Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New York says e-voting software must be escrowed

In a blow to Microsoft and all electronic voting systems based on their Windows platform, the New York State Assembly recently upheld a bid that will require all voting software -- including the operating system upon which it runs -- be placed in a secured escrow so that it may be examined by experts in the event of a questionable outcome. While makers of the voting software itself (notable Diebold) were vocal about having the clause weakened or removed, Microsoft was even more argumentative, as the source code to the Windows OS is one of its most closely guarded secrets. As Bo Lipari, executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, noted in this ComputerWorld article,
"concerned citizens created a groundswell of support in the legislature to ensure the law remained untouched...

"We won for a change," he said on Friday. He estimated that about 3,000 constituent calls had been placed with the legislature about the issue. "There was a huge outpouring of support and the legislature noticed this. It was a forceful way to remind them to re-affirm their commitment to these strong laws."

New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, a Democrat from the 125th Assembly District, echoed that sentiment. "The voting machine vendors have known for two years what our laws said," Lifton said Thursday. "Now they're saying that those parts of their systems using Microsoft software have to be proprietary? It's just wrong. We're holding firm on our current state law which calls for open source code.
"This is one extremely clear-cut example (to me, at least) of where opening up the source code is absolutely vital. While we can all hem and haw about the relative security and technological merits of opened versus proprietary source code, when it comes to the politics and the law, which both seem to attract trouble and corruption, the right to review every last subroutine and function of a voting machine is something that I'd like to see more states with electronic voting initiatives require.

Given incredibly short and poor history of electronic voting technologies in the US, my gut feeling right now is that relying on the vendors of these products to be open and honest (and knowledgeable about their products) is just asking for trouble.

Tags: electronic voting, voting kiosks, e-voting

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