Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Quebec turns against electronic voting

A report by the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec slams the electronic voting systems used in the Municipal Elections of November 2005 (via slashdot).

Concern over voting systems tends to be highest amongst those who have lost an election. Concern over electronic voting in the US has to date been almost exclusively the concern of Democrats. The opinion polls suggest that this is likely to change next month.

One of the main problems with the schemes is that the designers apparently fail to understand that the purpose of an election is to permit the peaceful transfer of power by convincing the losers that they have lost.

The principle concerns are auditability and transparency of the election. Except in a police state secrecy is a very low priority. It is very difficult to bribe or intimidate sufficiently large numbers of voters to swing an election without the activity attracting attention.

Despite the vast sums held on election gadgetry the US electoral system is spectacularly ad-hoc and ramshackle. There is no consistency from county to county let alone state to state. In statewide elections different voting machines with different failure rates are often used in different parts of the state. This should be utterly unacceptable and prohibited by federal law.

In the UK we do things differently. We use a paper and a pencil. The voter places a mark next to the name of the candidate they are voting for. After the close of polls the votes are counted by bank tellers. The process is understood by all the participants including voters, polling clerks and tellers. The standards for scruitineering are well established by a century of case law.

The UK system only appears to be more labour intensive because the time taken to count the votes is a clearly identifiable cost. The labour costs in the US system are largely hidden. The polling clerks must be trained in the use of the machines, the machines must be tested before and after each election.

If elections were held every week the cost benefits of electronic voting would be clear. When elections are held twice a year in alternate years it is impossible to recoup the startup costs.

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