E-voting company releases source code

Anne Saita, News Director

Ever since primary election ballots were cast electronically this political season, people have cried foul over results. Now an e-vote company that audits ballots has released its source code to demonstrate that every vote counts.

Bellevue, Wash.-based VoteHere Inc., on Tuesday released a source code package for its VHTi technology used to track votes cast with electronic voting machines. It's asking the public and scientific community to examine the code and provide feedback. The

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package includes reference implementation of the protocols, instructions on how to build the source, samples of VHTi's usage and documentation of its use.

It's a risky move, given the company is still securing contracts, but VoteHere founder Jim Adler hopes the public vetting will show how tamper-proof his company's e-voting technology is. Though the source code periodically will be updated, Alder plans to keep it publicly available indefinitely.

"VHTi is based on the concept of transparent, provable elections," Adler said in an e-mail interview. "Being good students of cryptography, we understand that security through obscurity is no security at all. It is important that voters have confidence that their votes are cast and counted as intended. This is achieved by an open, transparent electronic voting system."

Last year someone stole the sensitive blueprints for VHTi. But by then the company had already released detailed papers describing VHTi's cryptographic protocols, Adler said.

That breach, made public in January, received far less publicity than one in March 2003, when source code was stolen from Diebold Electronic Systems of Ohio, a major e-voting vendor. The code was broadcast on the Internet and subsequently scrutinized by computer security experts. Some claimed there were enough technological weaknesses or flaws to halt electronic voting until fixed.

But most municipalities nationwide pressed forth with electronic balloting this spring anyway, in part because of mandates to come out of paper ballot debacles in the 2000 presidential race. In November, an estimated 50 million voters are expected to use touch screens instead of levers or punch tools to elect politicians.

The download to review VHTi's code also includes feedback from Plus Five Consulting, co-founded by former RSA Security technical director Robert W. Baldwin. He hailed the release -- touted as a first for the e-voting industry -- as a step forward in transparency.

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