The Faith-Based Vote

Confidence in the results of election polls is fundamental to encouraging public participation and preventing the kind of legal challenges that led to the “hanging chad” fracas around the 2000 US Presidential count in Florida and NI’s own Fermanagh & South Tyrone court cases.

Over the weekend, Slate published an interesting article that describes the continued use of electronic voting systems in the upcoming US mid-term polls and the “faith-based results” that will be relied on.

Whoever the machines report as the “winner” will become the winner, even though no human being will be able to prove that any of those candidates received more votes than the “loser.”

There have always been worries about the security and accuracy of electronic voting systems … seemingly digital (microchip) voting solutions are more suspect and prone to concern than digital (“stupid old pencil”) voting solutions.

A few weeks ago, a couple of computer scientists hacked Sequoia’s AVC Edge, replacing the voting software with a Pac-Man video game—without even breaking the machine’s co-called “tamper evident” seals.

Seals aren’t much good if the screws are exposed!

The Pac-Man hack … was accomplished without breaking any of the “tamper-evident” seals that voting machine companies and election officials claim are used to ensure nobody can physically hack into them without being discovered.

“We received the machine with the original tamper-evident seals intact,” the hackers from Princeton and University of Michigan report. “The software can be replaced without breaking any of these seals, simply by removing screws and opening the case.”

Ireland trialled the use of electronic voting machines in three constituencies during the 2002 General Election and referendum on the Treaty of Nice. Having subsequently purchased 7000 e-vote machines from Nedap , software changes were required to address “the absence of an audit mechanism or verified paper trail”. Back on 27 October 2006, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern explained to the Dáil:

We have to correct the software, which will cost €500,000 and try to move forward. Otherwise, this country will move into the 21st century being a laughing stock with our stupid old pencils.

By April 2009, any plan to roll out electronic voting was scrapped, and in early October 2010, the €54.6 million scheme was fully abandoned with the announcement to dispose of the machines (which have been stored across the country at a cost of €3 million over the previous five years).

No doubt, locally, EONI will stick to stupid old pencils for many years to come!

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  • “stupid old pencils”

    Our polling station used small ball-point pens, Alan.

  • That look like they’ve been stolen from Argos!

  • Drumlins Rock

    pens:? NEVER!!!

  • Funny that EONI held a Guess the number of ballot pencils competition during the Presiding Officer training in Banbridge for the European Election … wonder was the correct answer “zero – because we use pens!”

  • Drumlins Rock

    If you were to ever go electronic then it should be a dual system, ie. you push a button it records it electronically and also prints you a ballot paper to put in the box, but think that sounds sorta expensive.
    Stick with the pencil, if F&ST tell us anything it is that for only 3 votes to be in doubt is roughly a 0.03% margin of error, cant see electronic improving on that.
    The circus that is the “rush to declare” first has to end fun as it is there is a danger of it undermining the whole process.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Its still pencils in my neck of the woods. They date from about 1900 as does the Man who has been in charge of the polling station.
    He and I have crossed swords on a few occasions causing the Police Person to kinda get embarrassed and look the other way.
    I am now under strict instructions from my wife to avoid any incident.
    But as a confirmed technophobe I much prefer the pencils.
    On a semi serious point, voting is something which should be open to all. And actually “learning how to vote” should not play a part in the proceedings.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Its not just the rush to declare……its the concentration span of young ‘uns interested in politics is now so limited by video games ….that they demand instant satisfaction.
    And its not the robots we have to fear…….its the young people who operate them. Those of us on the cemetry side of 50 are marginalised enough already by mobile phones and Facebook.
    Time to reclaim the streets!

  • sam

    Surely it is equally important to ensure the honesty and integrity of the officials supervising the polling and doing the counting. Perhaps the ballot papers for Fermanagh/South Tyrone should handed out by PSNI and the count carried out in Scotland.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    ensuring the honesty and integrity of politicians might be a good idea too.

  • joeCanuck

    We use pencils here too in Canada and manual counting. I think it’s the simplest and the best. The trouble with such a system in the USA, for example, is that when an election comes round you are not just voting in one election but many. Lots of states have their officials such as D.A.s, sheriffs etc as well as voter propositions so you can have a large number of options. It makes the counting a laborious exercise if some sort of automation isn’t used.

  • joeCanuck

    Should perhaps have mentioned that some councils including mine have this year introduced on-line voting for the local elections.

  • joeCanuck

    I’d love to hear your ideas on how to do that. I think it’s virtually impossible given the small number of investigative journalists and the existence of gagging orders.