December 8, 2000

Internet voting project looks for new direction

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

An Internet voting project at the the free software group FreeDevelopers.net is changing directions over an argument about when to release the source code for the project's major building block, but organizers are already moving on.

Marilyn Davis, developer of the Clerk software module that FreeDevelopers.net was basing its eVote project on, has resigned as leader of the project because, she said earlier this week, "clearly this list has turned into a lynch mob, unhappy that they were not able to make me release the code" despite an agreement from FreeDevelopers to start the project without releasing the code. Davis had concerns that an early release of the code to the GNU General Public License could allow nefarious people to manipulate votes.

While discussion was heated earlier in the week, Davis ultimately decided to remain on the eVote project's discussion list, and she expressed hope that her project, back to being hosted at deliberate.com, can be merged with the FreeDevelopers.net project sometime in the future. "You can still believe me that a network layer will release the [Clerk's] source out of beta and then
FreeDev can ... improve each and every corner of what I've done," she wrote to the list Thursday evening. "As the Clerk's mama, I just need to bring forth the whole infant, no preemies ... The folks here don't want the FreeDev name on unreleased source.That's fair. And I don't want responsibility for non-Clerk projects. That's fair."

In the meantime, coders on the FreeDevelopers.net discussion list are turning to deciding who can vote on what to do next in FreeDev's democratic model, and how to distinguish interested developers from what some on the list have called the "enemy," those who might try to sidetrack the project and from those those reading the discussion list for entertainment or news value. The group continues to discuss working with FREE (Free Referenda & Elections Electronically), a Java-based free software project.

Tony Stanco, founder of FreeDevelopers.net, says he's not sure what the project's next move is, as FreeDev's democratic wheels turn, but he emphasizes that the eVote project is not a strategic part of FreeDev's success. "It is a little like watching a school of fish," he writes, adding a smiley wink. "They go where they want to go ... However, I do think that if I get them a real voting project to work on it will focus their minds. And I was talking to someone on Capitol Hill
about it last night, but I also have to make sure that they can work as a team first, before I start making promises to people on the Hill.

"Seriously, I think we are doing fine, we just have to let this tree mature a little longer before we try to harvest the fruit," he adds.

The argument over releasing the Clerk's code resurfaced earlier this week after a flare up in November. Amid calls to release the code, Stanco tried to broker a compromise, which he defended as reasonable. But Davis again declined to release the voting system's code before she could add a network layer to it.

During the heat of the debate, one list member wrote: "In spite of repeated requests [Davis] failed to make the code of Clerk GPL. She has not so far seriously discussed the design and architecture of the Clerk."

Stanco wrote to the list during the heat of the argument that he's learned one lesson: "This is the first and last time I will ever compromise on the GPL. If that means we have to re-write every line of proprietary code, so be it."

But later in the week, he echoed Davis' desire to keep working together. "We do want her to continue to help bring free democracy software to the world,' he says. "I get the feeling that she really wants us to use eVote, but that she needs help in 'leading' the project. But the 'project
leader' title was always a misnomer because we are a democracy and leading is leading by ideas, not by hierarchy, if you know what I mean."

Davis says she'll continue working on eVote with the several volunteers who have a history with the project. She's finishing a paper on eVote for a Linux magazine during the deliberate.com banner. "It's my hobby. It's a lifelong project. I'm not by myself."

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