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Sequoia Voting Systems plans to publicly release the source code for its new optical scan voting system, the company announced Tuesday — a remarkable reversal for a voting machine maker long criticized for resisting public examination of its proprietary systems.
Open Source Software is software for which the underlying programming code is available to the users so that they may read it, make changes to it, and build new versions of the software incorporating their changes. There are many types of Open Source Software, mainly differing in the licensing term under which (altered) copies of the source code may (or must be) redistributed.
In the press release announcing the public-source system, a Sequoia vice president is quoted saying that “Security through obfuscation and secrecy is not security.”
The company has long had a reputation for vigorously fighting any efforts by academics, voting activists and others to examine the source code in its proprietary systems, and even threatened to sue Princeton University computer scientists if they disclosed anything learned from a court-ordered review of its software.
Given that Sequoia is now acknowledging the value of code disclosure as something that can lead to better security rather than worse security, as it has claimed in the past, Felten said “it seems that it should follow that they would now be willing to release code for all of their other products as well.”
Appel, in a separate issue, also found a discrepancy between summary tapes printed from Sequoia touch-screen machines during New Jersey’s primary election and totals that were recorded on the machine’s memory cards. Summary tapes from machines in one district showed a phantom vote for then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama that didn’t appear in the memory card totals.
Sequoia initially blamed the problem on election officials for pushing the wrong buttons, but later claimed it uncovered a problem in its software that was creating the vote errors and announced that it had fixed the issue.
Earlier this year, in a separate case, Sequoia agreed, after a concerted battle, to hand over its source code to election officials in Washington, DC, to investigate why, during the city’s September 2008 primary election, Sequoia’s optical-scan machines added about 1,500 “phantom” votes to races on ballots cast in one precinct.
After the city demanded to look at the source code to determine the problem, Sequoia in turn demanded a $20 million bond from officials guaranteeing they wouldn’t disclose information about the system. Sequoia finally relented to provide the code without a bond, though only after the city agreed to keep the company’s trade secrets confidential.