Election Reform Groups Formally Oppose Public Disclosure of All Voting System Software


Black Box Voting, Voters Unite, Democracy For New Hampshire and Others - Advocating For Vendors Or Voters?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

CONTACT: Kathy Dopp, kathy.dopp @gmail.com

To quote Brad Friedman of BradBlog.com:

"If I find someone working *against* EI [election integrity], whether on purpose, or accidentally, or out of fear or anything else, I will call them on it, since such behavior impedes the process towards American EI."

FACT 1: Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software is more expensive, less secure and less reliable than publicly disclosed software and open source (free publicly disclosed) software.

FACT 2: COTS software is trade secret.

FACT 3: There is no legal means to require public disclosure of all COTS software on voting systems.

FACT 4: There is no technical means to ensure that COTS software does not contain any malicious or buggy programs that would deny voting rights or manipulate vote counts.

FACT 5: There is no practical method, given today's voting machine development methods and designs, to ensure that any voting system software actually ran on a voting machine during an election.

FACT 6: There is no infrastructure (equipment, systems, and technologists) available to verify that any voting system software actually ran on a voting machine during an election. (This infrastructure could be developed over time but could only be effective if more secure publicly disclosed voting machines were implemented with this goal in mind.)

FACT 7: Any COTS voting system software could be used to rig elections or to deny service to voters. COTS software is manufactured in China, Canada, India, and many other countries from which hacking attacks against US military and government computers have already occurred. Trusting COTS software is trusting tens of thousands of employees in thousands of companies all over America and the world.

FACT 8: The vast majority of software on current electronic voting systems (DREs, optical scanners, ballot marking devices, and central tabulating devices) is COTS software.

FACT 9: There is no need to use any COTS software on voting systems. Voting systems without COTS software could be developed and would be less costly, more secure, more reliable, and more verifiable.

FACT 10: There are no voting systems available today without COTS software, but fully publicly disclosed and open source voting systems could be developed and implemented especially if the government provided incentives or stopped spending taxpayer dollars on trade secret COTS voting systems.

Are voting system vendors or Common Cause or People for the American Way (PFAW), who pushed for paperless electronic voting in 2002, pushing for trade secret voting system software? Not publicly.

It is "Election integrity" groups and their followers who are demanding changes to proposed federal legislation which would otherwise require public disclosure of all software; in order to enable the use of trade secret COTS voting system software!

Election integrity groups who signed formal letters requesting amendments to enable the use of trade secret COTS software on voting systems, include:

Alliance for Democracy Audit AZ Black Box Voting Broward Election Reform Coalition Coalition for Voting Integrity (PA) Democracy for New Hampshire Las Vegas (NM) Peace & Justice Center Main Street Moms (theMMOB.org) Missourians for Honest Elections New Yorkers for Verified Voting (NYVV) North Jersey Impeach Group Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) Reach Out America, Nassau Co. NY Velvet Revolution Voter Action Voters Unite Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay (VIA Tampa Bay)

In their own words:

"There must be no undisclosed voting system software. However, HR
811's proposed HAVA Section 301(a)(9), as currently written, fails to exempt software that is truly Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) from public disclosure. The bill must be amended to require true COTS software, such as the Windows operating system and standard printer drivers, to be escrowed and available to officials under confidentiality, but not publicly disclosed."


"The prohibition of undisclosed software does not provide any exemption for COTS software (commercial off the shelf). No existing voting equipment meets this requirement because they all use COTS, and many use Microsoft software. Microsoft will never share its code, and this requirement would make every piece of voting equipment in use today illegal, requiring jurisdictions to replace equipment at a high cost, unfunded by HR 811."

Note: Neither of these statements recommend prohibiting the use of federal dollars on trade secret COTS voting systems; or recommend increasing the time frames to develop fully disclosed voting systems. Black Box Voting, Voters Unite, Democracy for New Hampshire, Verified Voting of New York, Voter Action, Alliance for Democracy and others recommend exempting COTS software from full disclosure or requiring legally unenforceable requirements for partial COTS software disclosure.

Let me be clear: The position of Black Box Voting, Voters Unite, Democracy for New Hampshire and these other election integrity groups is that your federal tax dollars should be used to pay for trade secret software on voting systems; and they want that codified in federal law!

What benefits do these election reform groups imagine would be obtained from trade secret voting system software? Not one of the groups who publicly endorse trade secret voting system software has made public justification of their position since they formally adopted it on February 13, 2007.

Note: Common Cause and PFAW in 2002 likewise ignored the advice of technologists and helped vendors to push for implementation of in-auditable electronic-ballot voting machines. The new election integrity groups are similarly thumbing their noses at a large group of computer scientists and technologists to push for secret, costly, less secure, less reliable, and less verifiable COTS voting system software.

Democracy for New Hampshire objects not only to current proposals requiring full software disclosure, but also objects to current proposals which mandate manual counts of paper ballots in the 2008 election! In her own words, without justification, peer review or collaboration with other election integrity activists, Nancy Tobi of Democracy for New Hampshire states:

"10. Section 328. Effective Date for Audits. Impossible effective date [2008] for implementation among states for whom no such audit function currently exists."

Why are election integrity groups insisting that taxpayers purchase voting systems with trade secret software and adopting positions against independent verification of the 2008 election?

Your guess could be as good as mine. I have worked with dozens of computer scientists and technologists to understand and explain the issue of voting system software disclosure to layman since 2003. Here is a recent article on the topic of voting system software disclosure written by with the help of numerous technologists:


What is the solution? Paperless DRE machines should be immediately replaced with optical scan paper ballot systems before the 2008 election. The 2008 election should be manually audited in sufficient amounts to ensure accurate election outcomes. After that, no further federal funds should be spent on trade secret voting systems; and all voting systems, including DREs, optical scanners, and central election management systems should be replaced with fully independently auditable, fully publicly disclosed voting systems.

--------------- END --------------


Brad Friedman's Quote

Resources which describe the complexities of verifying the integrity of software running on voting systems include these:

"Avoid Another HAVA Train Wreck: Software Disclosure Requirements are a Good Long Term Goal but Need to Be Redrafted in Current Federal Election Integrity Legislation." By Kathy Dopp and dozens of technologists and computer scientists

David Wagner, computer scientist in his testimony before the House Admin committee

Holt's HR 811, A Deceptive Boondoggle -- 10 Blunders to Fix by Bruce O'Dell

Their formal letters objecting to fully publicly disclosed software as proposed by Representatives Holt and Tubb-Jones, and Senators Clinton and Nelson:

"Thirteen Issues with the Holt Bill (HR 811)" by Nancy Tobi of Democracy for New Hampshire also takes current election reform bills to task for requiring independent manual counts of ballots in the upcoming 2008, claiming that any requirement for manual audits should be postponed until 2010.

"Essential Revisions to HR 811" by John Gideon of Voters Unite is signed by Black Box Voting, by Verified Voting of New York, by Voter Action and many other major election integrity groups.

Because I have noticed that both Voters Unite and Democracy for New Hampshire have made edits to their written statements without acknowledgement in the past, I have made copies of the April 7, 2007 versions of their public position statements here:



Kathy Dopp
kathy @uscountvotes.org
National Election Data Archive
Dedicated to Accurately Counting Elections

"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day," wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1816



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