[E-voting] Draft Press Release version 4.0ish

Adrian Colley aecolley at spamcop.net
Thu Feb 12 16:33:59 GMT 2004

Quite a few changes.  Apologies if this seems very arrogant.  Most
changes are typos, but I got in Colm's title at Catherine's suggestion,
added many quotations in replacement of indirectly-reported speech,
added most of the edits I'd mentioned in a previous message, added
other people's edits that I noticed, added the boilerplate that
Margaret has put onto our other releases, consistently applied
titles (e.g. "Mr Casey" instead of just "Casey").  I did take the
liberty of removing the Finucane "yogurt" comment and the David
Norris bit, as they seemed very off the point.  I couldn't begin to
address Tim's (entirely correct) criticism, so I didn't try.  I
won't be able to participate in any further editing as I have to go
offline for a couple of hours, but my cellphone works.

Incidentally, I added my contact details at the end, and I suggest
that Catherine and Dermot do likewise for the benefit of journalists
who actually check facts.  (Though it's not like I know how journalists
do their job.)




Despite attempts to put a glossy spin on the proposed electronic
voting (e-voting) system, Government spokespersons and Ministers
have been put on the defensive due to grave concerns over the safety
of the e-voting system, according to Dermot Casey of Irish Citizens
for Trustworthy E-voting (ICTE).  Mr Casey, an IT expert, noted that
"Almost on a daily basis new issues are raised with e-voting as
touted benefits disappear when subjected to scrutiny".

Some supporters of e-voting have claimed that e-voting will be more
accurate, as it will remove the "random" aspect of surplus distribution
inherent in the current system.  However, the Minister for the
Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Martin Cullen TD, has
confirmed to the Dáil that "in the case of surpluses, we only take
the particular portion of those that were transferred.  We are
maintaining the traditional system in the election next year.  If
there is a view that we should go much deeper, legislation will be
required to change the situation."

Claims that the system has been successfully used by 400,000 citizen
came under fire when it was revealed last week[2] that there were
400 "invalid votes" recorded in the 6 Dublin constituencies that
used e-voting in the 2nd Nice Referendum, contradicting official
results that reported "0 Spoiled Votes".  ICTE points out that in
the absence of a voter verifiable audit trail (VVAT) we do not know
really how the machines responded to the putative votes, and that
other more serious problems may be concealed by the software which
is still under revision.  Technical information on the previous
implementation of e-voting was dragged from the Minister for the
Environment by expensive Freedom of Information requests over a
number of months and highlights a large number of unaddressed
questions with e-voting.

Catherine Ansbro, ICTE member based in Co. Roscommon and Deputy
Chair of the Green Party National Council, noted that "The Fine
Gael spokesman on Environment and Local Government, Bernard Allen
TD, has said on record in the Dáil that Minister Cullen `is telling
lies' when he claimed that all questions about e-voting had been
answered before a Dáil committee".  Given the serious concerns
surrounding e-voting and of the genuine threat to public confidence
in the democratic process the Green Party are considering a legal
challenge to the current e-voting proposals.

Mr Casey notes that with over EUR600 per machine being spent on
convincing people of the value of e-voting, serious questions have
been raised over why a fraction of this money wasn't spend on
ensuring that the system contained a voter verifiable audit trail
(VVAT), which would ensure the integrity of the process.  These
points were recently highlighted by the internationally renowned
expert on e-voting and research fellow with the JFK School of
Government at Harvard University, Dr Rebecca Mercuri.  Dr Mercuri
said "It's not like a bank; it's not something that you can look
up afterwards and check yourself that it was recorded correctly,"
and went on to say "So you need checks and balances that provide
for an independent audit.  And one way of assuring that is basically
by having the voter see a printed ballot (they don't take it with
them because that again would not have the anonymity, but they
deposit it there) and then that's used collectively to check against
the vote total." In debate[3] with Minister for Health Micheál
Martin, Dr Mercuri put the Minister on the back foot, forcing him
to "accept that we need to go forward on this issue collectively
with all political parties involved."

Ms Ansbro notes that the frantic rush to implement a verifiably
flawed technology illustrates that that Government neither understands
technology nor appreciates the subtleties in developing software.
She comments, "The current approach leads one to believe that the
Minister is so convinced in the absolute infallibility of computer
software and hardware, and the absolute incorruptability of everyone
associated with the development, handling and storage of our
electronic voting system, that he feels non-electronic rechecks
will never be needed.  The experience elsewhere in the world strongly
suggests otherwise.  The Government should add VVAT in time for the
local elections.  There is still time to do this."

On Friday morning 2004-02-13, ICTE spokesperson Margaret McGaley
will tell the European Commission's eDemocracy seminar, "We can
trust that ballot-boxes arrive safely for counting, because any
attack would require serious collusion, and a high risk of detection,
for relatively little reward.  Electronic voting systems are
different, in part because they offer a single point of attack.
Instead of allowing the attacker to control one constituency, once,
attacks on e-voting systems may allow the attacker control over all
constituencies, every time the system is used."

Government spokespersons have also claimed that the system has been
"tested" by 400,000 voters at the Nice II referendum, and that
no-one complained about the "veracity" of the results.  Adrian
Colley, a software engineer and ICTE member, said "It is logically
impossible to evaluate the results of such a test without independent
knowledge of the votes cast.  Furthermore, if the e-voting system
were in fact rigged at the referendum, there would have been no
visible evidence that could have formed the basis for any complaint."

Mr Cullen has claimed that until recently there was "broad political
consensus" for the e-voting system.  Mr Colley said that the record
of the Oireachtas shows concerns being expressed through debate and
parliamentary question since February 2001 when Senator Feargal
Quinn said[4], "However, it does not provide for any means I stand
to be corrected to allow us to inspect whether the translation of
the voter's intentions into digital impulses was properly carried
out.  The new system will require an act of faith that the current
system does not require.  The vast majority of people will make
this act of faith but whether they are right to do so is another
matter."  Mr Colley added, "Careful observers will also have noticed
that the Bill was passed by use of the guillotine procedure against
the wishes of the Opposition, who were preoccupied with the same
Bill's provisions relating to political donations."


[notes to editors]

Margaret McGaley is available for interview:
email: mmcgaley at cs.may.ie
phone: 087 755 4023

[Dermot, Catherine: contact info here?]

Adrian Colley is available for interview:
email: aecolley at spamcop.net
phone: 087 247 7858

ICTE has a website available at
ICTE's main goals are:                                                          
    * to ensure that any electronic voting system introduced in Ireland
    * meets the following criteria                           
          o includes a Voter Verified Audit Trail (VVAT),                       
          o a booth is used, analogous to the traditional polling booth,        
          o all development uses formal methods,                                
          o all source code is open to public scrutiny and audit.               
    * to prevent the use of the Nedap/Powervote system in Irish
    * Elections until it meets said criteria  
    * to prevent the purchase of any more equipment or software from            
      Nedap/Powervote by the Irish Government unless the system being           
      purchased meets said criteria.

[1] Dáil Éireann, 2003-11-26, parliamentary question no. 49.
[2] Liveline, RTÉ Radio One, 2004-02-06.
[3] Saturday View, RTÉ Radio One, 2004-02-07.
[4] Seanad Éireann, 2001-02-21, Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000 (2nd stage).

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