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San Francisco is exploring the more transparent option alongside Los Angeles County and Travis County, Texas.
The City and County of San Francisco joined Los Angeles County and Travis County, Texas, in their pursuit of open source voting systems, where the public can review the software code for evidence of ballot tampering.
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) adopted a report titled “Study on Open Source Voting Systems” on Friday, recommending how the county can build its own in San Francisco.
Dominion Voting’s contract for machines runs its course in December 2016, and the Board of Supervisors unanimously moved to pursue an open-source solution, despite Mayor Ed Lee returning its resolution unsigned.
An open-source system could increase transparency, according to the report:
[P]olitical scientists and researchers are limited in the scope of their work since they cannot easily obtain detailed election results they may want, but are not available based on the priority nature of the current system. If the voting system is open source, the results would be public, allowing more opportunity for political research.
There is currently no complete open-source system anywhere in the United States, but the cost alone could be worth developing one. LAFCo received a price estimate from the California Association of Voting Officials of $4 million and Open Source Elections Technology of $18 million for the work and will have paid Dominion $19.7 million for its proprietary system over the previous nine years.
LAFCo’s report also addressed debate over whether open source or proprietary software is more secure:
First, open source software would not be more vulnerable than closed source software; especially considering the public nature of open source software allows more people access to monitor the source code and spot flaws or evidence of tampering. Secondly, open source does not entail that anyone could implement changes in the source code whenever they please. While the code would be available to the public for interpretation and analysis, changes to the code would not be implemented until they were approved by the CCSF and certified by the Secretary of State’s office.
The process would be time consuming, changes to the system taking several months to process, but would still be easier to adapt to evolving technology and voting laws.
Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.