CA Secretary of State Bowen comes on board with open source voting -

Immortal Life
Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death

Home > Articles > CA Secretary of State Bowen comes on board with open source voting

CA Secretary of State Bowen comes on board with open source voting

Posted: Thu, August 22, 2013 | By: Politics

By Alan Dechert

Why did it take so long? Ouch! And why did California buy into the federal certification process in the first place? My answer might be a bit longer than you were expecting, but you might find it interesting…

A voluntary voting system certification process was built into the EAC (Election Assistance Commission) with the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Our Secretary of State at the time, Kevin Shelley, decided to make federal certification a mandatory pre-condition for California state certification.

It is interesting to ponder why he would do this before anyone had any idea what that was going to entail.

I was very unhappy with this decision. Our organization, OVC (Open Voting Consortium), was developing free open source software for the voting application and now a new hurdle was placed in front of us that we could not even see. It was bound to be expensive, cumbersome, and complicated. 

I had a few conversations with the EAC in 2005. I was appalled. There was no process in place and they could give no clues when or how it would work, or how much it would cost someone seeking federal certification.

We gave public and private demonstrations of our system beginning in 2004 and I had to continually answer the question, “when will your system be certified for use?” I usually gave some optimistic sounding answer but I really had no clue. How could I know when the path to certification was so poorly defined?

The voting system certification process was so screwed up, no systems were going through certification (it is a little known fact that 11 years after the Help America Vote Act of 2002, NO VOTING SYSTEM EVER USED IN CALIFORNIA WAS EVER FEDERALLY CERTIFIED). Federal certification was estimated at $3 million.

In 2006, we supported Debra Bowen for Secretary of State, who sounded pretty sympathetic to our cause.


In January of 2009, we decided to try to introduce a new bill in the state legislature. We had sponsored bills in 2004, 2006, and 2007. Those were valuable exercises, but I did not want to go through it again unless we had the Secretary of State on board.

So, we drafted a legislative proposal to present to Secretary Bowen. Among other things, the bill was designed to pull the state out of the federal certification process.

Bowen opposed the proposal, saying she wanted to keep the state in the federal system and see the federal system improved (the entire discussion we had back then can be seen in our discussion list archives ( ... the specific post where I announce the result from Bowen is here: )


The voting system industry had experienced market failure—a situation where buyers in a market might want to buy something, but the market cannot provide it.

Almost no new voting systems were being developed, certified, and sold—anywhere in the US.

In April of 2009, there was a breakthrough: The Election Technology Council (we called them the closed voting consortium—the 4 major vendors) published a paper on open source for elections ( ).

While the paper took a serious look at open source, they mis-characterized OVC’s work. ETC postured as the real experts on open source. I was duty-bound to respond:

Within a year, two of them (Diebold and Sequoia) left the voting system business and the ETC itself went out of business.


I had been talking to LA about my concept for a new voting system since March of 2001, and we were starting to see some movement.

We stepped up our lobbying efforts and formed a Los Angeles chapter of OVC called OVCLA (see some testimony given at LA board meetings in 2009 )

So, bottom line, to make a short story long, Secretary Bowen got on board, but she needed to hear it from Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: Luke Thomas,


Leave a Comment:

Note We practice Buddhist Right Speech in our communication. All comments must be polite, friendly, and on topic.

What color is a blue sky?