Remember the Diebold memo

Aphid: heh.. im grading midterms right now [for introduction to digital media]. one of the questions is about diebold; there’s a short essay section on “Why might it be desirable to have voting software be open source?”

Here’s the exact question:

Diebold Election Systems is a company that designs and sells electronic voting systems. The Diebold AccuVote-TS™ touch-screen voting terminal has recently been adopted in many U.S. states. Inside these terminals is a 50,000 line computer program that records, stores, counts, encrypts, and distributes the votes cast by citizens using the voting terminals.

On its website Diebold assures us of the integrity and accuracy of its terminals: “When a voter casts their ballot using the Diebold touch screen system, the ballot selections are immediately encrypted and stored in multiple locations within the voting station. When stored, the order of cast ballots is scrambled to further insure ballot anonymity. The image of each and every ballot cast on the voting station is captured, and can be anonymously reproduced on standard paper should a hard copy of ballots be required for recount purposes” (See Diebold’s FAQ).

Unfortunately, Diebold considers the source code for its terminals to be a trade secret. In his recent art piece “Dark Source”, artist Ben Rubin has pointed out that this might be problematic (See the Dark Source project). Why might it be considered problematic that Diebold does not reveal to the public the internal (i.e., software) workings of its touch screen terminals? What are four important characteristics of free or open source software? Give three reasons why its might be a good idea to have the votes of democratic elections recorded and counted with open source software rather than with Diebold’s software.

I’m glad that Diebold has become part of curricula around the country, it’s important and should not be swept under the rug, but it still weirds me out… I wonder if this is how veterans feel when kids are learning about their war in history class?

This artist Ben Rubin actually contacted me and Luke back in the day, under the misapprehension that we had copies of the source code which we could give to him, but he quickly lost interest in us once he learned that we only had the e-mail archive. Ah, memories…

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