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test of electronic scrutiny (2006)

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In Italy, during the 2006 General Elections it was ALSO run an experiment of dangerous real electronic voting.
It was in the city of Cremona, it had no legal value and it used four Nedap machines.
Here it is the news (in Italian, I'm sorry)


  2006-04-09   Italy: electronic vote-counting experiment during 2006 general election

Despite the fact that the italian paper elections never had any problem and their results have never been questioned, Italian Government decided to experiment in the general elections of April 2006 electronic procedures to collect electoral results coming from polling rooms.


the "vote counting experiment"

The experiment was held only in four Italian regions (Liguria, Lazio, Sardegna and Puglia) and it counted votes of about 20% of the italian electors. It was a sort of computer-aided vote counting and not an electronic vote since votes were hand-written on ballot papers and "manually" counted by scrutineers at each polling room using the good old procedures.

except from :
Each ballot paper is checked by all six of the polling room workers and by any parties representatives. In case of disagreement about to whom assign the vote, the president decides a temporary "position", but that ballot paper is sent to Court for a final decision. The counting are simultaneously managed by two scrutineers both having a their own paper record. Paper records have one page for each party and candidate, each page is made of small numbered squares: 1, 2, 3, 4 and so forth. As each vote is assigned to a party (and/or a candidate) scruteeners find its page on their own paper record, cross the next empty square and loudly read its number. Till the two voices say the same number there are no problem, as soon as they differ everybody stops and check what happened.
The final result of each party (and/or candidate) is simply the number of the last crossed little square of its own paper record.

The innovation was that polling rooms were provided with an offline laptop connected to a 20" LCD screen and a printer. Each time a vote was manually assigned to a party (and counted on the traditional paper records), then a computer technician recorded the vote on the laptop while the staff of the polling room could watch his acts on the LCD screen which also reported the updated counts.
At the closing of the voting each polling room declared the manual result as the official one and, as usual, sent official paper records to the Local Authorities and to the Court for the tally up of the nationwide result.

Electronic results were printed at each polling room and if they were different from the manual ones then the latter were given to the counting program to replace the electronic result and form the official "electronic" result of the polling room. Then they were
  1. printed again and sent to the Local Authorities and to the Court
  2. copied to a USB Memory Key, transported by hands to a "central PC" located in the polling station and from that PC results were transmitted to the Ministry for the final tally up of "electronic" votes.

Please not that the "experiment" was explicitely aimed not to the modification of the way we manually count ballot papers, but only to update the way in which results of manual scrutinies are collected to produce the national electoral result. For that reason nobody can assert that "since the experiment did succeed then next time we can avoid manual scrutiny".

the risks of the "experiment"

Given the fact that votes were manually scruteenized, very serious problem aris from the electronic transmission of results from polling rooms to the Ministry. Infact it could happen that:

  • results copied to the USB keys differs from those printed and ufficially accepted
  • USB keys are tampered with or substituted with others
  • results are tampered with while being transmitted to the Ministry
  • The Ministry doesn't properly use all received data to tally up the nationwide result

remarks about the "experiment"

It is obvious to everyone that the above:
  1. it should not be called "experiment"
    Even if electronic results matched the manual ones in all 15000 polling rooms, this would not be a proof that they would match also in next elections. Infact in the next years hardware, software and also networks will surely different from those used for the so called "experimentation".
    At best the "experimentation" could only prove that computers can be programmed to sucessfully compute sums of integers and transmit the result to a central site! Infact the program simply added integer numbers (votes): 1 + 1 + 1 ...
  2. it was useless
    Manual and electronic votes counting produce their results simultanoulsy and thus there are no advantage in adding electronic counting to the manual one. Futhermore the results were necesserely to be the manual ones, so counting them also electronically was a waste of time and money!
  3. misbehaves
    Since the experiment was clearly useless, many of the technicians waited for the final manual result of the polling room and entered it into their computers. This misbehave, while not allowed by the law, was generally accepted since in any case the final results were the manual ones as required by the law. In this way technicians saved a lot of clicking on their laptop (4 clicks each vote!) and the manual procedures went faster.
  4. not every polling room run the "experiment"
    Please note that in many polling room no "experiment" was carried out due to the lack of technicians. This happened in three out of six polling rooms of the polling station where I worked as a party representative!

Thus, what for did Italy run such a strange and useless "experiment"? In my opinion there are a couple of answers:

  1. The first answer is related with businness: the 34 Million euro contract for the "experimentation" was directly given by the Government to a private company, out of any public call for tenders. This has been possible because when the Government officially decided the "experimentation" (Dec. 2005) it was too late to call for tenders. That's true, but it's also true that the Government knew from 2001 that election were due in the Spring of 2006! By chance it happened that when the contract was given the son of the Ministry of Interiors (the one which deals with elections) was working in the company that got the contract.
  2. The second reason is that the "experiment" is a sort of "trojan horse" to introduce electronic vote. Infact placing computers into polling rooms makes people confident with the use of electronics in elections. This will bring electors to gradually accept electronic vote as greately desired all over the world by hardware and software vendors (and also by those politicians who realize how easy is to alter results of electronic elections!). This is supported by the fact that during the same elections the city of Cremona ran a test of true electronic voting using NEDAP machines. The test (with no legal value) involved 4 polling rooms for a total of 3000 people. Some info (in italian only) are in the site of the Comune of Cremona

fortunately...

As you probably know it happened that election was very close and then paper records have been carefully checked one by one in the whole country because the Prime Minister Berlusconi initially refused to accept his defeat.

In this situation no one was interested about electronic results.
This saved us from many warries about the correctness of electoral results.

After all checks he had to concede, thus proving that Italian manual ballot paper procedures are absolutely reliable (and also safe from possible influence of the ruling Government!).

What to do

the new procedure could be used as the only official way to collect electoral data only if political parties continue to record results of each polling room to compute their own general results.

Infact there will be no more physical offical records of votes at any level (city, province, state) to verify with. Ballot papers will still be there but recounting them all again will be almost impossible

image how difficult it would be to recount 40 millions of ballot papars weeks after the proclamation (if unofficial) of a winner. There would be a ruling Government and another Government claiming to be the legal one! In many countries this could lead to a civil war!

For that reason it is extremely important that
  1. the Government publishes results of any polling room, and their sum into the nationwide result
  2. parties verify that results reported by the Ministry for each polling room are really those manually counted and reported by their observers in the polling rooms. Once verified such basic data a simple computer application could be used to verify the general result given by the Government.

costs

Costs are very high. Italian Government planned to spend euro 34,000,000 to have only 20% of votes counted by the new procedure. We should not expect that for next term election we'll be able to use the same HW & SW (in five years time not even our selves for our hobby will use the same computer we use today at home!) So costs are a very big problem! We all know that computing companies (hw & sw) push very strongly towards e-voting (can you guess why?), but as a citizen I care about the way my money are spent.

links

The following are some usefull links (all in italian, I'm sorry). Article 2 of the new law explicitely states that the scrutiny is done using the classic manual procedures.

test of electronic scrutiny (2006)
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