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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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  • Wheres the tag (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @08:59AM (#27050433)
    suddenoutbreakofcommonsense ?
    • by genik76 (1193359)
      slowoutbreakofcommonsense would be more fitting.
    • by rbrausse (1319883)

      > suddenoutbreakofcommonsense ?
      no, the Constitutional Court is the one only example in Germany for decisions with sense.

      (but I'll claim a suddenoutbreakofcommonsense if our government or parliament would only act half as wise as the highest court....)

  • 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.

    • Actually I donâ(TM)t think its necessary 3 peoples to accomplish this hack. One person can manage it pretty easily, assuming it has all the knowledge required to hack an EPROM
  • I don't understand why they don't make these things punch out an internal hard copy like on a reel of paper inside for purposes of auditing and having a hard copy.

    • Wait? Leaving a paper trail of the voting? I don't thing that was "missed" or "left out", it is more like a feature.

    • Re:Hard copy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by beleriand (22608) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @09:24AM (#27050675)
      This only makes sense if it is verified immediately by the majority of the voters. If it's just an internal hard copy, a manipulated machine can just "punch out" the same wrong vote that is stored, while fooling the voter on the display.

      Now what's the point of complicated and expensive machines which would present a printout to voters, ask for confirmation, etc?

      Pen&Paper voting is much cheaper, and very secure.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DrVomact (726065)

        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

        • by Jesus_666 (702802)

          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.

          Where's the advantage? The voting stations close at 18:00 and at 24:00 all or virtually all votes have been counted. Having a room full of people count a few hundred ballots twice doesn't take much time.

          As far as accuracy in reflecting the true intent of the voters, an electronic pr

          • by DrVomact (726065)
            Well, since Jesus disagrees with me, I can pretty well regard myself as refuted. Some days, it doesn't pay to post.
    • by Teun (17872)
      That would be very scary and therefore it is illegal.
      Because the secrecy of the vote would be lost when anyone that can count could figure out what the Nth. voter of the day had cast.
    • by Touvan (868256)

      If you can't see inside the machine to see what it's doing (impossible with computer chips) - you can't trust it. I don't understand why anyone thinks a computerized voting machines (and especially vote counting machines) can ever work. The incentives are all in the wrong place to make these accurate - it's just too important to win.

      The best, most accurate, hardest to cheat system, is a hand counted (the emphasis belongs on the hand counted part) paper ballots (stuffed randomly into a cardboard box to solve

  • by Caue (909322)
    We've been using voting machines in Brazil for quite some time now, always with satisfatory results

    that makes me wonder: how hard is it to hack a piece of paper and a pen? if you have the means and a set objective, you can "hack" anything. And you don't even need a computer to do so.

    • by johannesg (664142) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @09:22AM (#27050649)

      We've been using voting machines in Brazil for quite some time now, always with satisfatory results

      that makes me wonder: how hard is it to hack a piece of paper and a pen? if you have the means and a set objective, you can "hack" anything. And you don't even need a computer to do so.

      The difference is numbers. A single programmer in the right place can hack an entire election, untraceable for anybody else. To perform a similar hack in a pen and paper system you would need thousands, if not tens of thousands of people. The chances of none of them talking are slim, thus there is a much better chance of people finding out about the fraud.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @10:04AM (#27051175)

        The difference is numbers.

        Exactly. And there is no way to check the results. You have to trust the people running the voting system.

        With paper and pen votes there are people from different political parties in the voting commitee, so they can keep an eye on their fellow commitee members, so that they can't invalidate a paper vote or stuff additional votes into the box.

        With an electronic voting system computer professionals can be delegated by different parties, but it is much harder to keep a tab on what the other is doing than with simple paper/pen systems.

        • by Jane_Dozey (759010) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @10:24AM (#27051399)

          And to add to that they also have to all be able to verify that the machines do exactly what they say they do internally and that there's no nefarious code, that once the data has left the machine it is verified as being correct and remains so.
          Then there's the issue of the machine being left unguarded, who knows if someone tampered with it if it was? At least with paper ballots, if they're unaccounted for one moment and then they show up they can be checked quickly or heck, destroyed if there's any suspicion.

    • by Peaker (72084)

      The problem is that pen & paper are transparent enough that people understand the threats reasonably well, and are not remote-controllable.

      Computers introduce so many ways to remotely hack them in ways you can never detect that they impose almost no risk to the hacker.

      Anyone using chemicals or whatnot trying to hack pen&paper elections is going to need a lot of chemicals, or a big operation, and will have a much harder and more dangerous time doing so.

    • by pinky99 (741036)
      But it's about scalability: Of course it is possible "hack" pen and paper, but it's much harder to do for say 5000 votes, while as you just need to hack one machine to be able to change all votes casted with this machine (shown to be achievable in few minutes). Plus, it is undetectable, if it was hacked or not.
    • by grumbel (592662)

      how hard is it to hack a piece of paper and a pen?

      Its easy to hack it, but its nearly impossible to do it on a large scale without getting caught, thanks to the whole process being completly transparent, understandable by everybody and most importantly verifiable by the voter himself. Your average non-paper-trail electronic voting machine fails on all three of them. With a voting machine with paper trail things look much better then without, but then whats the point of buying expensive machines, when you need to hand count anyway to be sure of the results?

      • by Caue (909322)
        what we are saying in all of this is that election frauds were made easier, not created by eletronic voting. that's a huge difference when considering keep on improving the systems or just abandoning them. Hell, i still use my bank internet account and rely on the web for most of my transactions and purchases. Those were once accounted as doomed by hacking, but experience has proven that a controlled environment can be created even in a flooded swamp.
        • Using a computer to wipe my butt is a) more expensive, and b) detrimental to my health. (However, both methods offer a paper trail.) Solution 1: I wipe my butt the old fashioned way. Solution 2: I spend money to come up with a better computer.

          You're opting for solution 2. I apologise for the crass example.

          The success of online banking mostly just proves that many people, myself included, are willing to live the with apparent downsides of online banking (much lower cost to the banks; lower security, though o

        • The difference between using online banking and electronic voting is that at all steps in the process for online banking you have a trail. You, as the user, can take a screen shot of each step along the way and print out a confirmation notice so you have a physical copy of what took place. In fact, most places send you a confirmation email. I know this happens when I pay my electric and phone bills online.

          The same is not the case for electronic voting. At no point, in most cases, does the user get somet

    • by nem75 (952737)
      It's harder to discard tons of paper than to change a number on a digital medium or in memory.
    • The difference is simple. If you hack a paper election, evidence is left behind. If you skillfully hack an election with computers, you can do it and leave no evidence.

    • by prefec2 (875483)

      If you have an election and the votes are collected on paper the voting can be confidential, free, and equal. And to guarantee these three aspects counting has to be public and a possible recounting in public must be possible. With a computer you loose this correction criteria, because they count in an not observable manner and manipulations cannot be excluded. The only feature you get from a voting machine is, that the results can be presented faster. However, I do not understand why this is an advantage f

    • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @10:55AM (#27051797) Homepage Journal

      We've been using voting machines in Brazil for quite some time now, always with satisfactory results

      How do you know the results are correct, and to what degree? This is a VERY serious question.

      If politician A beats politician B by 10%, with the win fairly evenly distributed across many precincts and recounts of the paper ballots confirm the numbers, then you have a pretty strong reason to believe the outcome is correct, because alteration of that many votes in that many precincts would be intractable, as long as reasonable care is taken in the transportation and counting, and as long as all phases of the process are open to observation by the representatives of the political parties.

      People can see pieces of paper, and watch how they're handled, sorted, counted, etc.

      People cannot see digital bits represented as minute current flows, so bits are fundamentally less transparent.

      • by Caue (909322)
        funny or not, the voting machines here print out automatically all the data inserted, so you can validate the results. The main difference is that the results come in hours, not days or weeks.

        like every other sub-developed country, we have international delegates that watch over the elections looking for scams and irregularities. Funny, but we will always have a bigger problem dealing with bullying and bought votes than with the voting machine

        may I recall you all about the 2000 fiasco that was bush x gor

        • by swillden (191260)

          funny or not, the voting machines here print out automatically all the data inserted, so you can validate the results.

          If those pieces of paper are collected and can be used to perform recounts, and if the voters validate their choices before dropping the paper in the collection box, then that's an excellent system. IMO, the best.

          may I recall you all about the 2000 fiasco that was bush x gore, relying on the good and old pen and paper.

          Actually, that fiasco relied on paper, but not pen. Remember the "hanging chads"?

          • by relguj9 (1313593)

            funny or not, the voting machines here print out automatically all the data inserted, so you can validate the results.

            If those pieces of paper are collected and can be used to perform recounts, and if the voters validate their choices before dropping the paper in the collection box, then that's an excellent system. IMO, the best.

            I agree with this sentiment. It's a simple solution that is actually extremely effective. If there is any reason to doubt the results, they have hard copies that people can go through by hand. Makes it completely transparent.

            To be honest though, I'd normally trust the results of a computer collecting tallies over people counting them by hand.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by swillden (191260)

              To be honest though, I'd normally trust the results of a computer collecting tallies over people counting them by hand.

              Which is more trustworthy is an interesting question.

              On the one hand, computers are more systematic. They don't make random errors and they don't have political biases, per se. However, programming errors or deliberately-introduced bias mean that their speed allows them to miscount lots of votes really fast.

              Humans make more actual mistakes, and may be prone to shading the results, but their counting is done in the open and at a pace where other humans with different biases can double-check their resul

              • by relguj9 (1313593)
                You win the prize.
    • by Zoxed (676559)

      > that makes me wonder: how hard is it to hack a piece of paper and a pen?

      Very hard: IIRC the paper-based process is designed to be *always* open to inspection: observers can watch the ballot papers going into boxes, the boxes being transported, opened and counted. Just last week a UK by-election check observed that a particular counting table was out of visual line from the observers platform.

      There is no way to translate the above to an electronic system (even if the machines GUIs can be made perfect an

  • OK, maybe I'm naive and all elected officials are "evil" (tm) and continually scheming to become dictators, but this whole electronic voting thing keeps coming up over and over and over. Seriously, are elected officials really that stupid that they can't see the problems that keep coming up? (yeah, I know, somebody is going to reply to this with "yes"... I really don't believe it though). It seems like there is some kind of mental illness that takes over when people are elected that causes blinders to be

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      It's just that some votes are more equal than others.
    • by MadKeithV (102058)
      A vote is only worth the money it is printed on.
    • The only morsel of intelligence you need as an elected official is the ability to answer a series of yes/no questions during your time in office in such a way that you can get re-elected. The system is not broken. It is perfectly designed to achieve the results it yields.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Yes, election integrity is something that regularly comes under attack. Possibly more in the US than in Europe, but I can't think of a reason why other countries would be immune.

      1. Some election officials have major roles in political campaigns (e.g. Katherine Harris in Florida in 2000). There's at least a temptation to make sure their guy wins.

      2. Some political ideologies believe that the people are not really capable of governing themselves, and so they don't care of the election results don't match the w

  • Wrong metaphor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlwmohawk (801821) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @09:43AM (#27050883)

    Electronic voting machines are a mistake. While we say that they should be as easy and secure as ATMs, and they should be, but what most people don't see is that ATMs are not easy.

    A large segment of the voting population, in the U.S.A. anyway, does not use ATMs because they are hard to use and confusing. ATMs are an "opt in" technology. Banks still have tellers and branches.

    yes, over time as the population gets accustomed to technology, electronic voting may make sense. Maybe in a generation or two. Right now, it excludes the elderly or Luddite population. My brother in-law is 40, and he doesn't use ATMs and doesn't own a computer!!

    Sure we can argue that maybe they shouldn't vote, but that is a different conversation.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The only way an ATM could possibly be difficult would be if you couldn't read or, as is probably the case, they want to remain ignorant voluntarily.

    • by houghi (78078)

      It is not so much opt-in, it is the control I have over them. If I type to retrieve 50 money units, I will see immediately if I get those 50 or not. I can also ask for a receipt that confirms that and later I can verify it on my bank account.

      So the ATM is verifiable. Also the transaction is only between myself and the machine. Also I must not remain anonymous.

      Compare that to a voting machine. I must remain anonymous. I have no way of verifying the outcome either directly or later.

      The fact that both are ofte

    • by swillden (191260)

      ATMs are an "opt in" technology. Banks still have tellers and branches.

      Voting machines are also opt-in technology. At least where I live you can request a paper ballot and there is no plan to require everyone to use the machines.

      More importantly, that they're too hard to use may be a valid criticism of some implementations, but it is not valid argument against voting machines in general. As proof, consider that given appropriate technology, a voting machine could exactly replicate the pencil-and-paper process. And if they're well-implemented, voting machines can and shoul

    • by iris-n (1276146)

      "I'm a Luddite, you sensitive clod!"

      You're serious? Your whole argument seems serious, even though I disagree with it, but you're really looking after the interests of the Luddite? Because, you know, the best way to develop a society is to hear the ignorant and unwilling, and dumb down the system to their level. Lets just rehire all the bank cashiers, because, people love to do this job, and while we're at it, why not bus agents for those who can't count money,

      If your brother is 40 and he can't (does not wa

  • 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."

    • by Timosch (1212482)
      Oops, all umlauts and Sharp-s are messed up. Goddamned character encoding...
    • Who uses babelfish these days anyway? Google translate has eclipsed it pretty decisively, if you tolerate the quirks, such as interpreting "Deutsche WÃhler" as "U.S. voters".

      Statistical translation, gotta love it.

      • by Lars T. (470328)

        Who uses babelfish these days anyway? Google translate has eclipsed it pretty decisively,

        Among the blind, the blind who claims he can see is king.

        • It's not just Google who claims GT is best. It is the best non-domain specific MT you can get, period.

          It's contextual intelligence is downright scary - just yesterday I noticed it translated the name of the boardgame "Ticket to Ride" to "Zug um Zug", which is what it's sold as in German (but very far from a literal translation). No one taught it to, it learned it on its own. It's an example of a translation that would be utterly out of reach for classic machine translation.

    • Excellent work by the Chaos Computer Club. Everyone, go to the club and leave a thank you note or a token donation.
  • Most paper ballots in the US are counted electronically, and still have a paper trail. That's the best of both worlds. The voting system right now in the US is fast, simple, and familiar. There is NO reason to complicate things by adding touchscreen machines of any other kind of nonsense. Like the German supreme court realized, all it does is complicate things and increase the opacity in the voting process.
  • 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.

  • Everyone knows that votes are counted in electronic voting. Can anyone say, with full conviction that they have not been tampered ? Anyone ? that would have to be a moron because, chain of custody of the hardware and software is never established in a evoting scenario. Therefore, the vote tally and the voting results are not legally admissible in a court of law. If you want to know if voting has been tampered with - just look at the candidates in the contest. You'll know the results right away. That and th

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