CSAC Bulletin Article

State Funding and Open Source Systems: Little Hoover Suggests Election Changes

April 23, 2021

This week the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan group tasked with making recommendations to the Governor and Legislature on state government operations, released a new report on improving election infrastructure. The report, California Election Infrastructure: Making a Good System Better, found that the state takes many actions to secure elections, but could be more aggressive in updating voting equipment, proving election results, and innovating election systems.

The report points out that state and federal funding for election equipment is sporadic, coming only twice in the last twenty years, which “does not allow election officials to plan for maintaining, upgrading, and replacing their voting equipment on a continuous basis.” The report also urges the state to do away with the traditional manual audit of one percent of votes in each election. Instead, they advocate for the implementation of risk-limiting audits, which counties may currently conduct voluntarily, but which, again, would benefit from state funding assistance for full implementation.

Perhaps most striking are the questions the report raises about election system innovation. The Commission heard witness testimony about the disincentives for updating security, including the Secretary of State’s re-certification process and the equipment manufacturer’s profit structure. As the report notes, “some witnesses suggested California fund a digital public works project to develop publicly-owned election technology… [and] stressed the benefits of making that technology open source, in this case meaning that individuals could examine the source code and identify security flaws, but only authorized personnel could make changes to the code.” The report suggests that the kind of strategic planning evident in other policy areas could also be implemented to plan and implement some of these best practices consistently across the state.

Some Little Hoover Commission reports result in legislative bills and budget proposals, while others are never formally considered by policymakers. Counties will wait to see whether the Governor, Legislature, or Secretary of State move to implement any changes raised in this report.

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