District launches open source Digital Vote by Mail pilot

In an effort to help overseas voters submit their ballots before the November 12, 2010 deadline, the District of Columbia’s Board of Elections & Ethics (BOEE) has launched a public testing period for a Digital Vote by Mail system. In what officials are calling “a first-in-the-nation use of open source technology,” the system will allow voters to submit their ballots anonymously through the mail or via Web application.

Designed with military and other qualified overseas voters in mind, the Digital Vote by Mail system began testing this morning to allow voters to print and mail their ballot – and, if the voter chooses, also digitally mark and return their ballot in time for the November general elections. BOEE is allowing interested parties to request credentials for participation in a mock election, as part of the pilot project.

According to BOEE, many overseas voters fear they do not have enough time to receive and return their absentee ballots by mail in between the September primary and November general elections. Prior to Digital Vote by Mail, the only option for these voters was to sacrifice the secrecy of their ballot by using e-mail or fax.

Individuals who want to test and comment on the technology and usability of the application can register to gain access to the application, a complete system architectural diagram, and the underlying source code. Credentials are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

According to the website, “The Board asks testers to thoroughly test the system and disclose any security, programmatic, usability or other functional or design issues they discover in the testing process. All data, hardware and software are logically and physically segregated from all other Board systems. Users will not be held liable for damage resulting from good faith efforts at testing system integrity.”

The source code repository can be found at GitHub or downloaded as a ZIP file. The testing period begins today, September 28, 2010 and will extend through October 6, officials said.