[E-voting] E-voting: Closed vs Open system

Mark McKillen mark at mckillen.com
Fri Feb 20 15:08:35 GMT 2004


Hi everyone,

I've only been subscribed to this list for a few days now.  The latest 
summary of the e-voting mail list had something on it that has triggered 
me to add my 0.5c worth.

Each of the points raised about the e-voting system, we are been asked 
to use, seem to be about area that can be fixed or there is a work 
around of some sort.

For example the memory bit-flip raised in the last few emails is 
corrected for, in your PC, via parity or other redundant data method 
(store more info than is actually needed so if something happens a small 
part, there is enough other information to fill in the gap... happens on 
most data storage; hard disks, CD's, DVD's, etc).

The paper printout that people seem to be asking for is simply a method 
of error correction.  A backup system if you like...

Good hardware and software design can over come these problems.  But let 
us not loose sight of the issue here!  Paper catches fire... ink runs.. 
ballot papers can be forged...  In short, the old system has "similar" 
faults too.

When we "the nation" decide that we are no longer happy with the paper 
system, any other system that we look at is going to have it's faults 
too.  Like most things in life, we have to balance the pro's and con's 
for such a change over.

In essence I would am in favour of an electronic voting system.  For all 
the reasons I think most people would be in favour... it's speed, the 
reduced number of people (and cost) to run and election, etc. 

Here is the rub with our setup.  It's closed...

By closed I mean Joe or Josephine Public (you or I) can not get our 
hands on the software or hardware of these machines.  The makers (NEDAP) 
say it on their website 
[http://www.nedapspecials.nl/ms/website.nsf/46f5b44c63a393f8c125649600274389/a004506355e920d4c12565b4002aa855], 
"All our machines are based on propriety hardware and are firmware 
driven.".

It might get better then that!  If I were to physically open one of 
their machines and reverse engineer it, publish my findings, I could be 
busted for a number of copyright issues!

This is my point... You or I can not look at these machines.  By look, I 
mean look at the software and hardware.  At the moment we have rely on 
3rd party tests to verify that the machines do what the manufactures say 
(there are a good few of these!).  We could dream up a few more 
tests.... we could test it until the cows come home, but we can NEVER be 
100% sure that it does what the manufactures say it will do.

The very fact that the "front-end" (were the votes are tallied) of the 
system (see the Technical Info paper, 
http://www.electronicvoting.ie/pdf/Technical%20Info%20Paper%20-%20jan04.pdf 
) seems to run on MS Windows (and use Access to store the VOTES!) is 
just amazing...

We are trusting our elections to a propriety system from NEDAP and 
propriety software from Microsoft (once again: you or I can not have a 
look at Microsoft's software).

Until we can "see" the whole system down to it's nuts and bolts we are 
in for VERY dangers time.  That is the beauty of the paper system... 
everyone knows were they stand, we need the same transparency in ANY 
replacement system.  I'm not sure if there are any "open" voting systems 
out there... I'll have a look over the next few days  (if anyone knows 
of one, please drop me a line.)

Looking forward to you thoughts... ;-)

-Mark





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