Clarification of AVANTE’s position on Election and Voting System Integrity
(Rev. A June 18, 2007)
AVANTE International Technology, Inc., Princeton Junction, New Jersey 08550
In recent weeks, AVANTE found itself being cited as an unwilling participant of a national debate on voting system integrity . In this paper, we will clarify and explain the company’s positions.
AVANTE entered into the voting business in 2000. We introduced the first voter-verified paper record for electronic voting systems in March 2001. Since then, it has been a long journey with limited success.
A main objective of AVANTE participating in the voting industry, besides business profitability, was to introduce a better voting system enhancing not only integrity and accuracy, but also the transparency of the process. For example, AVANTE pioneered electronic voting systems with a voter verified paper record that provides for one-to-one verification and authentication of each electronic ballot cast with a corresponding paper record.
A key part of the criteria for transparency of the electronic voting process includes the transparency of the complete process and the availability of checks and balances in each critical step of the balloting process. One requirement is to make available for inspection all source code developed and under control of the system developer. AVANTE was always first to agree to provide source code to qualified third party reviewers along with providing it to State agencies and their designated independent evaluating parties.
The difficulty in source code escrow and disclosure is more related to the word “ALL” in State election codes and some new Federal election codes being proposed. It is made particularly more difficult when all voting systems must comply with the various accessibility requirements included in Federal election codes such as HAVA and Section 508.
The practical aspects of any complex electronic system being completely independent of any outside components is not impossible but very difficult requiring substantial time, money and resources. It’s actually counter-productive if the intent is to ensure system integrity, accuracy, and transparency. After all, the execution codes (not the source codes) are what are actually installed in the system to carry out the voting functions. ALL execution codes are placed in escrow and are protected with SHA-1 hash code that is required for all election systems. Source codes make writing the machine-execution codes faster and easier to understand but are not the functional part of the system. An experienced programmer can modify the execution code without modifying the source code.
When one is required to provide voting accessibility such as multiple languages in both displayable and voice-assisted formats anytime under the voter’s control, it becomes dramatically more difficult. If one were to provide “independent” reading back of the paper records or marked ballots, the only possibility is to use third party synthesized voices that require another few years of development time and would definitely end with inferior systems when finished. Those that have tried Microsoft’s speech engines will agree that doing it well in English is not all that easy let alone trying in other alternate languages.
When a vendor develops its system based on open source operating system such as Linux, it may be possible to provide more of the required source codes of the overall voting system. But if one dares to be true to the stated election codes, it is currently not possible to provide 100% of ALL source codes. This is not possible for DRE with or without voter-verified paper records. It is equally impossible for optical scan systems or ballot marking devices.
Of course, there may be a chance that the New York State legislature may have the same intent, as do other states, that what is really required is “ALL” of the source codes developed by the voting system providers but not “ALL” of the source codes from third parties.
On AVANTE’s willingness to serve New York State with a good voting system that meets the New York State Election Codes of Source Code Escrow
As a NJ company, we have received more business and had more success in New York State than in NJ. More than half of NY State used AVANTE ballot marking devices with outstanding success in 2006. We are grateful for the opportunities to serve. Where possible, AVANTE will jump through any barriers to provide all source codes within the company’s control.
AVANTE was the first to initiate talks with Microsoft to provide their source code. We have also worked with all other component providers to make source code available. However, even if Microsoft agrees to provide source code beyond their current approach of online inspection, all of the voting companies will be far from achieving even 50% of all source code. Vendors would have to find all compilers source codes. If Intel and AMD processors have embedded codes in their microprocessor that are not open, we will have to get them. There are a host of other embedded components mentioned by Bev Harris and Alan Dechert as well.
For the optical scan system to be a viable solution, it must couple with a “ballot marking device” solution. Some may think that the Windows CE operating system, that many optical systems use, is open source and thus enables some of the current ballot-marking devices to meet escrow requirements. But, Windows CE being open source is far from being true. Microsoft has only agreed to made part of the operating system source codes available, NOT ALL.
AVANTE has made and explained the same points to the elected officials and legislature of NY State. We made these points out of deep respect by being truthful. There is no intent to slight the State Election Codes. If any of the statements made by some staff members caused confusion, we apologize for this misunderstanding.