Christine Pelosi discusses open source voting systems
with Open Voting Consortium founder Alan Dechert
during a fundraiser last week in San Francisco.
Photos by Luke Thomas
By Luke Thomas
October 7, 2009
The famous quote, “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes,” has been attributed to the infamous soviet-era dictator, Joseph Stalin, a premise Christine Pelosi, daughter of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, agrees with.
“Everywhere I go, no matter what else people have to say, they ultimately ask one question: ‘Why should we work our hearts out if the fix is already in?’” Pelosi said during a keynote speech at a fundraiser last week held to benefit Open Voting Consortium (OVC). “When we look at the elections and look at how close everything is, you know that there’s something happening in that machine that we need to know about.”
Pelosi was, of course, referring to paperless proprietary electronic voting systems whose inaccessible software renders them unreliable and vulnerable to electoral manipulation. By contrast, an election conducted solely by paper ballot, though desirable, is resource intensive, subject to human error and is time consuming.
OVC founder and CEO Alan Dechert believes OVC’s solution, a non-tabulating open source system that generates an encoded paper ballot using inexpensive off-the-shelf computer components, provides the advantages of automated electronic voting systems without the costs and trust concerns associated with proprietary voting systems.
A former computer programmer for Sacramento County, Dechert said the idea to develop an open source voting system occurred to him when the State of California in 2001 began discussing using proprietary paperless touch screen electronic voting systems. “That was the idea that was floating around in the State legislature at the time, and I, like a lot of computer geeks I talked to, thought that was a crazy idea.”
“We want a paper ballot that’s unambiguous,” Dechert said during a demonstration of OVC’s system.Â The free open source software, which runs from a read-only CD, cycled through a pre-programmed language-selected menu of ballot choices. Upon ballot selection completion, a paper ballot containing Dechert’s selections in plain text as well as matrix code, was printed, code that can be scanned and tabulated by a code reader.
Dechert has been advocating for open source systems since the questionable 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.Â He said momentum is now building to replace proprietary systems with open source systems. Los Angeles County is OVC’s most promising prospect and is considering using OVC’s system by 2012, he said.
Adding to the momentum for more reliable and secure voting systems, Secretary of State Debra Bowen in 2007 conducted a top-to-bottom review of several voting systems certified for use in California which resulted in the decertification and conditional re-approval of some Diebold and Sequoia proprietary voting systems.
“Is LA ready, willing, and able to lead the way for the State?” Dechert asked. “As goes LA, so goes the State of California and, probably, the whole country.”