The New York Times has it right on electronic voting. It’s not the editorial page, or even an op-ed. But at least the Times Magazine’s “Idea Lab” section plugs one of the two neglected requirements for genuinely trustworthy electronic voting systems: open source software. (The other is extensive exit polling, and the third requirement — that gets all the press — is a voter-verifiable paper trail.)
First off, the government should ditch the private-sector software makers. Then it should hire a crack team of programmers to write new code. Then — and this is the crucial part — it should put the source code online publicly, where anyone can critique or debug it. This honors the genius of the open-source movement. If you show something to a large enough group of critics, they’ll notice (and find a way to remove) almost any possible flaw. If tens of thousands of programmers are scrutinizing the country’s voting software, it’s highly unlikely a serious bug will go uncaught. The government’s programming team would then take the recommendations, incorporate them into an improved code and put that online, too. This is how the famous programmer Linus Torvalds developed his Linux operating system, and that’s precisely why it’s so rock solid — while Microsoft’s secretly developed operating systems, Linux proponents say, crash far more often and are easier to hack. Already, Australians have used the open-source strategy to build voting software for a state election, and it ran like a well-oiled Chevy. A group of civic-minded programmers known as the Open Voting Consortium has written its own open-source code.
Ditch the private sector, indeed. The mechanism by which I vote is not anybody’s fucking trade secret. Make a profit somewhere else, like torturing muslims. But leave me my vote. It’s pretty much just ceremonial at this point, but, please.