[Fsfe-ie] E-Voting letter and IFSO logo

Éibhear ifso at gibiris.org
Thu Apr 8 00:10:44 CEST 2004

Cathal Mc Ginley wrote:
> I've also scribbled up a draft of the letter giving an IFSO perspective 
> to the e-voting system.
> http://homepage.eircom.net/~cathalmcginley/e-voting/draft-letter.html

I think it's worth emphasising that if this new system comes in, the 
election process will be in the control of a pair of private companies 
who are not even indigenous to Ireland. Also, I feel politicians don't 
realise that they will lose all practical ability to properly be part of 
the process -- especially when it comes to concerns.

For example, I would say in the last sentence of the first paragraph:

"To that end, I would like to raise some serious concerns which stem 
from the fact that the software used for the system will remain wholly 
in the control of private, foreign companies, and, therefore, secret, 
hidden from the general public."

I echo Aiden's suggestion of removing the '!' at the end of the sentence 
after you quote Mr. Lessig. Understatement works better there.

Perhaps you might put after "...a backwards step in terms of democracy, 
and it is natural that people are opposed to it." the following:

"Consider that with the current system every citizen, including your own 
election agent, has the opportunity and right to scrutinise and contest 
the manner in which votes are being counted. With the proposed 
electronic system, this will not be possible and any nagging doubts will 
never be confirmed, because the implementation of the process is closed 
to all citizens and independent organisations."

Replacing "including your own election agent" with "including election 
agents" may be a better notion, though I prefer highlighting the 
politician's own election prospects.

I'm concerned that the paragraph that covers anonymity of voters isn't 
correct. With the proposed system, the marking of the voter on the 
register will still be on paper, and the voter will enter the booth as 
anonymously as they do in the current system. We run the risk of 
invalidating the whole of the letter[1] if we are seen to be spreading 
FUD. Anonymity *is* at risk with the proposed system, as the ICTE has 
detailed very well in its submission with the Commission on Electronic 
Voting, but in a manner different to how you describe and which requires 
some social engineering as well as computing know-how to pull off.

The following two paragraphs are very strong, though.

The section on the counting software is also strong.

I would add to the point about the audit the following: "The source code 
for the computer programs used in June's forthcoming election will not 
be handed over to the Department of the Environment until after 
September. How is the department, or any of the consulting companies it 
uses, to know for certain that the code it will receive then was the 
code used in June? Just a few lines of code can make the difference to 
an election and only the writers of the code, if even them, will know."

Lastly, can I suggest that we cast more doubt on a candidate's 
confidence in the proposed system. Just before the last paragraph we 
could add:

"Elections are often won and lost by a handful of votes. Previously, as 
more recounts were called, ballots were more thoroughly scrutinised and 
the counting process more vigourously examined by agents of the 
candidates and the public. With the proposed system, a few lines of code 
could 'slip in' -- by accident or deliberately -- which would 
effectively change the result of an election if even only by a handful 
of votes. Because the programming code of the software is not available 
to all for scrutiny, because it was a 'close-run election anyway', no 
one would ever know that the wrong person was put onto the seat by dint 
of software failure or sabotage."

Dramatic, maybe, but I genuinely think that politicians understand the 
drama of electoral mishap better than the arguments based on 
bit-inversion errors and how non-random the storage of the ballots 
actually is.

I particularly like that last sentence: "Irish democracy is important; 
we must not allow it to be treated as a trade secret."

Good work, Cathal, thanks.


[1] It was reported a few days ago on the mailing list of the Irish 
Citizens for Trustworthy E-voting that Minister Cullen is now referring 
to the group as anti-globalisation anarchists, and "McGaley's crowd". He 
gives them no credit and believes them to be disruptive for the sake of 
it. Adding fuel to his fire by opposing the proposed system with 
arguments that aren't water-tight would be regressive, in my opinion.

Éibhear Ó hAnluain
GPG Fingerprint: E63B 461C D0B1 0F11 B08E  076F 4958 E0BA FD41 7C83
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