[E-voting] Daily Irish Times Update.

Brian Scanlan brian.scanlan at redbrick.dcu.ie
Thu Feb 19 09:11:58 GMT 2004


Brilliant article:


Best result not to hand in a click 

Kathy Sheridan: On Tuesday, the Government's representative on Prime Time
managed, (unwittingly of course), to express in a sentence what the combined
Opposition has been labouring to say for months. If a paper trail was
incorporated in the proposed new electronic voting system, said Pat The Cope
Gallagher solemnly, "it could throw up two results". Well, exactly.

And, he might have added, did we occupy a parallel universe where reason and
logic were seen as forces for good - while one result would be verifiable, the
other would not. And which one would be verifiable, recountable, before the
eyes of the electorate? The one the Government is so mysteriously anxious to

In fact, the Government's approach to everything about this topic has been
mystifying. Arrogance alone hardly explains why, at every turn, opposition
parties, experts and citizens have been stonewalled, forced to dig into
personal time and funds to seek information vital to the exercise of democracy,
obliged to watch impotently as red herrings were tossed in, and straw men
erected and knocked down in response to arguments that were never made.

Mr Joe McCarthy, a long-standing computer professional and election agent,
whose letter appeared in these pages yesterday, has spent €1,275 of his own
money trying to get details of the system from the Department of the
Environment, through Freedom of Information. Can there be a greater official
abuse of the public's right and need to know?

Last April, when Mr McCarthy asked the Department to use the Freedom of
Information Act to get the records relating to the counting software and source
code from the authors, Powervote, he was told the Department "had no current
contract with the supplier". Despite this, 4,450 new machines were soon being
delivered to returning officers around the country, a quarter of them before
the design was certified by a German testing institution in September. The
contract with Powervote/Nedap was finally signed a week before Christmas. This
agrees, on our behalf, to the purchase of 6,000 new voting machines, of a type
which has never been piloted in Ireland, according to Mr McCarthy. He also
notes that the UK Electoral Commission, which piloted the same system - twice -
on machines rented from the returning officer in Dublin, decided that
electronic voting was premature and not to use the system until it was safe.

Here, when Pat The Cope was asked about getting an Electoral Commission of our
very own, he replied that this "will take time to establish", as though the
electorate had set some immutable deadline for electronic voting, which the
Government was powerless to change.

The official response has been roughly similar to that granted to enquiries on
our stance on Iraq. Bluster and bombast not remotely related to the questions
asked, allied in this case, to the most patronising - "it's easier for
everyone" - publicity campaign in advertising history.

So let's get a few of the straw men and red herrings out of the way.

"The system has been used, tried and tested here." We know that it has been
used. We can not know, without a verifiable paper record, that it has passed
any significant test.

"The new system will ensure the elections this June are the most accurate and
therefore the most democratic in our history." See above. Also remember the
machines have been programmed to allocate preference votes in exactly the same
random fashion as the old counting system. What does "more accurate or
democratic" actually mean? "The majority of Irish people understand and react
well to change - the smooth introduction of the euro was a recent positive
experience." Charlie McCreevy. The only suggestion that the Irish people might
be too backward or stupid to press a button has come from the Government's own
advertising campaign.

"A paper record would flout a Supreme Court ruling protecting the anonymity of
an individual's vote." Martin Cullen. Can he really believe that this is

"This is what the Oireachtas has chosen to do. This isn't some sort of zealot
approach to the system on my behalf." Mr Cullen again, hours before it emerged
that he was still consulting with the Attorney General on how to make the
process legal. "We should not need international experts to tell us [about
problems with electronic voting] because we export more [computer software] to
these countries than they ever created themselves."

The Taoiseach, rejecting the view of yet another distinguished American
academic, about the proposed paperless system. Anyone know where the parent
companies of Intel, Hewlett Packard, etc hail from? "Paper records are not kept
in any jurisdiction where electronic voting is used, including California."
Charlie McCreevy. True, though not for much longer by all accounts.

"Paper record-keeping is impractical. What happens if [the printer] breaks down
on polling day?" Mr McCreevy. Someone comes and fixes it - just like they will
if the voting machine breaks down (we hope).

Space has run out. However, we look forward to the day when Mr McCarthy gets
his €¬1,275 back with thanks from a grateful government.
 © The Irish Times

A good editorial:


The way we vote

The concessions offered by the Coalition Government in the Dáil debate on
electronic voting over the past two days do not go far enough to maintain
public confidence in the integrity of the ballot paper.

A last-minute offer to establish an independent panel to verify the secrecy and
accuracy of the voting system, introduce primary legislation and facilitate
other minor changes indicates political alarm rather than willing co-operation.
Public doubts will persist, however, given the limited time available for the
review and the Government's determination to press ahead with the new system in
June. The U-turn may have to be greater.

It would be better to suspend all plans for electronic voting pending a
detailed review of security and transparency issues by a statutory electoral
commission. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Mr Cullen,
has been far too blasé in his approach. Serious questions concerning the
integrity and security of the proposed system were raised by computer experts
and by the opposition parties many months ago. But their interventions were
ignored or dismissed as political trouble-making.

The Government ploughed ahead with its long-term plans to have an electronic
voting system in place for the local and European Parliament elections and,
after that, for general elections. But, in an unprecedented show of dissent in
this Dáil this week, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party combined
to oppose the Government's plans. The Government offered some concessions. But
it continued to oppose the introduction of a separate, paper-based voting
record. Public confidence in the electoral process is an invaluable asset
created over generations. It could take years to recover if damaged.

The Government would be unwise to risk the introduction of an electronic voting
system that does not have the support of the opposition parties. The widespread
concern of computer experts must be taken into account. Computers and modern
technology have transformed the way we live. They were successfully used in a
number of constituencies in the last general election and in the second Nice
referendum. But a rush to modernity must not be the only consideration in this

Computers are open to "hacking" and manipulation. Systems can "crash" and
programmes can be infected with a virus. It is imperative that some form of
verifiable audit is available on paper.

Many people have lost confidence in politicians. It will be a poor day for
democracy if they now suspect the voting system.

© The Irish Times 


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