[E-voting] Election Observers verdict on London Elections: "Insufficient evidence" to declare confidence in results

Michael McMahon michael at hexmedia.com
Thu Jul 3 11:43:07 IST 2008

Glyn Wintle wrote:
> --- On Wed, 7/2/08, Michael McMahon <michael at hexmedia.com> wrote:
>> I have a slight problem with the last part of this email
>> though. It seems to imply (though maybe this was not
>> intended), that publishing the result of
>> a software an audit would go a long way towards restoring
>> transparency, and therefore public confidence in
>> e-counting.
> >From the report:
> Recommendation 1: 
> A full cost-benefit analysis of electronic counting at the London elections in May 2008 should be performed by London Elects. The analysis should be set against a properly-costed manual count of similar scope. London Elects should also cost the following recommended enhancements to the electronic count, including: 
> o A statistically significant live manual audit on count day, or some other effective means, accessible to the layperson, of monitoring votes that are counted as valid 
> o A comprehensive, independent audit of all source code deployed on e-counting systems, made publicly available before the elections 
> o Improved record-keeping facilities at the ballot box verification stage 
> o Improved transparency around the contractor's service management desk
> o System-designed assurance that the voter‘s paper ballot remains the ballot of record  so that, for example, paper ballots can easily be retrieved by CROs wishing to ascertain the intention of a voter where this is not clear from the scanned image of a ballot. 
> Recommendation 2:
>  Time should be given for formal consultation — at national and local levels — prior to the approval of e-counting being used in an election. 
> Recommendation 3: 
> Administrators should remain committed to long lead-in times for procurement and implementation of election technology. Based on the experience of  London Elects, ORG revises this figure upwards from one year (as recommended in ORG's  May 2007 report) to 18 months as a suitable application and implementation timetable.
That's fine. It's just that of those recommendations I think that it's 
not the most important. The most important one is the "statisticlly
significant live manual count ....", which in my opinion, should be more 
than a recommended enhancement.
It is essential for public confidence in electronic counting.

The problem with public source code audits, is that they are meaningless 
unless the source code itself is published. There are various
problems with doing this, not least, the fact that it will cost a 
significant amount, because the vendor will be putting
its IP into the public domain. Of course, many people would like to see 
election software being open-source anyway, but that
is a different debate.

Highlighting a recommendation, which is of dubious value in my opinion, 
is dangerous, because as the old saying goes:
"Be careful, what you ask for - you might get it". Certainly, here in 
Ireland, the govt. tried to go down this route, but at the same time,
ignoring the main need for independent verification of all elections.


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