A Brief History and Background

Elections in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 exposed major flaws, aging technology, and distrust in our voting systems.  And over a decade later, we’ve seen no real improvements.  Its not overstating the case to suggest the integrity of our democracy remains at risk.

In 2002, the Help America Vote Act became law.

  • This gave states funding to install computerized voting devices. 

  • It was supposed to make things better.

  • It hasn’t.

Why? Because for-profit companies must put shareholder interests over the public interest, we get mediocre, proprietary technology.

We continue to see more, not fewer problems in the voting booth and elsewhere.
Lost votes. Recount difficulties.  Security concerns.

Something had to be done.  And a group of concerned technologists in the Silicon Valley decided it was time to stop writing op-ed articles about the troubles with eVoting, and actually do something about it.  Established was the (then called) Open Source Digital Voting Foundation, or what we are known as today, “Open Source Elections Technology Foundation” or simply OSET (“Oh Set”) in November 2006.  

We owe our existence to initial start-up funding from visionaries Mitch Kapor, Alecs Totic, and Matt Mullenweg. And that was followed by Chris Kelly and Dr. Michael Henry.

Who We Are

The OSET Institute is not a think-tank doing a study.  We are not about monitoring elections (although we do observe).  And we’re not about lobbying politicians for change.

That’s all important stuff.  But that’s not us.  We are change agents.

We are tax-exempt 501.c.3 non-profit non-partisan organization chartered with research, development and education on elections technology reform.  In the digital age, more access to information means all elections are close. The sheer volume of ballots makes the use of computers in elections inevitable and downright necessary.

Our flagship effort is the TrustTheVote™ Project.  The objective is to develop freely available, more verifiable, accurate, secure and transparent elections technology.

What is the TrustTheVote Project?

  • A non-profit R&D effort to bring real innovation into elections systems and technology.

  • A plan to reinvent and revitalize the commercial voting systems industry;

  • A strategy to establish America’s elections systems as “critical democracy infrastructure.”

  • An effort to increase verifiability, accuracy, security and transparency in elections systems.

How We Work

The TrustTheVote Project operates under an open source mandate.  This means the results of our work are subject to an open source license, carefully drafted for governments to safely adopt, adapt, and deploy our work, with a strong perpetual harvest provision to ensure that everyone benefits from the on-going innovations.

Our work continues in a fashion somewhat different than many open source projects because what we’re building (compared to a web browser or blogging platform) is not something anyone uses every day.  It is a mission critical set of Apps that in many cases requires strict certification for deployment and must be closely managed to ensure its code base integrity.  

To best manage what amounts to a fault tolerant set of applications in a world of largely volunteer effort requires a balance between the cathedral and the bazaar.  Similar to our big brothers and close friends at the Mozilla Foundation (from where we attribute some of our DNA), we manage this effort through a Core Team—a small group of highly experienced senior engineers and computer scientists—who in turn collaborate with volunteers.

The Core Team, in turn, takes direction from a Stakeholder Community. 
That community is comprised of:

  • State and local elections officials (largest percentage of the community)

  • Voting and elections organizations

  • Staff members of U.S. Congress and State Legislatures

  • Academic research institutes

  • Select corporate R&D contributors

  • Public software and hardware developers

We operate in a meritocracy.  We actively encourage comment and feedback through a Request For Comment (RFC) process.  Our entire body of work can be found at www.trustthevote.org with software source on GitHub. Eventually, the Foundation will manage its own software repository as well.

As part of our educational charter, we aspire to hold an annual gathering of its Stakeholders and anyone interested in election technology innovation. Stay tuned for more on that.