ICTE renews call for paper parallel in e-voting plan

23 Feb 2004

The Irish Citizens for Trustworthy E-voting group has again called for a paper trail to be added to the electronic voting system due to be introduced around the country this year. Meanwhile the Irish Computer Society has said it supports e-voting but believes the launch should be postponed until all concerns around the system have been addressed.

ICTE has raised the issue ahead of tomorrow’s cabinet meeting, where e-voting will be on the agenda once more. According to spokesperson Margeret McGaley, a voter-verifed paper audit trail is the only way a voter can be certain their vote has been recorded correctly.

The group has rejected claims by the Department of the Environment, which is managing the project on the Government’s behalf, and the suppliers of the machines, that there are legal, technical and financial barriers to adding a paper trail feature to the systems. In particular the ICTE questioned the notion of legal obstacles barring the way to adding paper ballots to the electronic system. Colm MacCárthaigh, a representative of the organisation, said that raising this issue when paper had been used in the electoral system for 80 years, was “simply not credible”.

The Government has so far refused to entertain the notion of adding a paper audit trail to the system, calling it an unnecessary duplication. It has recently indicated that this would also add to the cost of implementing e-voting, which already stands at close to €35m.

In its latest statement, the ICTE said that it believes running a paper count alongside electronic tallies would not be costly. It also rejected claims that parallel counts would always lead to different results because of randomization. “A paper audit trail is fully workable, and it is enough to verify that for every electronic vote we have a paper equivalent. The only circumstance in which a paper audit trail will give a different result is where the electronic record has errors,” MacCárthaigh added.

The ICTE is also angry that criticism of the system is being made to appear as though it originates from the US, where the machinery of e-voting is substantially different. “These concerns are coming from Irish experts,” said Margaret McGaley.

Last week the Irish Computer Society backed the Government’s move to introduce e-voting, although it acknowledged concerns surrounding the security of the system and the extent of testing performed on it. Speaking to siliconrepublic.com, Michael O’Duffy of the ICS said he favoured postponing the introduction of full e-voting until all of the issues had been addressed.

O’Duffy acknowledged the concern of opponents around a system where so many members of the public are potential users. He pointed out this concern should be qualified by the fact that some of the people discussing the issue were not privy to exactly what the situation was. He said that the Government should release full details of the testing and security into the public domain.

The ICS, a non-political organisation, formulated its position last week following a meeting of all of the society’s officers. O’Duffy is its public policy chairman; coincidentally he holds a fulltime position at the Centre for Software Engineering, which ensures quality in software systems. O’Duffy drew attention to the role of Microsoft Access as a database in the system which he said needs to be clarified. “Access should not be used by critical systems,” he said. “If it’s used purely for taking votes it may be all right, but if it’s used for counting, it may not be adequate.”

Overall the ICS has endorsed e-voting in principle because “almost inevitably, it would extend the democratisation of the country,” O’Duffy said. In theory the system could allow the government of the day to gauge reaction to a particular subject. “It could be used for non-election purposes, for example looking for public opinion on issues of major public concern. E-voting could facilitate that more easily,” he said.

By Gordon Smith