secret voting

Black Box Voting

Black Box Voting signifies voting on voting machines which do not disclose how they operate such as with closed source or proprietary operations. The term, as described by Dr. Arnold Urken of Stephens Institute of Technology, comes from the technical jargon use of the term black box, a device or system or object when it is viewed primarily in terms of its input and output characteristics. Dr. Urken's group at Stevens Institute was one of the first Independent Testing Authorities for voting machines.

The term was coined by David Allen, publisher, technical consultant and co-writer to author and activist Bev Harris, who popularized the term in her book with that title and runs the website. Allen's formal definition is found on page 4 of the original edition of the book: "Any voting system in which the mechanisms for recording and/or tabulating the vote are hidden from the voter, and/or the mechanism lacks a tangible record of the vote cast."

A national nonprofit elections watchdog group by the name "Black Box Voting" was founded by Bev Harris, author of the book Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century.. The author donated the book rights to the nonprofit group, and it is available online for free.

About black box voting systems

Both optical scan systems which interpret paper ballots and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems can be black box systems. The determination is whether the public is allowed to examine the source code and hardware. Though source code may be available to voting system testing authorities and state or county election officials it can still be considered "black box" if it is not available to the public. Even with some open source systems, which allow examination of the source code, access to firmware, which controls the hardware, is not available.

Even if the source code is made public, significant challenges remain in the areas of authenticating that the code running systems in the field matches the publicly released code, and it is still possible to find attack vectors for open source systems.

In the U.S. presidential election, 2004, about 80% of voting was done on optical scan and DRE voting systems using trade secret proprietary software. As of February, 2006, that figure had climbed to 95%, with 80% of all votes in America were counted by only two companies, Diebold Election Systems and Election Systems & Software (ES&S). Neither company releases their source code to the public, and thus all voting on these systems is "black box" voting. However, these figures apply to population, not number of jurisdictions. As of 2007, approximately 0.41% of all jurisdictions (0.19% of all registered voters) still counted ballots by hand. These jurisdictions each serve small populations, the overall figures, based on population, favor optical scan and DRE voting.

Legislation has been introduced in the United States Congress to ban black box voting by requiring public release of source codes, including hardware and firmware information. One such bill, entitled the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007 - HR 811, was introduced by Congressman Rush D. Holt, Jr..This bill was changed in committee, and has dropped all requirements for public disclosure of the source codes, and for the first time, codifies the concept of black box voting into federal law by requiring protection of secret voting machine codes, and taking the unprecedented step of requiring nondisclosure agreements for even the limited set of "qualified experts" allowed to look at the code.

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