Fixing the Vote, the right way…

Dumbold Voting Machine for The Sims

For many reasons I’ve not previously blogged about politics, nor do I intend to make it a habit. But in this case I want to address a burning issue that I believe should not be partisan-in-nature, and further that I believe the evolving processes in the tech community can uniquely solve. I am of course referring to the crisis in confidence regarding the vote counting process in the United State and open-source solutions development, respectively.

Rather than rehash the issues related to the voting crisis, let me simply reference numerous articles written by others who are much more eloquent:

Clearly if the problem is not fixed and confidence is not restored in our voting process, it could cause the entire foundation of our democracy to fail. This is an incredibly important issue, and no one but a fool would argue that ensure out election process is accountable is essential.

However, given the events of the past decade,I don’t believe the public will soon trust either politicians or corporations to solve this problem. Frankly, I think that it can only be solved by the public. And by that I mean voting machines developed with the community via an open-source process on commodity standardized hardware.

Counting votes reliability and without the potential for fraud is a thorny technical issue but I believe that the tech community has probably tackled and beat far more complex challenges. I believe an open-source voting system could be designed and developed that would make it effectively impossible to tamper with the vote, and I personally think it would be great to be involved in designing the architecture for such systems.

With that, I would like to issue a challenge to the tech and business community. Let’s:

  • Take back our democracy!
  • Pull together a group of qualified people and create an open voting machine,
  • Design and develop voting software that is 100% auditable and verifyable,
  • Design an inexpensive hardware reference platform using off-the-shelf components,
  • License the hardware and software via an open-source license so they can be widely manufactured,
  • Find people to fund a foundation, if possible, to make this thing official (though let’s not make funding a requirement), and
  • Let’s put an end to voting machine tampering and help minimize voter fraud (worldwide.)

If both software and inexpensive hardware were made available to all democratic jurisdictions and municipalities that any local company could install and service and the public is made aware of these machines so as to put pressure on elected officials to adopt them, I see little reason why the machines wouldn’t be widely adopted in relatively short order. That is except to perpetuate the ability to perpetrate election fraud.

Having open voting machines would also teach a lesson to those companies such as Diebold that did not proactively ensure we could be confident in the results of our elections. Plus it would allow jurisdictions (the world over) the ability to guarantee the integrity the vote.

With that in mind I registered the following domain and I will donate it to this initiative assuming I can find other like minded people to make open voting machines a reality:

www.openvotingmachines.org

Note that www.openvotingmachines.org just redirects to this blog post at the moment.

If you find this idea compelling, even if you don’t have the time to participate, please pass it on to your friends, relatives, and/or colleagues that you think might be interested, as applicable. And if you happen to know someone who might be interested in funding a foundation to make this happen, or provide fund for such a foundation, all the better; please forward this post on to them too.

Now I don’t know if this post will gain any traction. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t but I sure hope it does because there are few other things that could be as potentially devastating as loss of confidence in our elections. Post a comment if you want to become actively part of this initiative, and let’s get the ball rolling!

P.S. I didn’t see this post until after I had conceived of mine, but it sounds like this guy had similar thoughts although he has not made any call to action. Maybe those commenting on his post could be some of the first to join this initiative? I unfortunately don’t have the time to drive this initiative as I need to focus on generating revenue or I would pursue these people, but I wanted to put this call-to-action out into cyberspace in hopes that enough people who do have the spare time will be inspired to pursue it (OTOH, if this initiative were funded by someone, maybe I could be active in driving it?)

About “One Laptop per Child”

If you’ve not heard of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) you should listen to this presentation Nicholas Negroponte gave about his $100 laptop at the February 2006 T.E.D. conference which I found over at the T.E.D. Blog.

I learned of the T.E.D. blog by reading If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters over at Garr Reynold’s blog Presentation Zen, which I learned about by reading A few more Presentation How To’s at Kathy Sierra’s blog Creating Passionate Users whose RSS feed I subscribed to at the time.

Anyway, Nicholas is the former director of the MIT Media Lab and he stepped down from running the lab to found this non-profit organization and focus the rest of his life on OLPC’s goal of ensuring that every child in developing nations has access to a laptop for educational purposes. While some people have fixated on the "$100" price tag or the "laptop" aspect of his project, Nicholas explains that they are missing the point:

"This is an education project, not a laptop project"

OLPC plans to sell laptops to education ministries of nation-states and have those ministries distribute the laptops on the basis of one per child (ages 6-18). Evidently Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand each have ordered 1 million. The OLPC website claims they are also in discussions with China, India, Egypt, and Nigeria (although this article claims India has begged out, which is a shame.) As someone who strongly believes in education’s ability to transform a society’s circumstances, I find this endeavor truly inspiring! While watching it also occurred to me just how many times the course of human history has been changed because of the dogged perseverance of a single individual. I really hope to see Nicholas achieve his goal.

Outsourcing Realities: Time to Stop Whining

I “borrowed” the title of this post from this op-ed from SDTimes by Edward Yourdon. Ed latest book OUTSOURCE : Competing in the Global Productivity Race was just released and I guess he’s writing op-eds to promote it.

I’ve planned to blog about outsourcing for a while, but haven’t gotten to it because of the immediate negative reactions many developers have whenever the word is mentioned. I knew I’d have to explain my points flawlessly or end up with lots of developers hating me! But now I don’t have to, because Yourdon’s op-ed said almost exactly what I wanted to say, and he’s got the credentials to back it up!

Like Yourdon said, we can all be mad at outsourcing and decry that US politicians should do something about it! We claim our standard of living will decline, and the US will loose its competitiveness. Horrible thing, really.

But the reality is we might be able to slow the trend, but we can’t stop it. Anything we do to slow the trend will hurt our competitiveness long term, so why not go ahead and tackle it head on? After all, wasn’t it in elementary school we learned the ostrich sticks its head in the sand to hide? And haven’t you, like me, always been amused by how the ostrich can be so stupid?

Your solution is conceptually simple. As Yourdon states, ensure your “economic value” is greater on a doller-for-dollar basis than your outsource competition (see my prior blog titled “Pricing, and the Economics of Value Creation for a somewhat related discussion I wrote as a precursor to this subject.)

Clearly it is much harder to ensure your economic value than just saying that it shall be. But if you are a developer in the USA, that is what your livelyhood is going to require.

You might as well go ahead and start figuring out how.

P.S. This subject of ensuring a developer’s economic value is one I’ve been considering a lot lately, and I have a lot of thoughts on the subject I plan to share. Expect to see me blog on the subject numerous times over the next year.