• United States

ElectOS uses open source to restore trust in voting machines

Nov 06, 20174 mins
Internet of Things

If you weren’t sure your vote would be counted, would you still bother to vote?

Election 2016 teaser - Electronic voting security
Credit: Thinkstock

When people doubt that an election will be conducted fairly, their trust in the outcome and their leaders naturally erodes. That’s the challenge posed by electronic voting machines. Technology holds the promise of letting people vote more easily and remotely. But, they’re also prone to hacking and manipulation. How can trust be restored in voting machines and election results?

Voting demands the ultimate IoT machine (to borrow a line from BMW). The integrity of these machines with their combination of sensors, security and data analysis produce the results that impact every aspect of all our lives.


Roughly 70 percent of states in the U.S. use some form of electronic voting and counting machines. “The results go from that machine into a piece of electronics that takes it to the central counting place,” said Symantec Security Response director Kevin Haley. “That data is not encrypted and that’s vulnerable for manipulation. There are so many places in the voting process once it goes electronic that’s vulnerable.”

“We found that more than 40 states are using voting machines there that are at least 10 years” old, Brennan Center for Justice researcher Christopher Famighetti said. US voting machines are dangerously exposed and inadequately secured.

Failing voting technology infrastructure in the U.S. is a clear and present danger to democracy. 43 States must replace their obsolete systems by 2020, or renew existing contracts for another decade. There is no commercial incentive to innovate, making election integrity a gamble dependent on black-box proprietary systems with well-known vulnerabilities. This short video summarizes the dangers.

A call to duty

Greg Miller and John Sebes are co-founders of the OSET Institute. This non-profit, non-partisan organization strives to increase confidence in elections and their outcomes. Greg is a technologist and lawyer with a deep knowledge of the election process and voting machines. John is digital security technologist.  Greg and John are both first generation Americans whose parents fled Europe during World War II. “Our parents lived through a time of enormous civil chaos where the ability to cast a ballot was prohibitive,” explained Greg. “So, when the dangers of compromised voting machinery and election hacking became clear, we jumped at the chance to do something about it.”


Voting machines are built by different vendors. How can they be hardened for better protection against hacking? How can the voting results be audited when the counting happens electronically? How can different counties purchase voting machines from different vendors with a dependable operating system that’s optimized for voting?

The OSET Institute’s answer is ElectOS, an open source election operating system for public voting infrastructure. It increases integrity in elections, improves usability and lowers costs. It also rejuvenates the commercial market by lowering switching costs and removing barriers for new competition. It’s like what Linux did for enterprise computing and what Android did for consumer computing.

A voting system is considered trustworthy if it’s verifiable, accurate, secure, and transparent. Such systems produce a durable record of ballots to accurately reflect voter intent, and support audits. ElectOS meets all these requirements this to restore trust in elections.


It’s essential to get broad adoption with so many stakeholders involved including election officials, county procurement personnel, and voters. Here is how OSET does this:

  1. Offer an open source license to ElectOS. This is based on their experience at Mozilla, Netscape and Apple. OSET plans to assign over a dozen patents in prosecution to the public to help preserve public ownership of ElectOS.
  2. 200+ election officials from across the country have provided their requirements for the development of ElectOS. This creates tacit approval and ensures adoption of new public technology containing unbridled innovation free of restrictive commercial agenda.
  3. The OSET Institute is helping drive the development of U.S. and global open data and protocol standards to ensure interoperability, uniform implementation, and maximum transparency.
  4. No Act of Congress is required to make ElectOS possible. State legislatures cannot control choice of solution (only budget) and officials must procure by “least-cost-method.”

Adoption is assured because election officials need a lower cost, higher integrity, easier to use alternative.


The OSET Institute is a unique non-profit helping to strengthen the infrastructure of democracy. It works on a shoe-string budget and deserves your support. Please consider supporting their work here.

Your ability to vote in the future and ensure your vote counts might just depend on it!


Deepak Puri is an IoT expert and the cofounder of DemLabs, a SF-based non-profit hub for technology innovation in support of democracy. Formerly he held executive positions at Oracle, Netscape and VMware.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Deepak Puri and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications Inc. or its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.