Irish e-voting system gets canned


Friday, April 30 2004

by Anthony Quinn

in association with EIRCOM


Electronic voting will now not be used at the polls in June, according to the Irish government.


Voters in all constituencies will be using a paper ballot rather than voting electronically on 11 June following the publication of the interim report of the Independent Commission on Electronic Voting.


More time was needed for further testing of the Nedap/Powervote electronic voting system and the commission could not recommend using the proposed system at the local and European elections and the citizenship referendum due to be held on 11 June, reported the 5-member commission Friday. Although the commission's remit was advisory, the government had said that it would abide by whatever recommendations were made.


It is impossible to certify the accuracy of the software used in the e-voting system, the report said, adding that the absence of an auditable voting trail is all the more worrying in light of the potential problems. Furthermore, a number of tests performed at the request of the commission identified an error in the count software which could have led to incorrect distributions of surplus votes, according to the 28-page document. "There is a possibility that further testing will uncover further software errors," noted the commission.


The five-member independent body, set up by the government in March, did not obtain access to the full source code and there was not sufficient time before the June elections to allow a full code review of the final version of the software, it added.


"As far as we are concerned, the Nedap/Powervote system is still adequate," said a UK-based spokesperson for Dutch e-voting firm Nedap. "We will continue working with the commission and that is all we can say at the moment," he told ElectricNews.Net.


Through its submission process, the commission had given concerned citizens the opportunity to draw attention to the "fundamental and undeniable flaws" in the chosen e-voting system, said Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Evoting (ICTE) spokesperson Colm MacCarthaigh. Welcoming the commission's interim findings in a statement, MacCarthaigh added that the government should now accept that that e-voting must be accompanied by a voter-verified audit trail (VVAT) that is independent of the system itself.


According to a submission made by ICTE to the commission, the chosen Nedap/Powervote electronic voting system had a fundamental design flaw because it had no mechanism to verify that votes would be recorded accurately in an actual election. Consequently, results obtained from the system could not be said to be accurate, according to the ICTE.


Other flaws in the system identified in group's submission included manner in which tests were carried out, possible software errors and the use in the Nedap/Powervote system of the graphical user interface programming language Object Pascal for a safety-critical system.


Over 150 of the 162 submissions to the commission were not in support of the proposed system and over half called for a voter-verified audit trail to be mandatory in any system, including the submission of the Irish Computer Society (ICS).


The government is confident that a framework can be established to progress electronic voting in Ireland, said Martin Cullen, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in a statement. The e-voting commission had identified and acknowledged the benefits of electronic voting and the fact that the selected system can accurately and consistently record voter preferences, said the Minister.


In a call for Martin Cullen's resignation because of "gross incompetence and unbridled arrogance," Fine Gael Environment and Local Government spokesperson Bernard Allen said that between EUR40 million and EUR50 million of taxpayer's money had been committed to machines which will not now be used. "But even more serious is the fact that this government was trying to foist an unreliable and unsecure voting system onto the electorate," said Allen in a statement.


The members of the e-voting commission are chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission Justice Matthew Smith, Dail clerk Keiran Coughlan, Seanad clerk Deirdre Lane, Information Society Commission Chairman Danny O'Hare and Chairman and former CEO of Siemens Ireland Brian Sweeney.


The commission has now recommended that there should now be an independent end-to-end test of the e-voting system and independent parallel test of the system, including where possible in a live electoral context.


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