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German Court Bans E-Voting As Currently Employed 82

Posted by timothy
from the grandfathered-in dept.
Kleiba writes "The highest German Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, Federal Constitutional Court) ruled that electronic voting machines like Nedap ESD1 and ESD2 are not permissible in Germany. Der Spiegel, a well-known German newspaper, is featuring article on today's decision (in German; Babelfish translation here) which was the result of a lawsuit by physicist Ulrich Wiesner and his father Joachim Wiesner, a professor emeritus of political science. The main argument against the voting machines in the eyes of the Court is that they conflict with the principle of transparency. 2009 is a major election year for Germany, with parliamentary elections in the fall." Reader Dr. Hok writes "Voting machines are not illegal per se, but with these machines it wasn't possible to verify the results after the votes were cast. The verification procedure by the German authorities was flawed, too: only specimens were tested, not the machines actually used in the elections, and the detailed results (including the source code) were not made public. The results of the election remain legally valid, though."
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German Court Bans E-Voting As Currently Employed

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  • about time, really (Score:4, Informative)

    by dunkelfalke (91624) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @09:05AM (#27050503)

    while those nedap voting machines were easy to use (i voted using them four times), they were so insecure (you would need three guys and one minute of time to hack them as this youtube video [youtube.com] shows) that they were already banned in their home country a year ago.

  • by Timosch (1212482) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @10:16AM (#27051313)
    As usual, the Babelfish translation of the Spiegel article is horrible, so I just quickly translated it to Englisch myself.

    "Federal Constitutional Court stops usage of voting computers
    Until further notice, German voters will vote with pen and paper: The Constitutional court has declared the voting machines used e.g. in the last Federal election illegal. The current technology had defects and was hard to control[, the court said].
    Karlsruhe. - The approx. 1800 devices with which around 2 mio. voters have voted in the Bundestag election of 2005 contradict the principle of public election [The Principle that votes are counted in public., note of translator], it said in the verdict delivered on Tuesday.
    However, as there were no hints of errors, the election itself remains valid, the court in Karlsruhe decided. It can hence be expected that the elections this year will be carried out with paper and a pen.
    With the decision on Tuesday, two complains were mostly successful. The appeal complained about several flaws in the machines which, according to the plaintiffs, violate secret voting and democratic control over the couting.
    The Vice president of the Federal Constitutional Court, Andreas VoÃYkuhle, stressed that e-voting isn't completely banned now. However, the currently used machines had flaws. "The tenor of the decision could lead to the conclusion that the court was hostile towards technology and misconceived the challenges and possibilities of the digital age.", VoÃYkuhle said. But this was not true. The use of voting machines would indeed be possible. "Nor has the court banned possibilities of internet voting."
    Approx. 2 mio. voters haven't voted with a pen and a ballot in the 2005 election, but instead with a voting machine.
    The electronic voting devices were used in 39 of the 299 voting districts all over the country, precisely in the states of Brandenburg, Hesse, Nordrhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Pfalz and Saxony-Anhalt.
    The Nedap voting machines common in Germany were used for the first time during the 1999 EP election and recently in a municipal election in Brandenburg in September 2008. The decision of the Federal Constitutional Court was aimed at the computers Nedap ESD1 and ESD2.
    The plaintiffs were the physician Ulrich Wiesner and his father Joachim Wiesner, a retired policital scientist. In the name of the plaintiffs, Prof. Wolfgang LÃwer from Bonn critizised in the hearing in October that the voters would have to have "blind faith" towards the electronic ballots. "We are concerned about a vacuum of control after the act of voting." This endangered the principle of a public election. In a traditional ballot election, the citizens can be present during the counting of the ballots. Justice Rudolf Mellinghoff, who was the primary responsible judge in the case, then [in October] asked about the possibility to make the computer election more traceable through a printed ballot.
    Experts say that modifications of the software could generally be discovered afterwards, but hardware modifications - i.e. on the actual device - were hard to discover, JÃrn Müller-Quade from the European Institute for System Security said. Such manipulations were demonstrated by the Chaos Computer Club.
    Voting machines have been used in several countries for years. Especially in the USA, they are very common despite known flaws in elections. Especially punchcards are wide spread over there and played a major role in the problems of the Presidential election of 2000 in Florida."

  • proud (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @11:35AM (#27052387) Homepage Journal

    For one, I'm proud to live here.

    The higher courts in Germany are very often quite smart and experienced at cutting through the bullshit and finding (and then ruling on) the actual matter. There are actually several such "highest courts", since only certain matters can go to the BVG, and in most areas of the law the specialist top-court is just that. In the words of one judge of the BAG (the highest court for labor law): "Above us, there's only god".

    This is another fine piece. If you can read german, I strongly recommend reading the full reasoning once its out.

  • Re:Hard copy (Score:3, Informative)

    by DrVomact (726065) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @02:21PM (#27054887) Journal

    I disagree. Electronic voting, properly implemented would have clear and significant advantages over traditional paper or punchcard ballots. Electronic voting could be both faster and more accurate than the older methods.

    It should be obvious that electronic results can be tabulated much more quickly than hand counted ballots. If you're talking about punch cards processed by machine readers, then a purely electronic process would still be faster. There's no need to handle any sort of physical media—you just transfer the vote count electronically to a CPU, and add it up.

    As far as accuracy in reflecting the true intent of the voters, an electronic process could also be significantly superior. Each voting machine would have an exact digital record of every vote cast. There would be none of the problems associated with analog ballots—like the famous "hanging chads" of Florida, or poorly marked paper ballots that give false results when processed by OCR. A properly designed voting machine would be capable of detecting user error (like voting for opposing candidates for the same office, or not voting for anyone at all), and notify the voter immediately.

    So what do I mean by "properly implemented"? Well, pretty much everyone here will agree that closed, proprietary hardware and software are absolutely not a good idea for voting machines. The design and code must be public, so that the public (or the more technically sophisticated members thereof) can examine them for flaws. There must also be public discussion of the procedures used to safeguard the integrity of the machines and their data. Given such openness, there's no reason why a reliable electronic voting system can't be built and used with confidence.

    My strongest objection to electronic voting as it's now implemented is that it leaves no audit trail. Once the electronic votes are tabulated, there's no way to check that the votes were, indeed, counted honestly. I think there's a pretty simple solution to this: print out a copy of the voter's ballot, and allow him to review it when he leaves the voting booth. If the voter agrees that the printout is legible and reflects how he actually voted, the paper goes into a box.

    But doesn't that obviate the whole point of electronic voting; aren't we ultimately back to counting paper ballots? Not at all! First, the paper exists only as an audit trail. The votes are counted electronically. Only if a candidate demands a recount are the boxes of paper ballots ever opened and counted.

    More importantly, though, the paper printouts provide a way to verify that the system is working correctly on a continual basis. To prove that the electronic system is honest, it's not necessary to count every single ballot to see if the electronic and paper totals are equal. If you have a paper trail, then you can do a statistical analysis of only a small sample of the voting results from randomly chosen districts and machines to verify that the vote was honest. This can—and should—be done continually on a random basis to detect any corruption of the process.

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