San Francisco is finally making strides in using open source technology in voting machines, a long-stalled city project that proponents say could save tax dollars, increase security, and provide voters with more transparency in elections.
On Tuesday evening, President Shamann Walton announced to the board of directors that he was driving a pilot program to use open source voting machines in the city’s elections in November 2022. According to Walton, the law requires the Department of Elections to submit a plan for the pilot project to the Secretary of State by February next year.
“Open source voting technology would enable The City’s tech teams to work with voting software software vendors because it uses publicly available computer code,” said Walton, citing a recent Examiner study of San Francisco voting machine systems .
Correspondence The Examiner received through a public record request showed that the San Francisco Electoral Authority had made no progress in developing open source voting technology in more than a decade while relying heavily on a voting machine company that such technology poses a threat to its business interests.
“It has been a long effort to implement open source voting in San Francisco,” Walton told the Examiner in an email. “San Francisco should be an innovator when it comes to election transparency.”
Examiner’s investigation found that San Francisco election director John Arntz, in close consultation with Dominion Voting Systems, once submitted a city report on open source voting technology to the company before reading the report himself.
Dominion was the only company to bid on Arntz’s last deal, which doubled its interest rates to $ 12 million over the next six years.
The city’s desire to introduce open source voting technology dates back to 2006, according to a civil jury report examining the long delays. The report found that the system could offer long-term “cost savings, increased electoral security and public ownership of the critical infrastructure of democracy”.
Other city, state and federal leaders agree. “Open source is the ultimate in transparency and accountability for all,” said former California Secretary of State and current US Senator Alex Padilla.
But the state hasn’t yet certified an open source voting system, and the city has held back from exploring the technology, despite funding and pressures from mayors and overseers. The Secretary of State approved the San Francisco pilot program last Friday following a request from Walton in September. The elections in San Francisco in 2022 could mark the breakthrough that the city and state have been seeking for more than a decade and enable a transition to open source voting systems.
The pilot is being conducted as a joint effort between The City’s Elections Department and VotingWorks, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that previously worked with the Department of Homeland Security and Microsoft on voting technology.
Already in September Arntz had dismissed the non-profit organization at a meeting of the electoral commission during a discussion about open source voting technology with the words: “We are not planning a pilot program.”
Arntz told The Examiner earlier this month that he was not “against open source,” but his department, which has three elections in five months, “doesn’t have much time” to research new technologies.
Walton said Tuesday evening that Arntz was “already working with VotingWorks on details and a contract for the pilot project. This law will codify that process. ”The law requires Arntz’s department to submit a plan to the Secretary of State by February 8, 2022, Walton said. Arntz did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the pilot program.
Despite a lack of progress in open source voting, Arntz has led fair and safe elections in San Francisco for nearly two decades, say many electoral experts. “The electoral department does a marvelous job,” stated the grand jury’s civil report in general. “The focus of the department is clearly on the needs of the voters.”
Walton credited Election Commissioner Chris Jerdonek, a longtime advocate of open source electoral technology, for campaigning “to ensure that our elections are fair, honest and secure with open source coding”.
Jerdonek described the progress on the pilot project as “a breakthrough” in an interview with The Examiner. “It brings us one step closer to open source alternatives to proprietary vendors.” Jerdonek said progress has benefited from “The Examiner being able to shed light on open source voting talks.”