Part of Europe Still Missing Advantages of Automated Voting


In European many countries have abandoned electronic voting and return to manual voting. A 2006 study titled “Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet” (“We can’t trust voting machines”), written by Rop Gonggrijp and Willem-Jan Hengeveld, details a series of breaches that these researchers seem to have found in an automated voting machine that had been used in the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

According to the researchers, “anyone who has had brief access to the machine’s peripherals at any given time before an election can obtain complete and practically undetectable control of the results of the election.”

This kind of machine (ES3B) was developed by NV Nederlandsche Apparatenfabriek (Nedap) and has been used recently by approximately 90% of Dutch voters.

Many European countries have performed some tests on e-voting systems and to a certain extent, they have ignored warranty evaluations that are performed on the automated system nowadays.

France went back to manual voting. Source:www.patriagrande.com.ve

France decided to eliminate automated voting for the second round of the elections. There were negative reactions against this change because the return to manual voting did not obey to strictly technical reasons, but rather to a series of suppositions. For example, the electronic certification that would guarantee the correct functioning of the machines was omitted. On September 27, 2007, the Dutch Korthals-Altes commission published a report that criticizes voting machines and describes them as “controllable”, as they don’t provide proof of voting. Besides, this commission didn’t believe that the machines could guarantee voting secrecy. On May 16, 2008, the Dutch government announced that they would abandon electronic voting for good and return to paper.

In Germany, 1800 electronic ballots were used during the 2005 legislative elections. However, in March 3, 2009, the Federal Constitutional Court declared illegal the decree that implements voting machines. This way, citizens were not allowed to verify the tallying process without needing some tech skills.

In spite of what looks like a big step backwards taken by Europe, e-voting has already overcome many obstacles and has established itself as a safe system, backed not only by the versatility and usefulness of its tools, but also by the great span of possibilities it brings for auditing.

Spain, for example, has begun to analyze the advantages of automation and has started to implement it gradually.

Belgium is another nation that has just begun the challenge of automation with a 10-year contract with Smartmatic.

Another example worth mentioning is the Philippines, a nation that has been able to consolidate an automated voting process after some rather stormy elections. This has brought a sense of calm to its electoral procedures.

In countries like Venezuela, voting machines undergo more than 5 different audit processes. Source: www.avn.info.ve

Nowadays, voting machines can be tested to show how equipments and programs work in order to guarantee the precision of the results.

There is a variety of practices to audit e-voting. First we have vote authentication. Some voting machine models, like the ones used in Venezuela and parts of the US, allow the emission of a printed receipt of voting, which can be used for later tallying. With this mechanism, digital votes have a physical proof that can be used to verify scrutiny if needed.

Other methods include the dissemination of the source code so that voters, political parties representatives, and civil organizations have the opportunity to examine the precision of the voting process.

There are other examples, like Brazil, where trust in e-voting is high and exhaustive review methods are not applied, but they do take risks: In 2009, the High Electoral Court (TSE) organized a four-day attack against the voting system that was used during the previous year’s presidential elections. 38 hackers participated in this activity, including representatives from public entities like the Federal Police, private entities and international organizations.

The three best attempts to break the system were: one that tried to violate vote secrecy through the capture of electromagnetic waves emitted by the electronic ballot, one that analyzed the preparative procedures of the election, and one that put the voting software to the test. However, these hackers were not able to violate the system. These tests were supervised by observers from the Organization of American States, the Deputy Chamber, the Military and Police force, the Federal Service of Data Processing (Serpro), the Court of Auditors (TCU), and the National Federation of Computing Companies (Fenainfo).

Comparing between manual and electronic voting, it becomes clear that the latter offers many more possibilities of revision. Mechanisms have even been designed to make the process more transparent, such as security codes shared between political actors and the electoral authority. Possibilities are almost endless, therefore adjustable to any technical or political demand.

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