There are few things more sacred than our democracy and how we choose to govern ourselves by voting at the ballot box.
In the United States and California, we rely on a for-profit model for election equipment security, one that is costly and lacks transparency.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. An open-source paper ballot voting system would be freely available to any California county after it’s been proven in a pilot project in a county like San Francisco or San Mateo and then certified by the secretary of state. Other counties could then use and modify the software and cut the overall cost of new voting systems nearly in half.
That’s why we sent a letter Aug. 11 to California Secretary of State Shirley Weber petitioning her office to adopt regulations governing voting system pilot programs as required under Senate Bill 360, which was passed in 2013.
That law allows counties to pilot open-source voting systems but, in the seven years since it passed, the secretary of state has yet to clarify or establish rules on just how a county can proceed.
Weber’s office has 30 days to reply to our letter and we are hoping for some good news by this weekend as the statewide recall election looms Sept. 14.
The problem with for-profit proprietary voting systems is that the companies that produce the software are not willing to make the source code available for public inspection. It’s all secret.
We know for a fact that the 2016 presidential election was fraught with foreign meddling and elections in the future will continue to be under attack until we develop voting systems that are more transparent and more secure.
We agree with the Little Hoover Commission, which recommends that the state develop and adopt an open-source elections system, which would be more transparent, save money, increase versatility for counties and aligns with a state goal to use open-source software across government. The Little Hoover Commission is a bipartisan, independent state oversight agency with a mission to investigate state operations and promote efficiency, economy and improved service.
We also know that open-source voting technology works as evidenced by counties in the great state of Mississippi. Just two weeks ago, the Warren County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of new voting machines provided by VotingWorks, a non-partisan nonprofit organization that builds open-source voting technology.
The Warren County Circuit Clerk and Election Commission recommended VotingWorks to the Board of Supervisors after a successful pilot of its software during the 2020 presidential election, according to the Vicksburg Post.
In light of national concerns about voting system security, Warren County also chose VotingWorks because it is the only system built entirely with open-source software that is publicly available for review. The county sees this as an important measure to instill voter confidence that all votes are counted privately and accurately.
It also saved Warren County a significant amount of money as ownership savings will be 50% less than the other vendors who made bids, according to the Post article published Aug. 18.
If a pilot program can work in Warren County, then it could work for any county in the United States.
That is why we await Weber’s response to our petition on rulemaking so any county in the state can pilot an open-source voting system. Without this guidance, our voting systems will continue to be controlled by private vendors, with secret software that is not transparent to the public and incredibly costlier to the taxpayer.
If we want to end election meddling and fraud, it’s time the public owned these voting systems, so we can all be ensured our elections are fair, honest and secure.
As former Secretary of State Alex Padilla, now our junior U.S. senator, once said: “Open source is the ultimate in transparency and accountability for all.”
With the urging of the Little Hoover Commission, the California Clean Money Campaign and former Secretary of State Padilla, it’s time California takes the profit out of our election voting systems.
As the presidents of the Board of Supervisors in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, we are confident that open-source voting will save taxpayers significantly and provide a level of transparency that will make our elections fair and free from fraud.
If Mississippi can get it right, so can California.
David J. Canepa is president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and Shamann Walton is president of the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors.