“Impossible to stand over system” claims voting expert

2 Mar 2004

An independent computer professional has strongly questioned the testing methods used to check the Government’s electronic voting system which is due to be rolled out nationwide this June. Meanwhile the lobby group Irish Citizens for Trustworthy E-voting has confirmed it is considering legal action against the introduction of the system.

Joe McCarthy, a computer professional and election expert, said there were a number of flaws and errors in the proposed e-voting system and that technical issues were “rampant”. Through the Freedom of Information Act he has obtained details from the Department of the Environment about the nature of the testing performed on the system. As a result he said that the terms of reference for the tests were very narrow and claimed that the entire system has not been tested from start to finish.

“There have been minute, narrow and segregated pieces of testing which is not an end-to-end test at all,” said McCarthy. For example, the Irish firm Nathean read a copy of the 70,000 lines of software code written specifically for the Irish electoral system but did not test it. In addition the rest of the code – some 130,000 lines – is written in Dutch and as such couldn’t be evaluated by the Irish firm. Other tests undertaken by different companies were also limited in scope, he claimed.

McCarthy produced calculations which put the total cost of the system closer to €82.5m – more than double the cost revealed by the Government when it launched its e-voting plan last month.

“There is so much concern from a technical point of view that it is impossible for a professional to stand over this system,” McCarthy said. He is not a member of the ICTE although he said he supports its goals. The ICTE for its part is circulating a petition among computer scientists in many of the major Irish universities, backing the organisation’s claim that computers are prone to programming and design errors.

The ICTE, which consists of computer professionals and academics, has made repeated calls for a voter-verified audit trail – a paper record that confirms votes cast as they were input into the e-voting machine.

Today it also urged that any e-voting system be developed to the highest standard, with open source software available for public scrutiny.

ICTE wants an independent commission to be established to make decisions about the origin and nature of the e-voting system. The Government is due to appoint a panel to examine the accuracy of the e-voting system and an announcement is expected today about the makeup of this group, which according to reports will be chaired by a High Court judge.

However, Joe McCarthy said that the panel has a very narrow set of terms of reference and it has an insufficient amount of time to produce a report. The panel has been given a deadline of early May which McCarthy said was not long enough to check the system properly.

Meanwhile ICTE is considering legal action to halt the introduction of e-voting if necessary, the organisation confirmed to siliconrepublic.com. However, it cannot act until the upcoming local and European elections are themselves given official legal status, which will not happen until mid-May. siliconrepublic.com understands that any legal action would not be against e-voting per se but against the forthcoming election and the system being used to run it.

By Gordon Smith