[E-voting] Source Code

Aengus Lawlor aengusl at eircom.net
Sun Mar 21 20:27:16 GMT 2004

Mark Dennehy <Mark.Dennehy at cs.tcd.ie> wrote:
> Ref:[Aengus, Sat, 20/03/04 @ 16:53 -0000]
>> No, it doesn't. The majority are satisfied that they don't need to
>> individually exercise their right to oversee the process. They aren't
>> being discriminated against. They aren't being excluded from the
>> process based on their lack of training or ability.
> Hmmm. So you're saying that the fact that not everyone
> *could* watch *all* stages of the process doesn't count as
> discrimination or a practical limitation?

There is no practical limitation. We don't bother providing facilities
for thousands of people, because thousands of people aren't going to
show up. If thousands of people were going to show up, we could provide
appropriate facilities.

>> And frankly, the argument that it's okay to rely on a system that is
>> not transparent to the vast majority simply because "the system
>> already discriminates against the majority".
> ...is just as valid as the argument that we shouldn't release
> the source code because it's a commercial piece of software;

You see, that's part of your problem - I haven't said  that we shouldn't
release the source code. I said that it doesn't make any difference
whether it's released or not, because it won't add to the ability of the
average voter to trust the system either way.

>> It's watched by ordinary citizens who are members of the parties that
>> the voters have elected, not by some technical elite.
> So a political elite is fine, but a technical one is not?

There you go again, setting up strawman arguments, just so that you can
knock them down. There is no "politicial elite" watching the process. In
fact the people that that phrase is usually applied to (the candidates)
often don't attend the count, and many of them don't care about the
details. I've attended numerous counts, and believe you me, I'm not part
of any political elite.

> Believe it or not, many people have an equal amount of
> difficulty in grasping the maths and nuances behind the
> PR-STV system as well.

The "maths" of PR is pretty much straight forward addition, which very
few people have much difficulty with (there's a couple of divisions as
well - 2 or 3 per constituency, usually). Lot's of people can't remember
the nuances of a PR-STV count from election to election, but that's not
the same as them having difficulty in grasping those nuances. I can't
think of a single aspect of a PR election count that can't be explained
in a couple of sentences, yet in programming, even a concept as simple
as a For loop can be challenging for newcomers.

(We've had arguments on the list about what happens under certain
circumstances in our PR-STV counts, but the discussion has been about
which rule is used, not about how to do a particular task).

>> We don't need the source code if Nedap go belly up tomorrow.
> No, we don't. We could just go buy another turnkey system.
> It's just that I don't happen to believe that spending
> *another* forty million euro is justifiable when it could be
> prevented now.

Have you ever considered running for public office, Mark? You seem to be
extremely well equipped on one level :-).

> Or are you saying that we could continue to use the Powervote
> system without the hardware designs, or source code, or any
> way to maintain the system or correct errors or update it to
> handle different elections?

First of all, PowerVote and Nedap are two different companies. And the
count software and the balloting machines are two entirely different
things. So even assuming the liquidator for a "belly up" Nedap wouldn't
sell us whatever assets we needed to do the job ourselves, the hardware
wouldn't suddenly go "poof", and we wouldn't be significantly worse off
with Nedap gone bust than we are today.

>>> So what's the problem?
>> The problem is the only argument that has been presented in favour of
>> an open source versus a (insert propaganda term of the week for non
>> open source) system with VVAT is the purely ideological argument
>> "open source good, non open source bad".
> Excuse me, but that's not true. I've already given two in
> both this email and a prior one:
> 1) The system should be something that anyone can examine
> because it directly affects everyone's lives;
> 2) If Nedap goes belly-up tomorrow, we'll need the source
> code and the hardware designs to continue maintaining and
> updating the system we've just bought.

As I said, the only arguements that you have presented can be boiled
down to the ideological argument "open source good, non open source

> The electoral process of a country should *not* be the property of a
private firm
> in another country.

We both agree on that, but if the system has VVAT, then the process
isn't the property of a private firm in anotherc country, is it?

> having access to the source code and hardware designs is not
> a triviality. It's an important point, and ignoring it is
> similar to demanding a VVAT and not demanding procedures for
> checking the VVAT that equal our current paper ballot;

I'm not ignoring it. I'm saying that it is entirely irrelevant to the
question of transparency for the average voter. Frankly, given the whole
culture of secrecy in the way this country is governed (as evidenced by
everthing that has happened with this process), the notion that having
the government own the source code, rather than some private company,
would improve transparency strikes me as quixotic, at best.


More information about the E-voting mailing list