Open Source Electronic Voting Systems Slow to Catch On (Opinion)

November elections may bring test of open code e-voting.

by / April 1, 2010

Change is a funny thing. Sometimes we crave it and sometimes we fear it. But change is almost always regarded as something good, something that is long overdue. A change of pace, a change of scenery, a change for the better -- people are always looking for, and frequently guarding against, change.

But change is hard. There exists perhaps no better example of that reality than the presidency of Barack Obama. Obama, of course, won the White House on the promise of change. Yet the president has largely failed to deliver on virtually all of his pledges to shake up the system.

In his run-up to the election, Obama told voters he would, among other things: close Guantanamo Bay, ensure that congressional debate on his health-care plan would be broadcast live on C-SPAN, create 5 million jobs, help pull the nation out of recession, overhaul the nation's technology infrastructure and usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

To date, none of those things has happened. And what was once overwhelming public support for the president has begun sinking toward George W. Bush country.

It's not as if Obama made his promises with no intent to deliver. Rather, he's experiencing the troubling truth that while people may indeed desire change, actually making change happen is another matter entirely.

Our cover story this month looks at a change that has seemingly been on the horizon for years -- open code electronic voting. For more than a decade electronic voting has been both heralded as the savior of and demonized as the scapegoat for the democratic process. Hanging chads in Florida led to a nationwide demand for e-voting systems. Four years later these same systems were vilified for their proprietary code and lack of paper trail.

Now, open source advocates are teaming with tech industry giants and some electronic voting systems manufacturers to usher in a fundamental change to the way Americans cast their ballots. But it won't to be easy. There are still many reasons voters conjure to be skeptical of electronic voting. And the electronic voting systems market is populated by a small, and powerful group of manufacturers who still deploy proprietary technology to keep a competitive edge.

2010 promises to be a momentous election year, with 37 gubernatorial seats up for grabs. In all of these elections, electronic voting machines will play a (largely proprietary) part. And come Nov. 3, our vision into the future of electronic voting systems should become clearer. But like Obama, changes to electronic voting systems may come slowly, or not at all. But again like Obama, there is still reason and time to be optimistic.


Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.

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