When the Army buys rifles and trucks, it wants equipment that any mechanic in the field can fix. Depending on GM to fly their own mechanics to an overseas base or the middle of a battlefield to make repairs to Army equipment, only to keep their mechanial knowledge secret from the soldiers using the equipment, would be bad policy.

But right now, that’s how most electronic voting systems work. States and counties purchase proprietary hardware and software and have no way of opening up the systems to determine whether they are recording votes properly, let alone to fix problems.

Open source to the rescue: the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation is promoting the use of open-source software in our elections. Eight states — California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and North Dakota — are participating in OSDV’s Trust the Vote Project, which is building and sharing software to support voter registration, ballot design, ballot tabulation, and auditing.

On a function as central to democracy as elections, it makes sense to use hardware and software created in a democratic spirit. Open source software allows us to improve the electoral process with technology while also creating an avenue for greater participation, accountability, and citizen ownership of the ballot box.