felt we had to help find an alternative open source approach for the limited purpose of this Pilot. We encouraged the B.O.E.E. to find an alternative means to digitally return the ballot, but neither by deploying Internet voting products, nor by continuing to rely on Fax or eMail attachments in the clear.  In return, they asked for our help in figuring out how they could implement a solution that worked with real ballot and attestation documents as digital artifacts, which could be transported on an encrypted channel.  This could be better than eMail to be sure, but still using public packet-switched networks.

We turned to several of our technical advisers and convened a meeting to discuss how B.O.E.E and OCTO could approach a digital vote-by-mail Pilot to explore this approach to improving on eMail attachments or Fax’d returns.  The meeting was frank, open, and rather than continuing the rhetoric of avoidance, we witnessed a bunch of stalwarts in information security express concerns, suggest points of mitigation, and brain storm on the possibilities.  And several were kicked around, but tossed aside for want of either acceptable user experience, cost limitations, or operational practicality.  A straw man solution was framed and members of the Core Team went off to refine it knowing that there were aspects that they simply could not address with this Pilot.  Perhaps the most important Pilot parameter: this could not and would not be an exercise to completely assess and determine solutions to all of the known vulnerabilities of securing a voting transaction over a public network.

But it was agreed that a “digital vote-by-mail” process – with the known vulnerabilities and constraints – could be a “worked example” that simply was not what proprietary commercial vendors are selling. And, it was realized that such a solution could not and should not claim any victory in improved security or privacy – no such reality can exist in this solution.

And folks, that is simply and honestly the extent to which we were and are treating this: a “worked example” to serve as a vehicle for voices on all sides of the argument to train their attention in assessing, testing, and determining the viability of such an approach strictly for those overseas and military voters.

One could say the Foundation took a calculated risk: that in order to achieve the larger goal of deploying open source elections technology into a real production environment (a first, and hopefully ground breaking step), we would have to accept that our Stakeholder, B.O.E.E would use the Internet to transport a ballot and attestation document pair using the best possible techniques currently available – HTTPS and standard encryption tools.  And at some measure, at least they had chosen not to pursue a commercial proprietary Internet voting solution, given their steadfast requirement of open source software and maximum transparency.

To my activist colleagues I offer this: we’re giving you a worked example on which to build your arguments against digital transport.  Please do so! We're with you, believe it or not.  Very frankly, I’d be happy to support some initiative to severely restrict the use of public packet switched networks for transacting voting data.

I want to (re)focus the Project's attention on the reason a few of us gave up our paying jobs some four years ago: to build a non-profit solution to restore trust in the computers used in the various processes of casting and counting votesWe don’t advocate iVoting.  We do advocate accuracy, transparency, trust, and security in the use of computers in elections and intend to keep working on that open source framework. We do believe limited Pilots are worth it for the special use case of UOCAVA voters,  if such a Pilot can fuel an intellectually honest debate and/or initiatives to resolve the concerns, or end the use of the Net altogether in this regard.  We think the District of Columbia's Pilot is such a worked example.

OK, this went way over my intended length, but in the spirit of transparency its important we explain what’s been underway for the past several weeks from an authoritative source: Us. In the next installment on this topic, we will discuss more details on the technology we'll provide for the District's Pilot, and reiterate our concerns, but also consider the potential of the open source movement in public elections systems.

Thanks for reading. Greg Miller

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The Looming UOCAVA Internet Voting Debate

This is the last long post about the UOCAVA Summit underway in Munich, but in an unannounced move, below I am disclosing all of the topics and questions in tomorrow’s (apparently) much anticipated Internet Voting Debate. I apologize to those looking for a quick (more typical) blog post on the matter.  But there is (I think) interesting stuff below.

Fact: Silly though I think it is, controversy is swirling around this event; I’ve received more “hate mail” than necessary as moderator, and I believe its important to layout what exactly my line of questioning will be, so that you, the readers, can judge for yourself if I am trying to manipulate the discourse for or against the use of public packet-switched networks for transacting ballot data from public elections.  Think of this as our continuing effort to be transparent – one of our Foundation’s driving principles

So, less than 9 hours remain before we sit down to have what I intend to be a fair and balanced discussion about the challenges and opportunities, the fears, uncertainties, and doubts, and the real and present risks of using public packet switched networks for transacting public ballot data – the so-called Internet Voting debate.

And for me, I am more than ready to put this episode of a long running debate behind me.

Its not that I am no longer interested, nothing could be further from the truth.  But I look forward to slipping back into the mix of many discussing the topic without the klieg lights and responsibility of moderating the participants of a specific debate instance.

The problem is the vitriol nature of unsolicited feedback I’ve received in the past 3 days regarding this event – which is apparently getting far more attention than we anticipated.

Hate mail – its that simple.  And it’s coming from both sides of the debate.  And that’s surprising.  Activists on both sides are convinced that the OSDV Foundation, the Overseas Vote Foundation, and I are all out to railroad the other side in a debate that appears to be tilted against their interest.

Reality distortion fields – its that apparent.  They are being cast, but only I can tell you what is absolutely in my mind and what my intentions are.  And either people can choose to believe me or not.

So with one final effort on the eve of yet another intellectual wrestling match on this, let me try to set the record clear on our intention.  And to do so, in this post I am going to disclose to all interested – in advance – the questions of the Debate planned for 0900 CET tomorrow (about 2200 EDT/0100A Pacific).

First, let me share here the participant line-up:

Moderator: myself, Gregory Miller, Chief Development Officer, OSDV Foundation

Introduction: Dr. Andrew Appel, Professor Computer Science, Princeton University

Opponents

Harri Hursti, Author: Hacking Democracy

Constanze Kurz, Engineer/Dipl. Inf., Humboldt University Berlin

Pamela Smith, President, Verified Voting

E. John Sebes, Chief Technology Officer, Open Source Digital Voting Foundation [*]

Proponents

Alexander Trechsel, Professor of Political Science and Swiss Chair in Federalism and Democracy at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy

Christian Bull, Senior Advisor, The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, Norway

Thad Hall, Associate Professor of Political Science and Research Fellow, University of Utah, USA

Tarvi Martens, Development Director at SK, Demographic Info, Computer & Network Security, Estonia

Closing Remarks: Honorable Debra Bowen, California Secretary of State

About that [*] after John’s name. Before moving to the questions, I want to comment on one of the many controversies that have bubbled up over this event.  In the 11th hour, Chantel Enguehard, Researcher and Teacher, Laboratoire d’Informatique de Nantes Atlantique rescinded her agreement to participate for this event on the “opposing side” of the argument for Internet Voting (after previously committing to do so and allowing the Conference to finance her attendance).  Ms. Enguehard has determined that it is not in her best professional (or apparently political) interest to be on any record as speaking against the use of the Internet for elections.  It is her choice, of course, but not the most courteous move to make on the eve of the debate, IMHO.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that just because someone takes a role in a debate staged for a conference as an information exercise, that such necessarily should label that participant as permanently having the opinions of that side of the argument.  And I would’ve been glad to go on record that she is participating in this capacity simply for the academic exercise of explaining the issues to the audience, but that her participation as an opponent does not necessarily reflect her otherwise neutral position on the topic.

Ms. Enguehard argues vigorously that we failed to understand the language nuances relegating the term "debate" in French to mean a discussion of many view points, including neutrals.  Sure.  And she had several weeks to inquire as to whether this was a potential language faux pas on our part (or hers).  She did not.

So, unable to reach an agreement, we’ve dismissed her (at this writing 2350 CET, Thursday) from the Debate, primarily at her insistence of modifying how we run the debate to accommodate her neutrality (you really cannot have a meaningful debate with “neutral” parties.)  The TrustTheVote Project Chief Technology Officer, John Sebes has agreed to stand in her place, although John, in fact, is trying to remain neutral himself on this controversial subject (he is against using the Internet for at least remote – home based – voting in public elections, but open to future possibilities of kiosk-based solutions provided certain issues in the client-server model can be addressed).

So we move forward with the Panelists as introduced above, and now in a move that I am taking on my own, and without advance notice to others, but to clear the air, below you will find a detail of the topics and the questions we will address in tomorrow’s debate, T-9 hours from this writing.

Before the debate begins, Dr. Andrew Appel of Princeton University will present this talk and slides.  We asked Dr. Appel, not (I repeat, not) because of his personal views, but because in looking at various knowledgeable individuals who could present a brief overview of the issues, we found Andrew’s presentation to be simple, straight forward, fair and balanced.  This has been a point of contention from the attack dogs for those in favor of iVoting, contending that we’re setting the debate up with a taint and favoritism towards the opponents by engaging Dr. Appel.  For the final time: nonsense.

Panelist’s Rules of Engagement

  1. I will address a question to either side, and a specific individual and they shall have a 2-minute answer.
  2. The opposing side shall have a 1-minute response.
  3. The original respondent may have an optional 30-second rebuttal at my discretion.
  4. We recognize that reducing this to an hour or so of “sound bites” would be a disservice to the important topic, so there are some situations, where I may engage a respondent or rebuttal in a 1-minute follow-up.  But in order to offer the audience a treatment – potentially not as comprehensive as we would like – on each topic below, “follow-up” opportunities will be allowed in limited circumstances, again at my discretion.
  5. I will do my best to rotate through each Panelist with questions; the fun part of this, any Panelist on either side may be asked to respond to any one of these questions.
  6. It is not our intention to overly control the discussion but it would be a failure to allow the discussion to dissolve into a disorderly argument, so I will respectfully as possible require adherence to this process.  And here is the enforcement clause: if a Panelist fails to yield when time is called more than once during the Debate, I will refrain from any further questions directed to that Panelist. And I do not wish to have that happen, so I look forward to everyone’s cooperation.
  7. The goal is to have an enjoyable, lively, yet informative debate.  Intellectually honest professionals can agree to disagree, and on this topic reasonable minds can and do differ.  So, remember, this is intended to be a “fun” showcase part of the Summit.
  8. Finally, in closing I will ask for a 5-minute closing statement from each side of the debate.

Debate Topics and Questions

A. eMail as a Comparator You, Panelists, are in consensus that eMail is not an appropriate way to return vote data (for example, sending an image attachment or a PDF of a marked absentee ballot). That noted, in comparison with other home-based voting schemes, these questions:

1. What does eMail voting lack that a client-server iVoting solution provides, in the scheme of voting from a home-based or remotely located PC using a World Wide Web interface?

2. What does eMail voting lack that ordinary vote-by-mail also lacks?

3. Do these answers help us identify some requirements for iVoting?

B. Data Center Management Both kiosk and home iVoting share the feature of a data center to host the various parts of an iVoting solution, including store vote data, etc.  That data center operation is a very important component of the entire iVoting operation, which gives rise to a series of questions we turn our attention to now.

Depending on time I may ask some or all of these questions:

1. Internet banking seems to work well, and is widely adopted without objection.  Does this provide a model for and lessons for iVoting?  Why or why not?

2. A bank must have a trust delegation model.  Which parts of that model would work for iVoting?

3. Are there applicable models for data center transaction audits in the banking world that provide an appropriate model for iVoting?

4. What technological expertise is required to assess the continuing reliability/trustworthiness of an iVoting solution?   Is this level of expertise accessible to the public officials who select such systems and/or who manage such systems?

5. How can election officials assess the "total cost of ownership" of an iVoting solution, beyond software license fees?  How does this compare with alternative solutions such as vote-by-mail?

6. If any of the proponents are proposing to use iVoting only for UOCAVA settings, what is the rationale for restricting the application of iVoting to this context?

C. Home vs. Kiosk iVoting Some experts draw a distinction between the use of voting kiosks or polling places with iVoting based ballot casting devices, and the use of home or office-based or otherwise remotely located computing devices to access such a ballot casting service.  Let’s ignore that particular distinction.  One thing we can stipulate is that Kiosk-based iVoting has different costs and logistics than home or remote iVoting solutions.  Let's not explore those issues.  I will ask each of the Proponents to state simply whether they’re proposing home-only, kiosk-only, or both models for iVoting systems.  Then we’ll address these questions:

1.  What are the comparative risks and advantages of both models?

2. What are the costs/benefits of these differing models?

3.   How do these costs compare to those of traditional non-iVoting polling places?

4.   How do the benefits of home or remote voting compare with Kiosk or polling place models?

D. The Paper Ballot Issue Some iVoting pilots have included the generation of a ballot-like paper that is retained by election officials.  Others do not.  Let us examine two points.

1.   What can these paper facsimiles best be used for; for example, should they be construed as ballots of record, a paper trail, a receipt, or something else?

2.   Are there chain of custody issues in the handling of these paper records that would be different for an overseas voting setting compared to a domestic voting setting?

E. Original Hand-Made Signatures Most industrialized democracies use some sort of method to authenticate the voter before they may cast a ballot.  It may be by hand written signature, voter identification card, or some other means.

1.   What methods are appropriate for iVoting systems?

2.   What is the likely leading objection to these authentication methods and how can it best be addressed?

F. Client Platform Integrity Assuming a traditional client-server model using a public packet-switched network for discussion purposes, the home/remote iVoting has a particular issue with the security risks of the remote PC being used as a voting terminal, including the integrity of the iVoting software executing on the PC, and the integrity of the vote data along the way from the voter across the network to the server.  Some of this has already been discussed, so I want to focus now on one particular aspect of integrity: data security means.  One of our Panelists mitigates these risks by using an "end-to-end" cryptographic method that allows election officials to detect large-scale client-side attacks for election fraud.  This is an interesting model, but raises these questions.

Depending on time I may ask some or all of these questions:

1.   Special end-to-end crypto protocols have been proposed in order to mitigate against the possibility against insider attacks against the servers.

1.1.        Are these methods workable, and are they practical?

1.2.        Are they ready for near term adoption and can their principles be understood sufficiently by elections officials and the public to gain wide acceptance?

2.   Is "detection" sufficient? That is, are the risks acceptable if attacks can be detected at scale?

3.   Is this acceptable-risk concept different depending on whether iVoting is for UOCAVA (overseas absentee) voters only, or for any and all eligible remote voters?

4.   Each Panelist can surely expound on whether client integrity issues must be resolved as a prerequisite for home/remote iVoting. But let's keep a tight focus on this for the benefit of our audiences.

4.1.        Please pick one reason why or why not client integrity issues must be first resolved, and explain it briefly.

4.2.        What about integrity of the Kiosk systems? Is it sufficient to have a degree of integrity comparable to those of voting devices in state side polling places?

Finally, I may have a bonus question, I am reserving from here, but it will be a follow-up from the above topical agenda.

OK, I leave it up to you, after reading the information above to make a call on whether I am intending to taint this debate or provide for a fair and balanced intellectually honest discussion on the issues, challenges, (and yes) opportunities in the use of the Internet in public elections.

Off to post-dinner gatherings; Sure its 23:55 CET.  It's Munich and the night is young, although we start in 9 hours. :-) GAM|out

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Setting a Technology Agenda for Overseas Voting

I have arrived in Munich, reached my hotel and actually caught a nap.  It was a sloppy slushy day here from what I can tell; about 30 degrees and some wet snow; but spring is around the corner.  On the flight over the Pole last evening (I’m a horrible plane sleeper) I worked on final preparations for our Technology Track at this year’s UOCAVA Summit (which I wrote about yesterday).  I thought I’d share some more about this aspect of the Conference.  This is another long post, but for those who cannot be in Munich at this conference, here are the details. Historically, as I see it, the Summit has been primarily a policy discourse.  While the Overseas Vote Foundation always has digital services to show off in the form of their latest Web facilities to support overseas voters, Summit has historically been focused on efforts to comply, enforce, and extend the UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act).  This year, with the passage of the MOVE Act (something I also wrote about yesterday), a new tract of topics, discussion, (and even debate) has surfaced, and it is of a technical nature.  This is in principle why the Overseas Vote Foundation approached the OSDV Foundation about sponsorship and co-hosting.  We thought about it, and agreed to both.

Then came the task of actually putting together an agenda, topics, speakers, and content.

I owe a tremendous “thank you” to all of the Panelists we have engaged, and to Dr. Andrew Appel of Princeton, our Chief Technology Officer John Sebes, and our Director of Communications, Matthew Douglass, for their work in helping produce this aspect of Summit.  Our Director of Outreach Strategy, Sarah Nelson should be included in here for her logistics and advance work in Munich.  And of course, I would be remiss if I left out the fearless and brilliant leader of the OVF, Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, for all of her coordination, production work, and leadership.

A quick note about Andrew:  I’ve had the privilege of working with Professor Appel on two conferences now.  Many are aware that one of our tract productions is going to be a debate on so-called “Internet Voting” and that Dr. Appel will give the opening background talk.  I intend to post another article tomorrow on the Debate itself.  But I want to point out something now that certain activists may not want to hear (let alone believe).  While Andrew’s view of Internet-based voting systems is well known, there can be no doubt of his interest in a fair and balanced discourse.  Regardless of his personal views, I have witnessed Andrew go to great lengths to examine all sides and build arguments for and against public packet switched networks for public ballot transactions.  So, although several are challenging his giving the opening address, which in their view taints the effort to produce a fair and balanced event, I can state for a fact, that nothing is further from the truth.

Meanwhile, back to the other Track events.

We settled on 2 different Panels to advance the discussion of technology in support of the efforts of overseas voters to participate in stateside elections:

  1. MOVE Act Compliance Pilot Programs – titled: “Technology Pilots: Pros and Cons, Blessing or Curse
  2. Technology Futures – titled: “2010 UOCAVA Technology Futures

Here are the descriptions of each and the Panelists:

Technology Pilots: Pros and Cons, Blessing or Curse

The title is the work of the Conference Sponsor, OVF, but we agree that the phrase, “Technology Pilots” trips wildly different switches in the minds of various UOCAVA stakeholders.  The MOVE Act requires the implementation of pilots to test new methods for U.S. service member voting.  For some, it seems like a logical step forward, a natural evolution of a concept; for others pilots are a step onto a slippery slope and best to avoid at all costs. This panel will discuss why these opposing views co-exist, and must continue to do so.

  • Paul Docker, Head of Electoral Strategy, Ministry of Justice, United Kingdom
  • Carol Paquette, Director, Operation BRAVO Foundation
  • Paul Stenbjorn, President, Election Information Services
  • Alec Yasinsac, Professor and Dean, School of Computer and Information Sciences University of South Alabama

Moderator: John Sebes, Chief Technology Officer, TrustTheVote Project (OSDV Foundation)

2010 UOCAVA Technology Futures

UOCAVA is an obvious magnet for new technologies that test our abilities to innovate.  Various new technologies now emerging and how they are coming into play with UOCAVA voting will be the basis of discussion.  Cloud computing, social networking, centralized database systems, open source development, and data transfer protocols: these are all aspects of technologies that can impact voting from overseas, and they are doing so.

  • Gregory Miller, Chief Development Officer, Open Source Digital Voting Foundation
  • Pat Hollarn, President, Operation BRAVO Foundation
  • Doug Chapin, Director, Election Initiatives, The Pew Center of the States
  • Lars Herrmann, Redhat
  • Paul Miller, Senior Technology and Policy Analyst, State of Washington
  • Daemmon Hughes, Technical Development Director, Bear Code
  • Tarvi Martens, Development Director at SK, Demographic Info, Computer & Network Security, Estonia

Moderator: Manuel Kripp, Competence Center for Electronic Voting

The first session is very important in light of the MOVE Act implementation mandate.  Regardless of where you come down on the passage of this UOCAVA update (as I like to refer to it), it is now federal law, and compliance is compulsory.  So, the session is intended to inform the audience of the status of, and plans for pilot programs to test various ways to actually do at least two things, and for some (particularly in the Military), a third:

  1. Digitally enable remote voter registration administration so an overseas voter can verify and update (as necessary) their voter registration information;
  2. Provide a digital means of delivering an official blank ballot for a given election jurisdiction, to a requesting voter whose permanent residence is within that jurisdiction; and for some...
  3. Examine and test pilot digital means to ease and expedite the completion and return submission of the ballot (the controversy bit flips high here).

There are, as you might imagine, a number of ways to fulfill those mandates using digital technology.  And the latter (3rd) ambition raises the most concern.  Where this almost certainly involves the Internet (or more precisely, public packet-switched networks), the activists against the use of the Internet in elections administration, let alone voting, are railing against such pilots, preferring to find another means to comply with the so-called “T-45 Days” requirement of placing an official ballot in the hands of an overseas voter, lest we begin the slide down the proverbial slippery slope.

Here’s where I go rogue for a paragraph or two (whispering)... First, I’m racking my brain here trying to imagine how we might achieve the MOVE Act mandates using a means other than the Internet.  Here’s the problem: other methods have tried and failed, which is why as many as 1 in 4 overseas voters are disenfranchised now, and why Sen. Schumer (D NY) pushed so hard for the MOVE Act in the first place.  Engaging in special alliances with logistic companies like FedEx has helped, but not resolved the cycle time issues completely.  And the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t been able to completely deliver either (there is, after all, this overseas element, which sometimes means reaching voters in the mountainous back regions of say, Pakistan.)  Sure, I suppose the U.S. could invest in new ballot delivery drones, but my guess is we’d end up accidentally papering innocent natives in a roadside drop due to a technology glitch.

Seriously though (whispering still), perhaps a reasonable way forward may be to test pilot limited uses of the Internet (or hec, perhaps even Military extensions of it) to carry non-sensitive election data, which can reach most of the farther outposts today through longer range wireless networks.  So, rather than investing ridiculous amounts of taxpayer dollars in finding non-Internet means to deliver blank ballots, one proposal floating is to figure out the best, highest integrity solution using packet-switched networks already deployed, and perhaps limit use of the Internet solely for [1] managing voter registration data, and [2] delivering blank ballots for subsequent return by means other than eMail or web-based submission (until such time as we can work out the vulnerabilities on the “return loop.”)  While few can argue the power of ballot marking devices to avoid under-voting and over-voting (among other things), there is trepidation about even that, let alone digital submission of the completed ballot. As far as pilots go, it would seem like we can make some important headway on solving the challenges of overseas voter participation with the power of the Internet without having to jump from courier mule to complete Internet voting in one step.  That observed, IMHO, R&D resulting in test pilots responsibly advances the discussion.

Nevertheless, the slippery slope glistens in the dawn of this new order.  And while we'll slide around a bit on it in these panels, the real sliding sport is the iVoting Debate this Friday -- which I will say more about tomorrow.

OK, back from rogue ;-)

So, that this is where the first Panel is focused and where those presentations and conversations are likely to head in terms of Pilots.  In my remaining space (oops, I see I’ve gone way over already, sorry), let me try to quickly comment on the second panel regarding “technology futures.”

I think this will be the most enjoyable panel, even if not the liveliest (that’s reserved for the iVoting Debate).  The reason this ought to be fun is we’ll engage in a discussion of a couple of things about where technology can actually take us in a positive way (I hope).  First, there should be some discussion about where election technology reform is heading.  After all, there remain essentially two major voting systems commercial vendors in the industry, controlling some 88% of the entire nation’s voting technology deployment, with one of those two holding a ~76% white-knuckled grip market share.  And my most recent exposure to discussions amongst commercial voting vendors about the future of voting technology suggest that their idea of the future amounts to discussing the availability of spare parts (seriously).

So, I’m crossing my fingers that this panel will open up discussions about all kinds of technology impact on the processes of elections and voting – from the impact of social media, to the opportunities of open source.  I know for my 5 minute part I am going to roll out the TTV open source election and voting systems framework architecture and run through the 4-5 significant innovations the TrustTheVote Project is bringing to the future of voting systems in a digital democracy.  Each speaker will take 5 minutes to rush their topic, then our moderator Manuel will open it wide up for hopefully an engaging discussion with our audience.

OK, I’ve gone way over my limit here; thanks for reading all about this week’s UOCAVA Summit Technology Tract in Munich.

Now, time to find some veal brätwurst und ausgezeichnet bier.  There is a special meaning for my presence here; my late parents are both from this wonderful country, their families ended up in Munchen, from which both were forced out in 1938.   Gute nacht und auf wiedersehen!

GAM|out

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New York Times on Voting Technology

A couple of days the New York Times Editorial page commented on Voting Technology in an editorial titled "The Voters Will Pay". Some bits that interested me (but you should read the whole thing):

"[snip...] If the deal is allowed to go through, it would make it harder for jurisdictions to bargain effectively on price and quality.[snip...]" (from The New York Times)

One of the reasons that we are enthusiastic about the Open Source approach is that, oddly enough, we believe (as many do) that this approach will lead to better quality and even better price (i.e. no price. We give our stuff away.) How is this possible?

We don't possess a secret super power allowing us to develop software for free.

However by approaching the problem as a non-profit foundation, by definition, we are relying on the goodwill of others (foundations and philanthropists) to raise funds to pay for professional software and technology staff. And of course, again by definition, we will not be making a profit, which also saves money.

Secondly, we have already found, even in these cynical times that top notch talent is inspired to apply their abilities to work that has a positive impact on our society and world, and work for a lot less than they'd make in the private sector (analogous I suppose to many people who work in other public sector positions.

Read the whole editorial here.

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OSDV Foundation Called to Testify on State of CA Voting Systems Future

Gregory Miller of the OSDV Foundation will be provide testimony during State of California Hearings on Future of Elections Systems next Monday, February 8th. CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen requested elections and voting systems experts from around the country to attend and testify, and answer questions about the current election administration landscape and how California can best prepare for the future.  The Secretary noted in a prepared statement:

Demands for increased transparency and services, shrinking government budgets, and technological advances that outpace elections laws and regulations have combined to challenge what many thought were ‘permanent’ solutions developed as part of the 2002 Help America Vote ActMany in California and across the nation are ready to move in a new direction.  The question is, what should Californians seek in the next generation of voting equipment and how can new products truly serve the interests of voters?

Secretary Bowen will preside over the Hearing, joined by county elections executives from Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz and Madera counties. In addition to the testimony from OSDV, wide-ranging testimony will come from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Pew Center on States, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, representatives from every major voting system manufacturer with contracts in California, and more.  The complete agenda is available here.

California has a strong record of thoughtful analysis of its voting systems. In 2007, Secretary Bowen led a top-to-bottom review of certified voting systems. Bowen asserted from the outset that the review:

Ensure that California’s voters cast their ballots on voting systems that are secure, accurate, reliable, and accessible.

And following the top-to-bottom review, on August 3, 2007, Secretary Bowen strengthened the security requirements and use conditions for certain systems.

So its no surprise to us that continuing developments in the elections technology industry as well as legislative initiatives are leading the Secretary to conduct this Hearing next Monday.  Part of that change is best evidenced by the MOVE Act.

We'll discuss more about the MOVE Act in other posts, but in summary, President Obama signed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in October 2009.  The most immediate impact of the law from the State perspective has to do with the provision that establishes a 45-day deadline for States to provide ballots to voters. Because Primary results need to be certified and General ballots need to be constructed and conveyed, additional time (beyond 45 days) is required to meet the new federal guideline.  And the largest impact on elections technology, processes, and practices is two principle provisions of the Act that mandate States shall provide:

  1. A digital means by which overseas voters can verify and manage their voter registration status; and
  2. A digital means by which an overseas voter can receive a digital, download ready, blank ballot (think PDF).

Success in implementing these mandates will reduce lost participation of overseas voters, which studies have shown result in approximately 1 out of every 4 overseas  ballots not being counted because of failure to arrive in time.

But if it were only that easy.  You see, in 2008, many States changed their Primary dates by several months to allow their voters to more heavily impact the presidential nomination process.  And additional moves are likely in 2010 because 11 states and the District of Columbia have Primaries so close to the General Election that ballots may not be produced in time to comply with the new MOVE Act law.  California has a very large overseas and military voting contingent, and you can imagine MOVE Act mandates are on the minds of CA elections officials, State legislatures, and the Secretary.

Of equal interest, Los Angeles County, the largest election jurisdiction in the United States, is engaged in a process known as the Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP) to determine the design of their next generation voting system.

Serving over 4 million registered voters, the County is examining the ways in which it can modernize its voting systems.  Dean Logan, the County Registrar and Ken Bennett, the County IT Director are working to analyze the ways in which technology can ensure their ability to meet operational mandates and better serve their voters.  With the VSAP underway (a project the OSDV Foundation is participating in), our "take" is that more (and possibly dramatic) change in elections technology in the great State of California is all but assured.

Stepping back, the current voting technology used in Los Angeles County and elsewhere is provided by private companies; they offer election jurisdictions proprietary technology solutions that need to be certified by the CA Secretary of State. While there is oversight at a State level, and mandates at the Federal level, each jurisdiction must purchase their own technology and do the very important business of conducting elections. Consequently, jurisdictions find themselves in multi-year contracts for technology.

This gives a jurisdiction continuity, but impairs their ability to innovate and collaborate, learning from neighboring or similar jurisdictions elsewhere in the state or country.

With L.A. County -- the largest elections jurisdiction in the nation -- considering the future of elections technology for their voters, the mandates of the MOVE Act implementation bearing down, and the complexities of the largest States' processes and regulations for selection and implementation of elections technology, the Secretary's Hearing next week is of a near essential nature.

So we are honored to be asked to testify next week.  And the timing is good.  As a means to developing a holistic architecture for next generation systems, one of the imperative elements is a common data format for the exchange of election event data.  This is one particular element we're working on right now.  In fact, we will shortly be collaborating with a group of States and jurisdictions on the testing of several framework components including: election event management, ballot preparation, and automated generation of printable ballots (watch for this announcement shortly).

Here’s the cool thing: It turns out that all of this work currently underway in the TrustTheVote Project which is leveraging this common data format and some other innovations, provides a ready-made open source freely available solution to implement the mandates of the MOVE Act.

So, we hope that this work will prove to be relevant and purposeful for the Hearings.  Our opportunity to testify is timely because we believe our work is in line with the agenda driving the hearing: What do next generation systems look like and how do states like CA comply with Federal mandates? How can we develop quickly to adapt to changing needs on the ground from elections officials, voters, and federal requirements?

We're excited to participate; go Greg!

For interested viewers, there will be a webcast available here.  And the event will likely be carried live on Cal Channel Television.

Stay tuned; more to come. -Matt

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Why Publish Ballots?

I'd like to thank Eric Rescorla for making an excellent and pithy point about the purpose of publishing images of  marked ballots.  But first, thanks (again) to Mitch Trachtenberg of the Humboldt Transparency Project for publishing a hand-picked set of ballot images that provide a great example of the difficult borderline cases of interpreting hard-marked paper ballots -- whether it is a human or some software doing the interpreting.  Ballot publication can show how much of a given election result actually depended on these borderline cases. Eric made a broader point that is so widely misunderstood that it truly merits repetition:

The main point of publishing ballot images  is to allow people to independently verify that the images published correspond to the votes recorded for those images.

True, but verification requires more than ballot images - it requires that each image is published along with information about how that ballot's marks were interpreted as votes that were counted.  I cringe every time somebody talks about ballot image publication as though it were just posting some JPEGs on a Web site.

By viewing the images plus these "cast ballot records", members of the public can look at a ballot image and decide for themselves whether they think its votes were interpreted correctly -- and if not, whether the putative mistakes are enough to effect the outcome of a race.

And just as important, consider the cases where an election official is involved in deciding an ambiguous mark - particularly at large scales such as with vote-by-mail.  As a result, broader transparency requires that the election process maintain audit records of these decisions, in case they need to be re-visited.

So, sure, the publication of images alone is helpful for transparency, but Mitch's examples show how much interpretive leeway there can be. And in close elections, that leeway can influence whether a recount is required, or even influence an election result. So it's just as important to maintain and publish cast-ballot records, audit records, and the like.

But that is a lot of work!

And often is not feasible with current voting systems and election management technology. It's actually quite a job to maintain and publish all this information in a form useful to members of the public - a job that we're working on at the TrustTheVote Project of course, by building all of our election technology system components with the "Save Everything" principle.

-- EJS

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Open Source e-Voting article in Network World

I came across an interesting article in Network World, "Open Source: How e-voting should be done", by Paul Venezia of InfoWorld. It's a good survey and review of some of the arguments in favor of Open Source in the management, conducting and tallying of elections, so I recommend reading it. A couple of thoughts. Paul says:

"Another problem of current e-voting systems is that many still in operation provide no paper trail. Americans can't fill up their cars or access their bank accounts from an ATM without being prompted to print a receipt, but in many voting precincts, we can vote with nothing tangible to show for it."  (from Open Source: How e-voting should be done)

I have to say that I agree with this (at least for the next few decades.) It seems to me that with all the questions - some more legitimate than others - about election results, we need to preserve a brain-dead-simple way of doing a recount that everyone can understand, and it would seem that a piece of paper that can be re-counted is the way to go. Caveat: I know it's not really brain-dead-simple, and that conducting a recount of paper ballots can be extraordinarily complicated with lots of possible gaps and mistakes.

Paul further says:

"But the key to securing e-voting resides in making its systems open source. [...] It's time for us to make good on the promise of open elections and open our e-voting systems as well -- no black boxes, no intellectual property protections, no obfuscation, and certainly no backdoors. Doing so would require a federal mandate, one that would eliminate the use of closed source devices" (from Open Source: How e-voting should be done)

I (obviously) believe in the open source philosophy, and think it's an important way that we can improve confidence in our elections. But I don't think it's a panacea, or "the key" in any shape or form.

In fact I don't think in terms of 'the key.' There's a lot of room for improvement for sure. But there's also quite a lot more to even the technology side of elections than the software inside an optical scanning device.No doubt it's a complex, decentralized (both technically and in the way it is managed, operated and deployed.)

Check out the article and let us know your reactions too.

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OSDV Responds to FCC Inquiry about Internet Voting

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asked for public comment on the use of the Internet for election-related activities (among other digital democracy related matters).  They recently published the responses, including those from OSDV.  I'll let Greg highlight the particularly public-policy-related questions and answers, but I wanted to highlight some aspects of our response that differ from some others.

  • Like many respondents, we commented on that slippery phrase "Internet voting", but focused on a few of the specific issues that apply  particularly in the context of overseas and military voters.
  • Also in that context, we addressed some uses of the Internet that could be very beneficial, but are not voting per se.
  • We contrasted other countries' experiences with elections and the Internet with the rather different conditions here in the U.S.

For more information, of course, I suggest reading our response. In addition, for those particularly interested in Internet voting and security, you can get additional perspectives from the responses of TrustTheVote advisors Candice Hoke and David Jefferson, which are very nicely summarized on the Verified Voting blog.

-- EJS

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Check out our wiki

Yes, it's still a work in progress (I guess they remain that, forever.) But recently we've done quite a bit of neatening (gardening as they say among some wiki-geeks.) up of the TrustTheVote.org wiki. As we work, we will continue to add most of all we know and think as of a certain point in time. Between the TrustTheVote wiki and this blog, you should be able to have a pretty clear x-ray into the TrustTheVote project.

Wiki's, unlike blogs, don't change on a daily basis, and act more like a web site or document repository than as a newsletter or periodic update. Our goal is that as time goes by, you will be able to answer questions you have about TrustTheVote's approach and projects, status reports, images and documents, and so on.

So let me give you a tour of some items of interest in the wiki. On the front page, there are a few landmarks to help you find stuff. In the top right corner, you see a list of the major TrustTheVote projects. You see links such as "Digital Voting Records System" and "Data Layer" among others. Each of these links goes to a project page, which you will see is in various stages of completeness.

Further on the front page, on the right, below the projects, is a "Recently Changed" list, which shows you exactly what pages have been most recently edited, and actually when that was, so you can see the parts of the wiki that we are working on.

In the left margin, you see an area called "Navigations". Note the TTV Projects link which takes you to a one page table of all the projects with very brief summaries of what they are, so it's a good place to get an overview.

Also in that same section is a "Stakeholder Community" link where we are putting information that we are exchanging with out stakeholder community, "a group of election officials, election technologists, election process experts, and advocates, who have graciously offered their advice to the OSDV Foundation's TrustTheVote Project."

I hope you will find this wiki a useful resource. You may notice that at this moment it is not editable; this is because we need to figure out a way to allow people to contribute to it without at the same time opening it up to the usual vandals and spammers that love to use open wikis as a launch pad for link farms and other non-sense.

Enjoy.

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Eh Tu Coding Standards?

As you may know, our approach to developing software is kind of agile development meets high assurance. What the heck? We are now engaged in prototyping and modeling, so the slider is to the agile development side. But the high assurance part will come. And when it comes, and when we want our code to be certified, then clearly coding standards (and many other matters) will come to the fore. But for the moment, as you take a look at the code that we have already put out there on github, and other code that it is on it's way, remember where we are in evolution. For now, we feel that coding standards are kind of a moving target and so we are not going to be draconian in our oversight of that. In fact I have to say that harder than following a particular set of coding standards is ensuring that software we design and write is as simple, clear and well structured as possible, and then some. Personally I place a higher value on that than on whether we use 2 or 4 space tab settings ;) The other point worth noting is that different parts of the overall election technology suite are subject to different degrees of review and certification. For example, it stands to reason that the code driving the design of ballots is different than the code tabulating the vote.

So as software engineers who care about their work and especially where we are working on something as important as elections technology you can count on us writing code that we can be proud of. You won't find us crying crocodile tears when some of our code comes into the public domain and is scrutinized - after all, that's what we've been all about from the very start.

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"Adoptability" and Sustainability of the TrustTheVote Project

Ok, so rumors of my being radio silent for months due to my feeble attempts to restore my software development skills are greatly unbounded.  I've been crazy busy with outreach to States' elections officials, as our design and specification work is driven by their domain expertise.   In the midst of that, I received a question/comment from a Gartner analyst, Brian Prentice, who I consider to be very sharp on a number of topics around emerging technologies, trends, and open source.  If you have a chance you should definitely check out his blog. In any event, I thought it would be interesting to simply post my reply to his inquiry here, to potentially shed some light on our strategy and mindset here at the OSDV Foundation and the TrustTheVote Project in particular.  So with that, here it is...

Greetings Brian I am replying directly (as Marie requested).   Please let me train on your specific question with regard to the TrustTheVote Project and States' participation to ensure viability, "adoptability" (sic) and of course, sustainability.   Quickly, if I may, I owe you a background brief in ~150 words...

I can understand if you're wondering "Who are these guys, and if they matter, why haven't I heard of them?" Fair enough.  Backed by the likes of Mitch Kapor, a team of notable Silicon Valley technologists have been (intentionally) quieting plowing away on a hard problem: restoring trust in America's voting technology by producing transparent, high assurance systems... and helping it to be freely deployed as "public infrastructure."  To avoid the trouble with announcing vaporware (and because we have no commercial agenda wrapped up in a competitive first-mover advantage stunt), we've remained under the PR radar (except for those avid OSS folks who have been following our activities on the Net.)  Now we're being pressed by many to go public given the level of work we're accomplishing and the momentum we're achieving.  So, here we are.  Now, to your question:

To what extent has the TrustTheVote Project displaced bespoke state-specific VR efforts. The success of any open source project is directly related to the vitality of the community that supports it.  As I would see it, TTV needs states to move away from their own software solutions and instead to contributing to TTV project.

1. All states who register voters are under a HAVA mandate to provide for a centralized voter registration database, and to varying extents are either self-vending or looking to outside (expensive) proprietary solutions.

2. Early on in our nearly 3 year old project we recognized that we did not want to build the ideal "Smithsonian solution" (i.e., an elegant solution that no one adopted, but made a perfect example of how it could've and should've been done).  Therefore, we realized that amongst all stakeholders in America's elections systems, the States' Elections Directors and local elections jurisdictions officials are the front lines and arguably have the most at stake -- they succeed or fail by their decisions on what technology to choose and deploy to manage elections.   So, we created a stakeholder community we affectionately call the "Design Congress," comprised of States' elections directors.   Ideally, at full implementation, we will have all 50 states and 5 territories represented.   Currently, 18 states have expressed interest at some level, and about 12-15 are committed, on board, and advising us.  In many cases, we even have Secretaries of States' themselves involved.

3. The TTV Project's voter registration system is part of a larger elections management system we're designing and building -- under the advice and counsel of those very States' elections directors and other domain experts who are actively "weighing in."  We use a process very similar to that of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) called the "RFC" or "Request for Comment."

4. In the case of our Voter Registration Design Specification, we were encouraged by a number of States to freely adopt specs of their own, and in fact, CA encouraged us to look closely at theirs as a basis. We did.  In other cases (such as for our work on Ballot Design Studio, Ballot Casting/Counting services, Tabulators, etc.), some States are freely contributing to our overall code base (their "IP" is generally paid for by taxpayer dollars and they necessarily cannot sell, but can give it away, so they are eager to contribute to this public digital works project.)

5. So, you are 110% correct in your observations, and the TrustTheVote Project is already fully on track with you in building a strong stakeholder community to drive the design and specifications of all parts of the voting technology ecosystem we're examining, re-thinking, designing, developing, and offering in an open source manner.

Our goal is simple: create accountable, reliable, transparent, and trustworthy elections and voting systems that are publicly owned "critical democracy infrastructure."

And our work is gaining the attention of folks from the U.S. DoJ, the Obama Administration's OSTP, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institute, several universities, States' Secretaries, and of course, folks like Rock The Vote, and the Overseas Vote Foundation.

I (and our CTO or anyone here appropriate) would love an opportunity to brief you further; not because we have anything to promote or sell in the commercial sense, but because a growing group of some of the best in technology and public policy sectors are working together in a purely philanthropic manner, to produce something we think is vitally important to our democracy.

Cheers Gregory Miller, JD Chief Foundation Development Officer Open Source Digital Voting Foundation

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