Seeing Through Sequoia's Transparent Election System

Staying Focused on the Real Solutions


Today's announcement of the Sequoia Frontier open-source E-voting system is a significant fork in the trail to election integrity, but it would be a mistake to confuse this half-way mark for our destination.

I had thought ES&S would be first to market with an all-open-source E-voting system. No doubt, they're not far behind. The dwindling number of E-voting vendors still in business are now obliged to follow suit or be expunged from the marketplace, and for that we should be glad.

Although Sequoia's press release is essentially good news, the operative reality is that between now and sometime after 2012 when the open-source voting system announced today is certified for use,  there will be another federal election  conducted with the same batch of secretly programmed black boxes that hijacked the U.S. government in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006, and skewed the 2008 primaries, and whose predecessors, more likely than not, have been manipulating elections since shortly after their introduction in 1965.

Even if it weren't so dangerous, misapplied technology would still be an unnecessary distraction from the philosophical and practical issues that are properly the core issues of electoral democracy.

It's up to the EI movement to explain to the voting public, that even though open-source code, open data schema, and human-readable data formats are undeniably improvements over the secret, closed voting software currently in use,  these features do not and can not address these fundamental civil rights principles  on which democracy depends:

1. All aspects of the electoral process (except the casting of secret ballots) should be transparently observable and accountable to the citizenry,  without the intermediation of secret actors or unobservable software processes.

2. Public elections should be a wholly public exercise, free of dependence on for-profit corporations or any technological priesthood.

Even as the E-voting industry as a whole follows Sequoia in a transition to open-source platforms, the public will remain  dependent on private contractors, costly equipment, expensive upgrades, and even more expensive maintenance and service fees in perpetuity, so long as the institution of software-mediated voting is allowed to supplant the appropriately low-tech, citizen-mediated election model based on voter-marked paper ballots hand-counted in the precincts on election night, by the citizens themselves.

The advent of open-source voting software notwithstanding, current election administration trends project more, not less, private E-vendor control over public elections to come.  All the E-voting vendors still in business are developing and deploying systems such as Sequoia's Frontier, that capture the entire electoral process end-to-end -- from voter registration, to ballot preparation, vote counting and tabulation, and reporting of results --  fused into one seamless, vertically-integrated, private product for sale. The final solution the E-vendors are industriously working toward, is a totalitarian dream of universal Internet voting.  Is it democracy or an illusion? The cryptographers assure us they will know, and we should just relax and trust them.

In the immediate present, the E-voting industry is completing the inevitable trajectory of capitalism that culminates in monopoly. Unless the 75-percent market control resulting from the ES&S / Premier merger is undone by government intervention, we're already there.

Like gullible turkeys lured into a trap that's been sprung, we voters are now caught inside a black box.
The proper response to our situation is not to ponder our accommodation to the dark, but to kick the box to pieces and break out into the light.

The path to democratic recovery does not lead through the software development cycle.
When applied to elections, the end product of that process can only be the perfection of an illusion fatal to democracy.

We ordinary citizens cannot know the results of our own elections with the certitude that democracy requires, unless we administer the elections and count the ballots ourselves in the public arena of our neighborhood precincts.

Even though a transition away from closed to open-source voting systems may significantly decrease the risk
that the succession of invisible electoral thefts that devastated the nation in this generation will be repeated into the next, let's not let this slight reduction from threat level orange distract us from achieving our ultimate goal.

We won't really be a free, self-governing people until we've kicked the money-changers and their programming minions out of the polling booth, and rebooted the time-honored democratic technology of paper ballots, counted by hand, in the clear light of the public eye.

--Dan Ashby