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What Happened When One Texas County Tried To Build A Cheap, Open-Source Election System

stephenvelasco/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
STAR Vote was designed by election officials and academics, not tech companies. But no one stepped up to build the system Travis County wanted.

From Texas Standard.

Travis County, home to Austin, has been working to build a better voting system – one that satisfies the need to maintain security and accessibility for voters. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, the chief election official, has been a part of developing the system, called STAR Vote, which would have replaced the current Hart InterCivic eSlate system that has been in use since 2001. That system cost roughly $7 million, and has seen several security augmentations over the years.

DeBeauvoir was making considerable progress on STAR Vote until a few weeks ago, when it looked like the plan was starting to lose steam. The Austin Monitor headline read “STAR Vote collapses.” DeBeauvoir had worked with academics to develop the new system, but when it came time to seek bids to build it, DeBeauvoir says she didn’t receive any Requests for Proposal that filled the bill.

STAR Vote’s goal was to make voters more comfortable with the security and reliability of electronic voting, DeBeauvoir says. STAR Vote would have provided voters with a paper receipt of their ballot. Such a receipt is called a Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail, or VVPAT.

“The purpose of a VVPAT Is to make sure the voter knows for a fact that the choices they have entered on the electronic voting system are in fact the correct choices that really represent their decisions,” DeBeauvoir says.

Besides reassuring voters, a paper trail can help election officials perform post-election audits.

“Most people think what we’re using the paper trail for is a recount,” she says. “You can just do post-election audits because you’re double-checking the math and the statistics of an election.”

Now that STAR Vote is off the table, DeBeauvoir says the county will seek a more conventional option.

“We’re going to go back to the regular marketplace and buy just a regular voting system, but we’re going to insist on a couple of things,” DeBeauvoir says. “One of them is that we have to have a voter verified paper audit trail for both audit and recount purposes. And we want better security so that we can have better verification of the results.”

She says she would also like to be able to provide third-party verification of voting results.

DeBeauvoir says STAR Vote had at least one benefit for Travis County and other jurisdictions looking to buy voting systems. Manufacturers must now meet the security and audit standards promoted by STAR Vote.

“I’m very happy that those of us who worked on this project were able, over these past 12 years or so, to influence the standards.” she says.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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