People take part in early voting at San Francisco City Hall on Nov. 5, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The public deserves action regarding our insecure election systems

Our democracy is under attack.

Robert Mueller’s testimony on July 24 was excruciatingly clear. Our democracy is under attack. And Mr. Mueller has never seen anything approaching this level of danger.

Our physical election systems are rife with security flaws, and it isn’t merely the lack of paper backup, or robust auditing. The software that is used to tabulate the ballots and generate the initial vote counts is one of the weakest links in our entire election process.

Currently, this software is supplied (and controlled) by private corporations. This creates a plethora of problems. For one, the software is proprietary, so it can’t be audited by the large numbers of software security experts, from university professors to hi-tech security firms. For another, the corporations are motivated by profits, which is actually at odds with providing the most robust solution possible.

If a corporation doesn’t provide adequate security to prevent hacking from our adversaries (think, Russia and China), bad actors can insinuate themselves into the actual process of making and delivering election software.

It’s a grim state of affairs. But fortunately, there is a simple and straight-forward solution. Publicly owned “open source” election software completely removes the threats created by private corporations, proprietary secret software, and the lack of robust auditing. All of the roadblocks to having the software that runs our democracy be created democratically are political in nature, and driven by corporate interests.

The American people must demand public open source software at every opportunity and put all pressure on our county, state and federal election officials.

Congressional members including Rep. Peter Welch asked Mueller what we should be doing in this moment. Mueller’s response of enhanced agency communication was good, but swapping out the current “black box” software that is exacerbating our security dilemma is an essential part of a complete answer.

Paper ballots are better than paper trails and audits should be as robust as possible but neither are sufficient without public software systems. We must include open source software with revamped chain of custody procedures and upgraded quality assurances.

We have the technology capabilities so now let us garner the political will. To do otherwise plays into the hands of those who enjoy our confusion.

R.James Woolsey is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Brent Turner is an election reformist and Secretary of California Association of Voting Officials; Brian J. Fox is the creator of the Bash open-source software and is the lead technologist of the National Association of Voting Officials; and Richard Painter is a professor and former White House ethics lawyer.

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