Voteware source code seeker found not to be vexatious

Hobart lawyer wins next round in EasyCount code battle

Michael Cordover, the Hobart lawyer who has been pressing the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to release the source code of its vote-counting software, has had a win courtesy of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

The AEC, irritated after three Freedom of Information (FOI) applications from Codover, not only refused to release the code, but took a shot at declaring him a “vexatious applicant”.

Had that label stuck, such a declaration would have shut Cordover out of any further applications to see the vote-count source code. However, the OAIC has sided with him, saying his actions didn't constitute an abuse of process.

The AEC had hoped that support from a second individual, Martin Landauer, for Cordover's request would bolster its case on the basis that the two had colluded, but the OAIC disagreed, saying that it isn't accurate “to describe the second access action as an indication of 'collusion' between Mr Landauer and Mr Cordover”.

Cordover has published the letter from the OAIC at Scribd, here. In it, the OAIC says Cordover's first FOI request was a “standard” application, and that the third access request – which followed Landauer's participation – was “a specifically framed request for access to a particular document”.

“I place no weight on the AEC's contentions that Mr Cordover's submissions were misconceived, fanciful or distorting. I would not have characterised the submissions in that way, and in any case an agency should allow some latitude for a member of the public to frame submissions in a way that does not persuade the agency”, the OAIC letter states.

It doesn't mean that the AEC has to release the documents in question – the source code of software used to count Senate elections in Australia. But it does leave Cordover free to try and craft a further FOI request.

The AEC had tried various approaches to avoid releasing the “EasyCount” source code, including claiming that it involved trade secrets, because the software is used for other electoral processes in which the AEC is involved on a fee-for-service basis, such as union elections. ®

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