. Latest OVC Demo is Best Ever | Open Voting Consortium

Latest OVC Demo is Best Ever

Open Voting Consortium (OVC) is pleased to announce the release of its latest voting system demo software. The software is available via free download, or disks can be mailed upon request[1].

OVC describes the release as a "voting machine on a disk." The demo disk is bootable and contains all the software needed for a complete voting machine. The software does not use any files on the user's hard drive -- the hard drive may be disconnected if desired. The main requirement for the demo computer is that it have 384 megabytes of ram; most any computer made in the last five years will suffice. An attached printer is also required. All the software is free and open source.

While some work and money are required to make this into a certified system ready for use in public elections, the advantages could be significant.

  • No preprinted ballot costs
  • Low or minimal hardware costs
  • Only free open source software needed

If 5-yr old PCs can be used, it's hard to imagine a less expensive voting system.

This revolutionary product is an example of an Electronic Ballot Printer (EBP). In this case, no information about the voter or the selections made are stored on the voting machine. The only artifact is the printed paper ballot produced once the voter finishes indicating choices. The selections are printed in plain text and encoded in a barcode (duplicated on each long edge).

As demonstrated in the January 12th straw poll in San Luis Obispo County, we intend that the ballots be counted at the poll site once the ballot box is opened at the close of the polls. The data read from the barcode is to be publicly displayed so everyone can see the tallies incremented.

Some people can use help with getting the demo running. We are providing some instructions [2] for people that want to try it out on their own. What if you want to see the demo but aren't comfortable with the setting up for it? Ask someone you know to help. This is a great way to learn and to spread the word.

What is the word to be spread? Simplicity. Transparency. Accuracy. Clarity. You probably already have a good idea of what we are getting at. Nonetheless, you may want more information [3]. The OVC system is deceptively simple. There is a lot to it.

Thank you and best wishes.

Alan Dechert

[1] Download:
http://www.openvotingconsortium.org/ad/ovcdemo2.iso To have a demo disk mailed, please send $2.78 to cover shipping and handling. Use our PayPal Donate button or send to OVC, 9560 Windrose Lane, Granite Bay, CA 95746

[2] These instructions are tailored to Windows Xp users. If you use Linux or Unix, you probably don't need these instructions. If you use Windows Vista, it will work just about the same. If you have Windows 98 or earlier, you should check to see if you have at least 384 megabytes of RAM (256 won't work). If you have a Mac, it's problematic. Newer Macs with Intel processors may be able to boot Linux. If you really want to get our demo working on your Mac, get in touch with us and we will try to make that happen.

a) Download the .iso file and burn the CD (or obtain the CD from us). Use the url mentioned above to download the iso file. Save the file to your hard disk and pay attention to the folder into which you are saving the file. If you aren't sure how to burn the CD (but you have a CD burner), I recommend ISO RECORDER by Alex Feinman. It's free (of course). Go to http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/isorecorder.htm to download this program. Install iso recorder (after download, browse to file and right click on it -- install option should show up). Burn image (browse to ovcdemo2.iso and right click on it ... select "copy image to cd" ... might say something slightly different in Vista). Once done, write on the CD "OVC Demo 2-7-8"

b) Shut down the PC and ensure it's ready to run the demo. It needs to be set up to boot from CD. If you don't know how to do this, I recommend that you ask someone you know and trust. Here are some hints: when the first text appears on the sceen after you turn the computer on, you can get into the BIOS configuration screen by hitting the delete key (most older PCs work this way). Some PCs will give you an option to boot from CD if you hit a function key (sometimes F1 or F12). You also need to have a printer attached and turned on.

c) Start the PC once it's set up to boot the demo disk (need to have that inserted in the CD drive) and run the EVM application (EVM stands for Electronic Voting Machine). It may take several minutes to finish loading. You will wind up at a desktop with a couple of icons -- EVM and README. The printer should have been detected automatically, but you might need to do some manual configuration. Double click on the EVM icon to start the voting application. Follow the instructions to make your selections and print out your ballot (actually, at the end it says "cast ballot," which will be corrected to "print ballot" in future releases).

In case the printer doesn't work correctly, make sure your printer is plugged in to the computer and is powered on. Try turning off the printer and turning it back on. Go to the Administration option under the "System" pull-down menu. Then select "Printing." If there is no printer shown there, select the option to add a printer. Find your printer from the list and select it. Check the paper size (sometimes it defaults to A4 ... we want to use letter).

d) In summary, if you have trouble running the demo, ask your favorite geek and point out this article. If necessary, call or write OVC.

[3] We want to keep the software as simple as possible, and have used an idea called ballot prerendering in our demos. We now incorporate the voter interface created by Ka-Ping Yee ("Ping") of UC Berkeley. We have considered prerendering an important idea since our 2004 demos (see http://www.openvotingconsortium.org/ballot-prerendering.html

Ping says prerendering is central to his concept. In his PhD dissertation, he wrote,

"I use a technique called prerendering to reduce the critical voting-specific software by a factor of 10 to 100 while supporting similar or better accessibility and usability, compared to today’s machines. Central to this dissertation is the story of Pvote, the program I developed to realize this goal.
(see preface http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/Pubs/TechRpts/2007/EECS-2007-167.pdf )

I am still reading this 300+ page dissertation, and I consider it a very important work. We feel some connection to it for several reasons: Ping asks (see pg 191), "Do any other voting systems use prerendering? Yes, there is some precedent for using prerendered images in electronic voting machines. The Open Voting Consortium's EVM2003 project [59, 58] used a full-screen bitmap image for displaying an electronic ballot. This use of a prerendered image was also motivated by a desire for software simplicity." In the footnote on this page, he says, "According to David Mertz of the OVC, this idea was originally proposed for use in EVM2003 by Fred McLain." I'm glad to see Fred acknowledged for this idea. I created the screen image for the demo, but it was Fred's idea to use it in this way. Also, it helps that Henry Brady is on the committee reviewing the dissertation. Professor Brady was my co-author on a 2001 proposal.

The goal of OVC and the open voting movement is to create a voting system that maximizes the ability of the public to oversee it. Ballot prerending is important because of how it contributes to this goal.

It's worth pointing out a few other points about the demo:

  • The voter interface code has been vetted by UC scientists as well as others
  • Past versions of OVC demo software has been hailed by news media as the holy grail for election officials. Now election officials are getting a look at lastest version. OVC is meeting with officials and presenting the disk.
  • The media is read-only -- nothing is stored on the PC (voting machine). You can even remove the harddrive. This also makes it easy to verify what software is running on the voting machine.
  • The vote on the OVC system is on the paper -- no place else. It's a paper ballot that can be read and counted by people and/or machines.
  • The latest version of the demo also marks the advance of OVC moving to 2-d barcodes, which are much more robust and capable of storing more information
  • No two ballots can have the same barcoded data. Each machine generates a security code when the machine is first started. No one knows the code. A test ballot is printed on each machine and the ballots are written on by poll workers and include information about the date/time the machine was started, and which machine it is. It also includes a randomized ballot id so two voters cannot have the same ballot id.
  • Ballots are scanned and tabulated in public as soon as the polls are closed and the ballot box opened. If the same barcode is scanned twice, it will say "ballot already counted." If you photcopy a ballot and try to count that, it will only show up as already counted -- the copy is the same ballot
  • We demoed the public tabulation during the San Luis Obispo (SLO) County Democratic party straw poll on Jan 12. Voters were thrilled with the opportunity to publicly witness the tabulation.
  • In SLO demo, someone would read the selection on the ballot out loud and then the barcode was scanned and the vote incremented accordingly. This left no doubt about the correctness.
  • We have tabulation software for multiple contests like for a general election. In this case, a table of the selections will be highlighted when the barcode is scanned, and then the votes incremented. Witnesses will be able to see the paper ballot on an overhead projector to verify that votes are counted correctly. The tabulation software will be included on the next release of the OVC software.
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