Is choice enough? AmericansElect.org and the accountability question

I voted sticker

Americans Elect is an interesting new political venture.

Americans Elect is the first-ever open nominating process. We're using the Internet to give every single voter—Democrat, Republican or independent—the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012. The people will choose the issues. The people will choose the candidates. And in a secure, online convention next June, the people will make history by putting their choice on the ballot in every state.

This sounds like a refreshing new approach to American politics. Goodness knows what we have now is only a small distance from absolutely disgusting. Maybe I'm being generous.

Their pitch is all feelgood sentiment, full of hope, optimism and promise of relief from our political angst and despair:

Becoming a delegate of Americans Elect is a serious endeavor. And we have the president of the United States himself saying our politics is dysfunctional. The genius of our country is the fact that the last self-correcting measure we have is the American people. At Americans Elect, the spirit of Americans Elect is to give the people the power to self-correct our politics.

Great marketing! Yet apparently, they have not disclosed the identities of the donors to their project, and have no intention of disclosing them. They say it's up to the donors to self-disclose. Count me among the skeptics on that issue. But I don't see this as the most vital question.

When I look at Americans Elect, I wonder: What is this but a new voting machine?

Open source voting

For years, I've viewed voting machines, as they're currently implemented, as a bane of our electoral process. These machines run proprietary software, are easily hacked, pass through many hands with little accountability, and count votes in secret, with only their corporate manufacturers knowing what happens inside. Our public elections require more transparency than that.

Open source voting is an answer to that. Program the machines using open source software that can be viewed by all. If the algorithms and software processes are known and inspected by the public, then ensuring accountability essentially comes down to machine security and public counting of the results in the database. Of course, this runs up against market leaders' business models. Once again, open source finds itself to be a disruptor, but this disruption must be driven by election officials who purchase voting machines.

For more on open source voting:

So what does this have to do with Americans Elect?

Simple:

  • How will they count the votes cast by Americans for the nominees?
  • How will they verify the identity of the Americans voting?
  • How will they ensure that the votes cast and stored in the database are not tampered with?
  • How will they assure the public that the voting counting software functions properly and as advertised to the public?
  • What security measures are they taking to protect the datacenter hosting the website?
  • How will they ensure that the website itself is not hackable?

I'm interested to see what answers Americans Elect provides to these questions, because if they're not answered, and they're successful nonetheless, they will have established a new election system that is very centralized, and thus corruptible not district by district but on the national scale. All the eggs in one basket.

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