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.

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(21) comments

wlydecker

I have a sinking feeling that if Newsom is recalled we will hear "a big lie" from the Dems that the election was "rigged." Sound familiar? The major league media, of course, won't use such terms as "without proof" or "lie." Not this time.

Tommy Tee

Do you think if Newsom is NOT recalled, will we hear "a big lie" from the Repubs that the election was "rigged?" After all, they invented the "big lie" in the first place.

wlydecker

The Repubs didn't invent the term "big lie." That would have been a circular firing squad. The media used terms such as "without proof." I doubt they will if the recall succeeds.

Tommy Tee

They didn't invent the term; rather the concept. Interesting that you doubt Repubs would call it rigged, because their idol recently weighed in.

In an interview Tuesday evening on right-wing cable news network Newsmax, former President Donald Trump said without any evidence that the California recall election targeting Governor Gavin Newsom is “probably rigged."

Tafhdyd

Mr. Canepa and Mr. Walton,

I know very little about the programming or software of computers, and I am sure many others are also in the dark about that subject. You mention open source voting systems and paper ballots, however I would like to know how the two are merged if one involves paper and the other involves computers. Another question regarding the open source software, if that is the correct term, is if it is transparent and available for all to see or modify, wouldn’t that make it easier to be hacked? The hacker would have all the system available and would not have to try and break any codes. Perhaps some of the computer whizzes will chime in and explain it to those of us that grew up with rotary phones, slide rules and typewriters with carbon paper.

Brent Turner

As good patriots we all have a duty to self educate here. The fact is the paper ballot / open source systems have already " proven up " as a security upgrade to the currently used paper ballot / corporate controlled software model. Regarding the notion that open source provides a " head start " to the hackers is a fallacy. The fact is the Department of Defense, NASA, Air Force and almost all super computers are utilizing open source as best security model. See https://dodcio.defense.gov/Open-Source-Software-FAQ/ For more expert info on point see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/opinion/open-source-software-hacker-voting.html

Tafhdyd

Mr. Turner,

Thanks, I will check it out.

Wilfred Fernandez Jr

Hello Tafhdyd,

Open Source is merely a computer term used to say software is not proprietary. Anyone can see the code and modify it. Paper ballots are a separate function and I imagine the open source software is used used to tabulate them. If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will expand or correct my explanation.

Tafhdyd

Wilfred,

Good to hear from you. That is what I have been reading on line but most of the articles were too long for the time I have at the moment. Thanks for the condensed version.

In other news have you had a chance to partake of the Toki?

Wilfred Fernandez Jr

Tafhdyd,

I haven't made the time to shop for it. My daughter and four grandchildren have moved in and my two year old granddaughter demands my full attention. Be assured I'll let you know what I think of it when I have tried it.

Terence Y

Mr. Canepa and Mr. Walton – you failed bigly to cite the stolen election of 2020. In your zeal to tout money savings (quite surprising for Democrats), you failed to cite the $31 billion lost to EDD fraud, the almost $17 million in taxpayer money Newsom wants to give to Afghan refugees, instead of to the existing homeless people, including veterans, the billions in taxpayer money wasted on non-Americans, the untold millions, if not billions, wasted on the train to nowhere, etc. However, I do agree that every little bit helps and getting rid of problematic and hackable voting machines is a start. But as in most projects, can you focus on the big issues first - the other things I’ve mentioned? Thanks in advance, although I’m sure I’ll be disappointed. BTW, in SF, what’s the deal with paying people not to shoot other people? What happens if they still do? Can law-abiding citizens get some of that do-re-mi, too?

Tafhdyd

Terence,

Once again, TRTRT. BTW, how are you doing with your bamboo fibers?

Terence Y

Another day, another Taffy Refusing To Recognize Truth comment. TRTRT indeed! Speaking of truth, how will these open-source systems handle voter integrity issues? Crosscheck voters against American passports, driver’s licenses, prisoner lists, etc.? Maybe Texas-type election integrity ID requirements and banning of some early voting is required. Oh wait, we need those regardless of how voting is performed, to ensure fair and honest elections.

Tafhdyd

Terence,

I am just curious, if you like Texas and their attempt to go back to the 19th century so much, why do you move there? BTW, how are you doing with your bamboo fibers?

Terence Y

Actually Taffy, I haven’t moved to Texas. CA could learn quite a few things from Texas, not just in voting integrity laws, but with constitutional carry, and how to keep businesses and people from fleeing the state, to name a few.

Tafhdyd

Terence,

Sorry about that. I guess my keyboard was doing some wishful thinking on it's own. It was supposed be why "don't" you move, not why "do" you move. The question still stands though. If you don't like it here with our great governor Newsom and the great citizens of our great state, why don't you move to Texas or Mississippi or Kentucky or Alabama? I am sure they would welcome you with open arms. BTW, how are you doing with your bamboo fibers?

Ray Fowler

Good morning, Messrs. Canepa and Walton...

You wrote that Senate Bill 360 passed in 2013 and "the secretary of state has yet to clarify or establish rules on just how a county can proceed." Interestingly, LA county started it's open source Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) program in 2009 and used it in last year's election. (There were problems like "paper jams" at polling places and some voters turned away in frustration without voting. No system is perfect.}

You concluded your op-ed piece with "If Mississippi can get it right, so can California." I'm scratching my head and asking... if LA county can develop an open source system then why can't your counties do the same? Did I miss something?

Brent Turner

Ray Fowler- Unfortunately the L.A. open source voting project ( VSAP ) was a boondoggle. Though the allocated money was spent, the end result was NOT an open source voting system. Many " players" became involved against the direction of the open source voting pioneers and the project was unsuccessful. Interestingly L.A. 9 and even then SOS Padilla ) proclaimed success, the science is clear the L.A. system is an open source non-starter. See Open Source Initiative and their expert summary here- https://opensource.org/node/944

Ray Fowler

Thanks, Brent

Like my buddy, Tafhdyd, I am not a tech guy. I was just curious about why the writers suggested development of open source voting systems has been stymied by the California secretary of state if LA county has been moving in that direction for over a decade. Why can't our county and SF county do the same?

Yes, you will find criticism and congratulations for LA county's VSAP program. Too bad VSAP did not work as advertised... I'll check the link.

Ray Fowler

Hah! The writers quoted Alex Padilla, before he moved to the US Senate, when he said, “Open source is the ultimate in transparency and accountability for all.” They didn't mention that Alex also said there was potential in this evolving way of tallying votes. In other words, we're not there yet.

Brent Turner

Yes, Padilla did some good work ( SB 360 ) but then was inaccurate when he described the VSAP system as open source. The only U.S. jurisdiction utilizing an actual open source voting system is in Mississippi. L.A.'s system was initiated to be open source, but corporate software interests ended up absorbing and controlling the project. The open source pioneers warned The L.A. BOS and others involved of this threat to the L.A. effort. The 300 million was spent and the public was misled.

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