National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Publicly-owned voting systems could reduce costs by 50 percent

Brent Turner

BrentT.pngMany election system experts have projected tremendous cost savings for counties moving toward publicly owned voting systems as an alternative to vendor sold systems. The open source software-commodity off-the-shelf election systems are being considered by county CAOs and CEOs nationally.

The last round of election system purchases was funded by the Help America Vote Act, which enabled $4.5 billion to be spent by jurisdictions seeking electronic voting systems. The purchases were largely made over a decade ago, and now those systems are in need of replacement.  Currently there is little money available for the necessary purchases and the counties have been concerned about the next step.

One option becoming available is the construction of publicly-owned voting systems. Under the plan headed by the non-profit California Association of Voting Officials (CAVO), counties would utilize free open source General Public License (GPL) software with low cost commercial hardware for solution.  Costs would be expected to be reduced by at least one half, resulting in tremendous savings.

The election reform community has been advocating for publicly-owned systems since 2000 and recently has embarked on an education campaign directed toward election officials nationally. CAVO recently presented at the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) in Orange County (Anaheim). for the state’s chief administrative officers (CAOs).

In California, passage of SB-360 has paved the way for certification of publicly-owned open source systems and many counties have expressed an interest in pooling resources toward having a transparent system certified. The author of the bill — former state Senator, now Secretary of State Alex Padilla — has stated he believes open source is optimal for securing vote counts. SB-360 allows the state to “opt out” of the murky federal certification process and validate its own systems. Under the “shareability” of GPL open source, all interested jurisdictions would be able to utilize community efforts toward the system.

San Francisco County recently resolved to direct their elections department to analyze the GPL–open source option and referred the matter for internal study.  Los Angeles County has been working on its own project for years, but has not yet announced whether they will be utilizing “corporate owned” vendor systems or going with the open source model. Their latest projections anticipate a commencement date as far out as 2020. 

The solution to the crisis is now available, but it is a matter of political will. There are major forces at work to preserve the status quo of counties buying high-priced, inefficient vendor models. The time is now for the counties to take charge of this environment.