March 11, 2005


Ruling highlights electronic vote problems

The Asahi Shimbun


Plagued by glitches in electronic voting, the government is urging municipalities to tighten the way the system operates to regain public trust in the technology, officials said Thursday.


The move follows a precedent-setting ruling by the Nagoya High Court on Wednesday to nullify the results of a July 2003 city assembly election in Kani, Gifu Prefecture, due to problems with electronic voting.


In that vote, polling stations reported periods in which voting was not possible, owing to technical difficulties.


Officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said the necessary steps have been drawn up to prevent such problems in the future. They said the court ruling should not affect overall public confidence in electronic voting.


However, even ministry officials admit that of 12 elections to date that used electronic voting, only three went off without a hitch.


A law passed in November 2001 allows local governments to use electronic voting. The system has not been approved for national elections.


Electronic voting was first used in mayoral and municipal assembly elections in June 2002 in Niimi, Okayama Prefecture. The Hiroshima mayoral vote in February 2003 was the second to use electronic voting.


An internal affairs ministry pamphlet based on the two elections offers advice to local governments eyeing a shift to the system. The pamphlet explains how to set up voting machines and clean the cards inserted into electronic readers to record votes.


A common problem concerns machines that cannot read the voting cards. Local officials must be able to explain the problem to voters and know how to fix it.


Proponents of the system say it is cheaper because less time and fewer personnel are needed to tally ballots.


However, critics charge that security measures to prevent tampering with results are not yet guaranteed.


The case in Kani demonstrated that local government officials were not adequately trained to deal with technical trouble, officials said.


In that poll, the voting machines broke down at all polling stations, with periods during which no voting was possible ranging from nine minutes to 83 minutes. The Kani election committee came under fire for not advising voters how long they might have to wait for the machines to go back online.(IHT/Asahi: March 11,2005)


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