E-voting round-up

Posted on October 30, 2006, under evoting, general.

Just in time for Halloween (maybe we should start producing E-voting machine costumes) there are some more significant developments on the Electronic Voting front.

E-voting abandoned – in part – in the Netherlands

Firstly, in the Netherlands and mirroring what happened in Ireland 2 years ago, E-voting has been abandoned in 35 districts (including Amsterdam) just 3 weeks before the general election administrators are now looking for ballot boxes.

The machines in question this time are SDU machines which are generally considered more modern than the Nedap machines, and are used in about 10% of the Netherlands. Although the Dutch anti e-voting group have still not managed to get their hands on an SDU machine their concerns triggered some additional testing which revealed that the SDU machines are vulnerable to same electronic eavesdropping problems they demonstrated with the Nedap machines.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Nedap machines will be used in 3 weeks time, but already there are negative soundings from the ministry concerned and the Dutch group had previously demonstrated that the Nedap machines can be eavesdropped. I share Rop’s belief that it is only a matter of time.

Joe McCarthy wins FoI appeals, but new concerns raised

A few weeks ago I met Joe on Grafton St. and he relayed the great news that after over 3 years, he has finally suceeded in getting access to some more of the material he requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Previously the Department of the Environment have appealed these requests on the basis that it is commercially sensitive; in order words that it would harm the business of the vendors.

Having seemingly prevailed against that spurious challenge, it now emerges that a new argument is being made; that the release of the material would facilitate the commissioning of an offence. Hacking e-voting machines is an offence in Ireland, and now that the Dutch group have demonstrated that it is possible, the Information Commissioner may take the view that further releases of information could further facilitate offence.

You can read Joe’s mail and the ensuing discussion. One excerpt from the investigators letter which I thought was particularly interesting is;

You may argue that the recent hacking of the voting machines in Holland means that the competitive position of Nedap cannot be further prejudiced through the release of the above records. However, it seems to me that the release of the records would involve the disclosure of information not already in the public domain, which could indeed further prejudice Nedap’s competitive position.

That would seem to be an astonishing revelation; what information could possibly make Nedap’s competitive position even worse?

Joe has also set-up the excellently well-named Fiasco.ie which serves as a source of information Joe has collated in relation to the E-voting and the Poolbeg Incinerator projects. As if all this wasn’t enough, Joe also appeared on Radio 1 yesterday, the stream is here and the relevant discussion is 1 hour in.

Some clarifications

Talking to various journalists over the last week has revealed two common sources of confusion which I thought I would try and lay to rest. Firstly, the exact type of attack which is causing such concern in the Netherlands right now – electronic eavesdropping – does not require physical access to the machines, but is in fact a passive form of attack. The situation is analogous to a glass ballot box which lets you see from a far how someone has voted.

The Irish machines are prone to this exact attack and it is particularly relevant to a Constitutional challenge in Ireland. There are strong precedents for challenges to ballot secrecy in Ireland and the courts have previously found measures which impacted voting-secrecy unconstitutional. Despite the Taoiseach’s rhetoric, no physical access to the voting machine is required for this attack, all that’s needed is a radio receiver, even a short-wave radio will probably do. An aerial is needed, but not a big one, there is no reason all of this could not fit in your pocket.

Although this presents a risk of voter intimidation, that someone might stand in the room and monitor how you vote, that has it’s own risks (the victim may go to the police). There are much more likely and clever forms of attack. During the last general election, I was a spoiled-ballot adjudicator in the Dublin South Central constituency. As we deliberated over various spoiled ballots, it became clear that a disproportionate number of unstamped ballot papers had Sinn Féin as a first preference. Each vote was clearly individually marked, making ballot stuffing an unlikely cause but instead the returning officer suspected that a polling officer had failed to stamp the ballots of likely Sinn Féin voters as they went to vote. An investigation was promised, but I’m not certain if much came of it.

With the Nedap system, a polling officer could similarly monitor the actual preferences of voters, and before the voter had a chance to press the cast vote button the officer could intervene or remove the power from the machine as it is pressed (in which case a vote will not be recorded).

The only realistic way to fix this problem with the Nedap machines would be retrofit a faraday cage (metallic shielding) around all of the components which emit the detectable signals. Not only is this costly, but the the actual buttons that a voter presses may be in this list of components, making it impossible. This is just one of the many reasons it is beyond ludicrous to suggest that these machines will ever be used.

The second item of confusion is surrounding the recommendations of the commission and the costs involved. Following Simon’s post several journalists got in contact with me about these particular things.

The actual recommendations concerning direct hardware modifications are R5, R6, R7, R9 and R10 which are all to be found in part 8 of the Commission on Electronic Voting’s second report. Additionally, part 5.2 (in C10) of that same report asserts that the Nedap system …

is not subject to any meaningful independent audit of its vote recording function. Thus the paper system is superior in this respect.

… which as far as we’re concerned is game over, and implies a change of hardware.

The Register screws the issue, again.

Last week, another bizarre and mis-informed article emerged on E-voting from Thomas C. Greene over at the Register. In that article Thomas linked to his previous articles on the issue but failed to link to one other in that series; Fergal Daly’s rebuttal of nearly every point he made, and Fergal wrote that over 2 years ago. You can read a series of other replies, including mine, in the ICTE thread.

Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis

And lastly, at the end of this week we’ll have the Fianna Fáil party. Between now and the end of the Árd Fheis, a further €16,000 will have been wasted. That the Taoiseach and Minister Roche are behaving irresponsibly on the issue is now clear. As Noel Whelan pointed out in his opinion piece in the Irish Times last Saturday;

Surely if the Taoiseach and his colleagues have learned anything in recent weeks, it is that the public realise that to err is human. The Government should have the decency to admit their error of judgment on electronic voting, apologise for it and trust the voters to be proportionate in their response.

The Árd Fheis is the perfect opportunity for the grass-roots of the party to hold the Taoiseach to account, but I’m betting there won’t be so much as a peep on the issue. As I said to one member of Fianna Fáil;

If the party of which you are member has no mechanism by why which such stark realities can be brought home to policy changes with the minimum of waste, then it’s simply never going to be worth respecting. If a change can’t be effected when you have objective reality on your side, it’s just a no-hoper.

I certainly won’t be holding my breath. I can’t but agree with Noel Whelan’s assessment;

Even though the Cabinet subcommittee has just begun its work, Minister for the Environment Dick Roche was confident on TV3 last weekend that the machines would be used in elections due to be held in 2009. Most voters will see this latest charade for what it is – an attempt to long-ball the ultimate decision to scrap this e-voting proposal well out past the next election in the hope that the current Government won’t be blamed for wasting the money. It won’t work and the Government should cut its political and financial losses now.

The battle against e-voting in Ireland has been won, what this is is about now is finally putting a stop to the senseless waste and beginning to lay some foundations for truly productive electoral reform. What we have right now is stomach-churning politics at its very worst.

2 Replies to "E-voting round-up"


Update on e-voting in Ireland » Jason Kitcat  on November 17, 2009

[...] overview of the situation. Colm MacCárthaigh, one of the Irish campaigners against e-voting, expands on his blog with details (including a bit on the Dutch campaign as he’s based in The Netherlands). Finally Joe [...]

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