[E-voting] JCELG meeting of 2003-12-18: an observer's notes
aecolley at spamcop.net
Sun Dec 21 15:34:06 GMT 2003
On Thu, Dec 18, 2003 at 06:02:09PM +0000, Margaret McGaley wrote:
> There were several representatives from the government's side, including:
> Henk Steentjes of Nedap,
> Jan Groenendaal of Groenendaal BV (the developers of the count software),
> John Pugh of Nathean (formerly of PMI),
> Niall Callan, secretary general of the DoEHLG, and
> Peter Green, who is in charge of the introduction of evoting within the DoEHLG
There was also a Tom Corcoran of DoEHLG sitting to Mr Callan's
right, but I'm not sure what his role is because he stayed as quiet
as Mr Greene.
> Unfortunately, the debate was a little stilted because of the way oireachtas
> committee meetings work. The members had to ask questions, which we answered.
> Everyone felt restricted by the format, I think.
Everyone except the Chairman and the other FF members. The four
opposition committee members took time to object to it (Mr Cuffe,
for instance, called it Kafkaesque). Some good exchanges happened
when people started answering points directly instead of waiting
to be called on by the Chairman.
> Any other thoughts from people in the observers' seats?
A few positive things emerged in the meeting, which may be useful in
media interviews as rhetorical points:-
1. Late delivery of development snapshot
It was admitted (by Mr Groenendaal) that the plan is to deliver
the IES software as late as possible before the election, and that
the delivered software would in each case be the latest development
snapshot. No reason was offered for this, except for Mr Callan's
comments about "continuous improvement" and "adding to margins of
safety". It should be obvious that having a regular software
update schedule is a convenient cover for interfering with the
software on the count PCs, or for introducing Trojan horses.
2. Possible infiltration of supplier
The only really good pinning-down question was asked by Mr Gilmore,
who extracted an admission from Mr Groenendaal that it was in fact
possible to infiltrate his company and interfere with the counting
software. Mr Groenendaal of course dismissed this, saying "I'm
careful about whom I employ" but Deputy Morgan punctured the
credibility of that comment by remarking "So is Buckingham Palace".
(Other observers in the room may have noticed that shortly before
Mr Gilmore asked this question, I passed him a short list of
suggested questions: I'd become frustrated that no really penetrating
questions had been asked of the Government-procured experts up
to then. He didn't use any of my suggestions, but I didn't mind
after he'd asked this question.)
3. Sketchy defences to VVAT
The voter-verified audit trail was of course the dead elephant on
the table that the Government experts pretended not to smell. It's
worth noting that they didn't have a coherent answer to the need for
it. Mr Callan asserted that VVAT is not needed because the system
is "fully tested", and Mr Steentjes agreed, likening it to a calculator
as something which can be fairly evaluated by black-box testing.
(No one mentioned the Excel flight simulator.) Mr Callan also pointed
to a study which claimed that paper ballots have a 1.1% spoilage rate,
and tried to imply that VVAT would have the same problem. When it
was pointed out (by Mr McCormack) that a VVAT would increase public
confidence in the system, Mr Callan's only answer was that public
confidence is the concern of the Minister. Mr Callan also disputed
that VVAT is a growing trend in other states considering evoting.
Mr Groenendaal tried to claim that the ballot modules are actual,
if electronic, ballot boxes, and that the records stored in them are
actual, if electronic, ballots, which plainly dodged the issue. He
also pointed out that availability would be hurt by paper jams,
inadvertently running into the Department's standard `availability'
defence, which is that "there will be a substantial number of spare
machines available in each district". When pressed, Mr Callan even
reverted to a dismissal of vote receipts, and appeared confused
when Mr Gilmore pointed out that no one was asking for them.
4. Jesuitical "confusion" defence to VVAT/electronic disparity
A common answer given by Mr Callan and Mr Steentjes was that a second
record of the ballot would lead to "confusion" over which one was primary.
It's understandable that a vendor would want to suppress any second
record which might expose a flaw in its own equipment, but Mr Callan's
endorsement of this point of view is inexplicable.
5. Aeroplane analogy made
It was suggested that the blind trust asked of voters was no more than
the blind trust asked of airline passengers. Of course, the aviation
industry has learned (the hard way) to treat its operations as a large,
complex, critical system, with detailed backups and exhaustive training
for all involved personnel. Even the modern fly-by-wire Airbus planes
have a plan for total avionics failure: the magnetic compass, rudder,
and engine throttles are all mechanical, so the pilots can continue to
fly safely (but not necessarily efficiently) even if everything shuts
down. The evoting industry hasn't reached that level of maturity yet,
and it shows.
6. Letter of intent considered binding -- conditions of contract may be an out.
Mr Callan made it clear that the letter of intent to buy 7000
machines is effectively binding, but that the "main contract"
hadn't yet been signed. In Bobby Molloy's words, Nedap/Powervote
was chosen "subject to successful testing and satisfactory
contractual arrangements" (Dáil Éireann, 2001-06-28). IANAL, but
I believe that this means the details in the contract are still
up for negotiation and aren't yet binding. A requirement of VVAT
is therefore still a possibility.
7. DBT/Choicepoint buck-passing: Groenendaal onto Dept, Dept onto suppliers
When questioned about the just-in-time delivery of count software
to the Department, Mr Groenendaal said that it was the Department's
responsibility to test the software for acceptability. When Mr
Callan was questioned about the trustworthiness of any part of
the system, he claimed the system was already "proven and robust"
due to its use in the Netherlands and Germany, and that it has
been tested by the six independent consultancies. It's difficult
to see how these positions can be reconciled. It reminds me of
the deal between Florida's elections supervisor and DBT/ChoicePoint,
whereby DBT/ChoicePoint supplied a list of alleged felons to be
deleted from the voting register, and claimed that the state was
responsible for fixing errors, and the state claimed that the
list was already corrected by the suppliers.
8. Multi-ballot procedure untested
One of Mr McCarthy's major complaints was that the multi-ballot
facility of the machines (that is, the ability to conduct two or
more simultaneous PR-STV elections) has not been tested. Incredibly,
Mr Callan's response was that it doesn't need to be, as the
European Parliament elections are done under the same rules as
the Dáil elections. This response is irrelevant to the consideration
of whether the software will function correctly with multiple
9. Party-political voting exposes lack of consensus
In the early legislative record of the Electoral (Amendment)
Bill, 2000 (which enabled the introduction of the proposed evoting
system), Government spokesmen placed a lot of emphasis on the
cautious and consensus-building approach that the Government would
take with any evoting proposal. For example, Bobby Molloy promised
that "this Government will not proceed without unanimity and
general agreement among the Members here". A proposed amendment
which would have required specific approval for any particular
system by the Houses of the Oireachtas was rejected by Mr Molloy,
> At this stage, we are simply putting enabling legislation in
> place. With regard to the hardware, all that is proposed is
> the purchase of six machines, on which the testing will be
> carried out. Everybody will have to be fully satisfied that
> the machines and the whole system are operating properly when
> they have been well and truly tested. The entire procedure
> will be open and seen to be open. I suggest that the Senator
> consider withdrawing the amendment. We have a long way to go
> before any decisions are made about putting the system in
> place or actually using it.
It's clear from Thursday's party-line "support the Government
plan" vote that no pretense of consensus or openness remains.
GPG 0x43D3AD19 17D2 CA6E A18E 1177 A361 C14C 29DB BA4B 43D3 AD19
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