An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
E-voting goes on
My former boss and current social acquaintance Annrai O'Toole co-authors a piece in today's IT about e-voting. He says "Ill-informed "experts" are not helping the debate on e-voting" although he then goes on to call critics of the proposed system Luddites, (twice) which I suspect won't help the debate either. e.g.
"Computers are used in aircraft, cars and navigation systems because they are less prone to errors than humans. Yet, to listen to some "experts" going on about the unreliability of computing machines is like being back in times when rail was being introduced and they thought it wouldn't be safe for humans to travel faster than 20 m.p.h"
Having reassured the nation, very convincingly I should add, on the invincibility of the actual Nedap voting machine, he does acknowledge that he has concerns about the counting software.
"If we have reservations it is about the counting software. The problem is not its technical complexity - we could write a program to perform the entire Irish general election count using Microsoft Excel in a day. Our concerns are about the transparency, both perceived and actual, of the software itself. We believe the source code should be freely available. Indeed, for a very modest sum the Government could fund an open-source project to have the universities write a piece of code to count the votes........In fact the electronic tally data provided from now on should be published on the web so every voter and every school can see what happened in their community. Analysing voter trends should not be limited to a high priesthood of tallymen. Electronic voting could yet make experts of us all!"
Many of the criticisms of e-voting centre on the counting system. For example, he neglects to mention (or perhaps space did not permit) that one of the flaws of manual counting is being deliberately imported into the computerised and supposedly more accurate system. That is that when surpluses (after the 1st count) are being distributed they are done so on a random rather than actual basis. For the non-pr/stv expert that means the following:
Candidate 1 gets 15,000 number 1's with a quote of 10,000. To be absolutely accurate, all 15,000 of his votes should be counted again to examine who gets the number 2's. If Candidate no. 2 gets 5,000, i.e. 30% of the total then he should be awarded 1500 votes i.e. 30% of the 5,000 surplus. However, because it would take forever to count all the total votes every single time there was a surplus, there is a random system in place. I 've seen this happen. They put all the paper ballots into a bin. Take off 5,000 and only count those votes and award them accordingly.
One of the (few) advantages of a computerised system is that this random element would be unnecessary and all votes could be counted for each surplus. For some bizarre reason they've decided to import this random element with the computerised system.
Finally, AOT's comments that the source code should be published as should the full results are also worthy. Yet the government refuses to publish the source code (they bought it on the basis that it was proprietary and therefore confidential). This is one of the major criticisms people have made. And, as far as I am aware, each returning officer will give a printout of each count to candidates, agents and the meeja. I guess the meeja will put it on websites HOWEVER, this information will not include the votes from each module. In manually counted elections, people can observe the votes from each ballot box being counted. Therefore they know how each candidate did in pretty small electoral areas. With this system they will only get the votes for the whole constituency. That's a huge information gap for political pundits. Still, the views of luddites like them don't count......
posted by Sarah | 20:07 0 comments
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