RISKS 22.24 includes a detailed article
by Rebecca Mercuri
on the latest fun with the new voting systems in
Florida. That state, of course, was the source of (ongoing) uncertainty in
the 2000 U.S. presidential election, due, in part, to its ancient voting
equipment. Since then, the voting machines have been upgraded to new,
computer-based systems with touchscreen interfaces.
These systems are based on closed source code. There is no
external audit trail, no way of verifying that they are recording votes as
they were actually cast. Trade secret law forbids the inspection of the
code in the systems. One just has to trust the vendor that the results are
A primary election held there recently turned up a whole set of
problems, ranging from basic usability issues to outright failure.
There has been a lot of interest recently in laws requiring governments to
use free software in many or all situations. It remains unclear, to some
people anyway, that such laws are really in the best interest of
government, the governed, or the free software community. But, in the
case of voting systems, the case seems clear: no part of the system that
elects people into positions of power should be opaque. The creation of a
free, transparent, verifyable electronic voting system should not be that
hard a task for governments or the free software community. There is no
excuse for using anything else.
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