A design solution to unlock U.S. elections data

This article was originally published by Dubberly Design Office.

U.S. elections technology—the infrastructure on which democracy depends—is proprietary, locking up public data; unlocking that data is a design challenge on many levels.

—Hugh Dubberly

In most countries, elections and voting are managed by the federal government. In the United States, elections are overseen by the secretaries of state of each of the 50 states, but ultimate responsibility resides with local elections officials (LEOs) in each of the more than 3,000 counties in the country. That means U.S. elections are broadly decentralized and can vary widely from one location to the next. Under this system, elections technology—the critical infrastructure that supports our democracy—is also broadly decentralized and also varies widely from one location to the next. What is more, our elections technology is aging, even antiquated. Some estimates suggest almost all of it will need to be replaced in the next 10 years.

The result? U.S. elections are fraught with problems, and the experience of many voters is far from ideal—often unpleasant, sometimes downright painful. Problems range from long lines and confusing ballots to equipment failure and voter disenfranchisement. And worse, it leads to election results that many no longer trust.

The causes of this situation are many and complex, but the bottom line is that our political system and our market system have so far been incapable of solving the problem, much less innovating. We need an alternative—and that requires design.

Introducing the TrustTheVote Project and VoteStream

The mission of the TrustTheVote Project is to develop a set of elections technologies that are trustworthy, up-to-date, and complete, and to make the technologies available on an open- source basis (that is, for free) for adoption or adaptation by any election jurisdiction in the US. The TrustTheVote Project is a not-for-profit effort headquartered in Silicon Valley and staffed by social entrepreneurs and seasoned technologists who are putting local elections officials at the center of their work. LEOs from across the country are sharing their views on requirements, collaborating to define specifications, and providing their feedback on prototypes. The TrustTheVote Project is engaging LEOs using the same community process used to define and build the internet—the RFC (request for comments) process. The TrustTheVote community’s deliberations and resulting specifications are published online and available to anyone.

One of the key things LEOs have said is that citizens need to be able to trust the elections process and the technologies that support them.

Click here to learn more about TrustTheVote Project and VoteStream.