Aussies Do It Right: E-Voting

– It isn’t difficult for experts to define what makes a resonably safe electronic voting system. The Australians did it.

– It is just amazing that in this country we’ve accepted unsafe-voting systems which are just invitations for cheating – and there hasn’t even been an outcry. I’ve done multiple posts on this subject. To see them all, use the search box at the upper right and enter ‘voting‘.

– Many people think that the Republican Party here in the US has the inside-track with the majority of the companys (four, I believe) which manufacturer e-Voting machines. I don’t know if that’s true but it was interesting to read in this article that when Representative Rush Holt, a Democrat, introduced a bill requiring that all code in e-Voting machines be made public, the list of his 50 co-sponsors were all democrats.

While critics in the United States grow more concerned each day about the insecurity of electronic voting machines, Australians designed a system two years ago that addressed and eased most of those concerns: They chose to make the software running their system completely open to public scrutiny.

Although a private Australian company designed the system, it was based on specifications set by independent election officials, who posted the code on the Internet for all to see and evaluate. What’s more, it was accomplished from concept to product in six months. It went through a trial run in a state election in 2001.

Critics say the development process is a model for how electronic voting machines should be made in the United States.

Called eVACS, or Electronic Voting and Counting System, the system was created by a company called Software Improvements to run on Linux, an open-source operating system available on the Internet.

Election officials in the Australian Capital Territory, one of eight states and territories in the country, turned to electronic voting for the same reason the United States did — a close election in 1998 exposed errors in the state’s hand-counting system. Two candidates were separated by only three or four votes, said Phillip Green, electoral commissioner for the territory. After recounting, officials discovered that out of 80,000 ballots, they had made about 100 mistakes. They decided to investigate other voting methods.

In 1999, the Australian Capital Territory Electoral Commission put out a public call for e-vote proposals to see if an electronic option was viable. Over 15 proposals came in, but only one offered an open-source solution. Two companies proposed the plan in partnership after extensive consultation with academics at Australian National University. But one of the companies later dropped out of the project, leaving Software Improvements to build the system.

Green said that going the open-source route was an obvious choice.

“We’d been watching what had happened in America (in 2000), and we were wary of using proprietary software that no one was allowed to see,” he said. “We were very keen for the whole process to be transparent so that everyone — particularly the political parties and the candidates, but also the world at large — could be satisfied that the software was actually doing what it was meant to be doing.”


There’s also great general coverage of this important subject at Wired Magazine here:

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