A coalition of technical, legal and political experts yesterday launched the free e-democracy project to ensure that electronic voting can be trusted by voters and politicians across Europe.
Voters and candidates must be able to feel certain that voting intentions are accurately recorded. If any doubts arise then all interested parties must be able to verify and audit all aspects of the election, the project says.
The coalition includes groups such as the free e-democracy project, the Usability Professionals' Association and the Foundation for Information Policy Research. It warns that voter trust in the electoral process could be destroyed. without such safeguards debacles such as the count of votes in the last US Presidential election are likely to be repeated on this side of the Atlantic, it warns.
Computerised voting is inherently subject to programming error, human error, equipment malfunction and malicious tampering. Due to the opaque nature of the technologies involved, which few understand, it is crucial that electronic voting systems provide a voter-verifiable audit trail. This must be achieved without compromising the secrecy and integrity of the ballot.
We'd note that e-voting is surely an application where the transparency of open source technologies comes into its own. But rather than getting into such technical debate, the coalition is sticking to general points of principle.
Louise Ferguson, a board member of the Usability Professionals' Association and a leader of its voting project, said: "We need to ensure that new systems for voting are well designed and secure, or we risk losing voter confidence in the democratic process."
E-voting systems lacking these safeguards are being rushed upon voters across Europe with little regard for the risks and the costs to our democracies, according to the coalition.
The UK has held e-voting trials in local government elections, and will hold more as part of the 2004 European elections. France, Spain and Ireland have also held trials. E-voting is already established in Belgium and Switzerland.
The European Commission is looking at introducing e-voting across the EU, and the Council of Europe is developing guidelines for elections involving e-voting.
The campaign calls on all concerned European citizens to sign up to a resolution demanding a voter-verifiable audit trail.
Jason Kitcat, a campaign founder, said: "This is an issue which needs to gain the attention of politicians before it's too late and we have unauditable electronic election systems installed. Our hope is that by mobilising the voices of technical, legal and political experts we can nip this potentially disastrous problem in the bud."
Mikko Valimaki, chairman of Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI), added: "We have already seen real problems with e-voting machines in the US. One candidate in the 2000 US elections was awarded -16,022 votes due to a technical error. While this problem was fixed in time, in a democratic society we cannot tolerate software or hardware errors in the voting system." ®
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