Temporary location of Voting Software Source code.
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What's Conservancy Voting Software Repository For?

When I was setting up Conservancy's ability to run elections for its member projects, I surveyed various Open Source and Free Software systems systems to handle online voting and elections. I was mostly looking for something that implemented STV algorithm and ballot collection for the same.

What Open Source and Free Software Election / Voting / Vote Collection Systems Exist

As it turns out, there are precious few Free Software voting systems.

  • Selectricity is a good option, but upon discussions with the primary author, Benjamin "Mako" Hill, he confirmed that it does not currently implement any of the algorithms designed for multiple winner elections. So, if you want a preferential voting system with just one winner, Selectricity is probably the best choice.

  • Fedora's election system supports only range voting.

  • Meanwhile, for various STV algorithms, OpenSTV is the best choice for counting votes using various STV methods. OpenSTV is a command-line based system that implements all sorts of voting algorithms, but it has no vote-collection system. (It's also worth noting that openstv has since been taken proprietary, but older versions that were released as Free Software are still available.)

  • E-Vote is a system focusing on the collection of ballots, and seems promising in its design, but it is relatively poorly documented and it was unclear upon initial evaluation if STV-style ballots were available.

  • The Apache Software Foundation released Apache Steve, which handles STV vote and First-past-the-post ballot collection and appears to be email-centric in its vote collection.

  • GNOME Foundation hacked together a system in the GNOME Foundation website repository implemented their own little system to collect votes for their annual Directorship elections, using OpenSTV on the backend to count the votes.

Why This Fork of GNOME Foundation's Voting System?

Since I needed STV specifically, this seemed like the best option (mainly because I didn't know about E-Vote when I started, I'd probably have used E-Vote if I'd known about it before I started modifying the GNOME Foundation's code). Thus, this project is a fork of GNOME's work, with just the voting stuff included. Most of the GNOME-isms have been removed, although a few remain, and in some cases, GNOME-isms have merely been bulk-replaced with Conservancy-isms (which admittedly is "no help" from the point of view of non-Conservancy users).

I've also offered patches back to the GNOME Foundation repository by cherry-picking changes that are of use to both projects.

Having spent 10-20 hours poking around this PHP code, I must frankly say that this isn't a well-designed system, and I don't really recommend it. However, if you need to run a few STV elections, using this system, by following the instructions below, might be your quickest way to get an election up and running. (Note: the instructions herein are loosely based on instructions available on the GNOME Foundation's wiki, although those instructions are somewhat GNOME specific. I believe these instructions below are fully self-contained now, such that you don't have to read the GNOME Foundation's instructions as secondary information).

Setting up an election

  1. vote/include/election-sql.php expects a secret config file that exists only on the server and is included as PHP code. It's hard coded currently to: /home/admin/secret/anonvoting currently.

    The file should look something like this:

          $mysql_host = "localhost";
          $mysql_user = "someuser";
          $mysql_password = "somepassword";
          $mysql_db = "somedb";
          $committee_name = "The Vote Masters";
          $committee_email = "elections@example.org";
  2. When I deploy, I create an account for the election, as the mysql root user:

     mysql -u root -p
     Password: <MYSQLROOTPW>

    Then Run these commands at the mysql> prompt:

     CREATE USER 'someusername' identified by 'somepassword';
     CREATE DATABASE somedbname;

    Then, exit, and at the main command line run:

     msyql -u root -p -D somedbname < ..../vote/include/schema.sql

    Then run this again:

     mysql -u root -p
     Password: <MYSQLROOTPW>

    and at the mysql command line, run these grant commands:

     GRANT SELECT on somedb.elections TO someuser@localhost;
     GRANT SELECT on somedb.election_choices TO someuser@localhost;
     GRANT SELECT,DELETE on somedb.election_tmp_tokens TO someuser@localhost;
     GRANT SELECT on somedb.election_voters TO someuser@localhost;
     GRANT SELECT,INSERT on somedb.election_anon_tokens TO someuser@localhost;
     GRANT SELECT,INSERT on somedb.election_votes TO someuser@localhost;
     GRANT SELECT on somedb.election_results TO someuser@localhost;
  3. Create an election, with something like this:

     mysql -u root -D somedb -p
     SET NAMES 'utf8';
     INSERT INTO elections (type, name, voting_start, voting_end, choices_nb,   question) VALUES ("elections", "2011 Spring Election", "2011-05-29 00:00:00", "2011-06-12 23:59:59", "7", "Which candidates would you like to see Elected?");
     set @el_id = @@IDENTITY;
     INSERT INTO election_choices (election_id, choice) VALUES
             (@el_id, 'Candidate 1'),
             (@el_id, 'Candidate 2'),
             (@el_id, 'Candidate 3'),
             (@el_id, 'Candidate 4');
     INSERT INTO election_voters (election_id, email_address) VALUES
             (@el_id, 'voter1@example.org'),
             (@el_id, 'voter2@example.org'),
             (@el_id, 'voter3@example.com'),
             (@el_id, 'voter4@example.net');
     INSERT INTO election_tmp_tokens (election_id, election_voter_id, tmp_token)
        SELECT @el_id, id, SUBSTRING(MD5(RAND()) FROM 1 FOR 24) AS tmp_token
        FROM election_voters where election_id = @el_id;
     select @el_id;

    That number you see at the end is this election's id. The URL you'll give out is thus something like: http://example.org/vote.php?election_id=THAT_NUMBER

  4. Create an email template, email-template.txt, in this format:

     "Person" <person@example.org>
     A subject line describing the vote
     Dear <member>,
     Please visit: http://example.org/vote.php?election_id=THAT_NUMBER
     And use this information to complete the voting:
        Vote token:
     Once you've voted, you'll be given a confirmation token.  You can
     verify your own vote at:
     After the election, you can see the results at:
  5. Prepare a list of the temp tokens sent to everyone, perhaps with this command:

     SELECT a.email_address,b.tmp_token
      FROM election_voters a, election_tmp_tokens b
     WHERE a.election_id = @el_id
       AND a.election_id = b.election_id
       AND b.election_voter_id = a.id;

    You'll need to then convert that output into a file called "voters.txt", with each line in a format of:

      Full Name;email_address;token
  6. Then, run this script:

      $ ./mail-instructions.py voters.txt email-template.txt

    on some server that can use SMTP from localhost.

    Note that the script will replace , E-mail, and Vote token: strings from (3) above with the appropriate values from the voters.txt file.

  7. When the voting is over, download the election.blt file via this URL:


    then run this command:

     $ openstv-run-election -r HtmlReport ScottishSTV election.blt > results.html
  8. The results HTML has to be in the database, as the PHP code expects it. Here's some SQL commands that will get it into the right table:

     set @result_text = load_file('/path/to/results.html');
     REPLACE INTO election_results (election_id, result) VALUES (@el_id, @result_text);

    Note that I discovered that /path/to/results.html has to be world-readable for this to work, even if you mysql process has read permission. I didn't have time to figure out why or if that analysis is correct. Dealing With Problems =====================

Missing Ballots

Voters might complain that they haven't received their token. Likely, it either went missing or the email address was wrongly noted in the database. In any case, you need to find the ID of the voter With the ID do something like:

SELECT * FROM election_tmp_tokens WHERE election_id = 17 AND election_voter_id  = $ID;