Well, now is as good a moment as any to tell you all what I’ve been working on for the past month. I’ve taken a trip deep into the stinking bowels of a bad idea which in English is commonly called “Black Box voting” by those that oppose it. Black box voting is a form of “e-Voting” or electronic voting, which in itself is defined as people voting on computers in the polling stations, as opposed to “i-Voting”, which is defined as people voting at home behind their PC. Black box voting is electronic voting where there is no independent means to verify the outcome of an election. If citizens want to believe the outcome of a black box election, they would need to place infinite trust in the hardware and software inside the voting computers and in the infrastructure behind it.
Black box voting is a Bad Idea. Elections are after all the holy process of democracy, and not something that should be tampered with lightly. For democracy to have any meaning, election results need to be widely trusted. And for that they need to be verifiable by a large proportion of the population. Now this verifiability can take two forms: either it happens implicitly because of the large number of people involved in a manual vote count. The large number means that a very large number of people would need to be corrupted (by a party or parties with the same interest) for significant changes to the result to be accomplished. But there is also explicit verifiability: in situations where government cannot be trusted to organize honest elections, a large number of ordinary citizens can go to the polling stations and personally witness the votes being cast and counted. Most countries have provisions built into their election legislation that allow people to watch the process. I live in a country where such provisions exist, but actual citizen-witnessing of the elections is not currently deemed necessary by many. But the people of Ukraine and Azerbaijan have recently needed to go to the polling stations, in some cases forcing corrupt officials to snatch the ballot boxes away at gunpoint.
The United States are currently experiencing quite a few problems with election results being manipulated. Even though unverifiable voting on computers is only a part of the problem there, a controversial company called Diebold seems to working hard to stay controversial.
In The Netherlands, where I live, most voting computers are built by a dutch company called Nedap. These computers are also being exported to other countries, and some areas in Germany and France are using them too. But there is no country which does as much of its voting on computers as the Netherlands. At the time of writing this, only 13 relatively small communities still vote on paper, the rest of the Netherlands votes on computers. The case of The Netherlands is being used internationally as an example of how e-Voting is benign and completely reliable and non-controversial.
However in Ireland people have demanded that the government have thorough independent inspections of the voting computers done before switching from paper ballots to computers. The result has been a number of reports finding that these dutch Nedap computers were not secure enough. The Irish, although having spent 50 million Euros on the computers, decided to stay with paper for the time being. (These Irish reports are by the way almost the only source of information I have as to how the elections in my own country work, which in itself is a source of shame.) The experiences of the Irish resistance against black box voting show that one can actually win battles like this, and that you can get people to care about whether or not they can verify election results.
I’ve decided to dedicate some of my time to fighting black box voting and help set up a campaign to educate people as to what is going on. Part of the reason for doing this is a sense of guilt. People all over Europe are fighting the computers that come from my country. With my background I was in a perfect position to have been active much sooner, before e-Voting swept the country the way it did. I knew about the problem years ago and should have done more in the nineties.
I will be blogging about elections and voting much more often in the next weeks and months, thereby revitalizing this suffering blog in the process. For now, all that can read dutch should check out http://www.wijvertrouwenstemcomputersniet.nl . We’ve got a lot of information there. The campaign is growing, but it can use a lot of help still. For those of you who do not speak dutch: more english language information will be available soon. For now you may want to look at http://blackboxvoting.org just to get an idea of what’s out there.