The truth behind a sentence

The world has seen some cases related to electronic voting that are worth considering. One of them is what happened in Germany, where just over three years ago the Constitutional Court forbid the application of a system that had been used for many years due to the thought that “the use of computerized voting and scrutiny mechanisms whose phases and processes cannot be understood, controlled and revised by any regular citizen (with no specialized technical knowledge), and without material support aside from that of the computer, is incompatible with the principle of publicity of the electoral process,” enshrined on Article 38 of that country’s Constitution.

The reasons wielded by the maximum German court are unquestionable. This nation used to employ machines from the Dutch company Nedap, namely models ESD1 and ESD2, whose dynamics were basically to push a button on a screen that served as an electoral ballot and had barely external security seals that were easily replaceable. Besides, there was no auditing done to the system, nor was the equipment capable of printing a paper receipt that allowed the electorate to confirm their suffrage.

Although all the arguments are indisputable in this case, the reading of the sentence done by those against electronic voting reveals an obliging position that renders the interpretation invalid, as Germany did not declare the unconstitutionality of electoral automation as they say. On the contrary, it specifically prohibited the use of the Nedap machines since they did not meet the publicity principle, which is no other than “the citizen should be able to control the essential steps of the electoral act and the determination of results in a reliable way.”

This way, the sentence does not disqualify electronic voting per se, but particularly the one supplied by Nedap. However, it leaves an open door to automation, anticipating what is a reality nowadays: the fact that electoral technology has generated robust solutions that would adapt to the legal requirements of this European country.
There are e-voting systems that are subjected to thorough audits —17 revisions are applied in Venezuela, for instance— related to software and hardware, and a plethora of guarantees that stop any attempt of fraud have been designed. For example, there are digital signatures shared between the electoral body and the political actors in order to protect the digital information, as well as the implementation of machines that print each ballot on paper in order for the elector to corroborate that his or her vote has been read and processed correctly. It is also possible to add measures such as the manual tallying of a portion of the constituencies in order to guarantee that electronic results are identical to those released by the machines.

Germany can safely return to automated voting, as there are no legal or technical limitations that inhibit it. However, this is a decision that depends only on that country. As for now, the moral of this case is that when it comes to respecting the people’s intent, it is crucial to do some research in order to argue with the truth before attacking a voting model that is used by 1 out of 4 people in the world.


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