IT supplier group fires back at e-voting critics

The president of one of the most influential IT supplier associations is accusing electronic voting system critics, many of whom...

The president of one of the most influential IT supplier associations is accusing electronic voting system critics, many of whom are IT security researchers, of using the issue of e-voting security to wage a "religious war" that pits open-source software against proprietary software.

A recent survey by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) showed that 77% of registered voters are not concerned about the security of e-voting systems, and ITAA president Harris Miller said critics who claim to be concerned about the issue are really pushing a political agenda on behalf of the open-source software community.

"It's not about voting machines. It's a religious war about open-source software versus proprietary software," Miller said.

"If you're a computer scientist and you think that open-source software is the solution to everything because you're a computer scientist and you can spot all flaws, then you hate electronic voting machines. But if you're a person who believes that proprietary software and open-source software can both be reliable, then you don't hate electronic voting machines."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, called Miller's characterisation "nonsense".

"Every technologist that I have worked with believes that even if we had open-source software, we would still need a paper [audit] trail," said Alexander. "There would be no guarantee that the software that was inspected by the public would be the same software that is running on every machine in every jurisdiction in the country."

Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), a non-profit organisation which promotes standards and criteria for open-source software, said Miller has the issue wrong.

"Most [e-voting] critics, including me, aren't focusing on open source versus closed-source at all, but rather on the lack of any decent audit trail of votes - one that can't be corrupted by software. Open source would be nice for all the real reasons but is less important than the audit trail."

Jim Adler, chief executive officer of VoteHere, a developer of secure voting technology, agreed that to date the biggest issue facing election security and accuracy has not been the security of the software used in the machines.

"The reality is that two million votes were lost in the 2000 election because of machine malfunctions or machine-user interface problems. So the long pole in the tent hasn't been security," said Adler.

However, Jeff Zaino, vice-president of elections at the American Arbitration Association in New York, the largest provider of private election administration services in the country, said paper audit trails for electronic systems are critical - not only to voter confidence but to preventing an endless number of legal challenges if the election is close.

Only two states, Florida and California, have a manual recount law - and in Florida, the law does not apply to paperless touch-screen systems.

"In principle, it's outrageous that we have secret, proprietary voting systems," said Alexander. "We have outsourced our elections to private companies and handed over the keys to the kingdom to a handful of suppliers. And all they have said since this debate started is 'Trust us.'"

Dan Verton writes for Computerworld

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