Open-source e-voting gets test run

The system runs on Ubuntu Linux

Computer engineer Alan Dechert didn't like what he saw during the controversial vote tallying in Florida in 2000's presidential election.

That was when he decided that there had to be a better way for US citizens to safely and accurately cast their election ballots.

More than seven years later, Dechert is here at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, publicly displaying the open source e-voting system he helped develop that fixes some of the problems he and other critics saw in the nation's voting systems almost a decade ago.

"I watched the 2000 election and I was stunned that we didn't know how to count ballots," Dechert said.

In Florida, where paper punch-card ballots were used at the time in many counties, the nation watched in disbelief for weeks as the presidential election came down to the wire over punch cards that were analyzed individually by hand and eye by voting officials. At issue was voter intent, as officials tried to decipher who voters had selected on the ballots, which often weren't fully punched out by the machines that were supposed to mark the ballots.

It took analysis of those ballots and a US Supreme Court decision to finally decide the winner of that election almost a month after the last polling place closed.

That December, Dechert co-founded the Open Voting Consortium, he said, to try to help come up with a better way to vote in this country.

"This was conceived as a pilot project for Sacramento County [California] in December 2000," he said. The idea was to create an electronic voting system that allows voters to make their candidate selections on a screen, then clearly print their ballot out and have it scanned and tallied by reliable machines.

By creating such a system, Dechert said, then "there's no ambiguity about what the voter intended," fixing one of the most glaring problems of the old punch-card systems and poorly designed ballot layouts.

The system, which was set here at LinuxWorld for show attendees to view and vote in mock elections, runs on PCs loaded with Ubuntu Linux and the free, open source e-voting application created by the consortium.

For election officials, the system is a simple one that would allow voters to be sure of their choices before they leave the ballot casting area, Dechert said. Officials could set up and create the ballot in any elections intuitively, with a special ballot creation software tool that would add candidate names, office titles and other relevant information, without requiring major computing skills.

The application runs on standard PC architecture and requires no specialized equipment.

"They don't have to do anything special," Dechert said of local election officials who would use the system. "They don't have to know anything special."

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Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld
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