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McDonald - Decision to publish tally figures is welcome but concerns remain that current system is flawed

13 August, 2003

Sinn Féin Dublin EU Candidate Marylou McDonald has welcomed Environment Minister Martin Cullen's announcement that tally figures will be available in next years Local Government and European Union elections. She said however that "there are still concerns that the current electronic voting system is seriously flawed and requires significant changes to make it safe. These concerns need to be addressed urgently."

Ms. McDonald said:

"Electronic voting was introduced at the general election in three constituencies and it is the intention of the Government that all constituencies will have electronic voting for the next Local elections and for every election thereafter. It is incredible therefore that there has been little or no debate around the issue of electronic voting despite the major effect it will have on elections and the potential dangers that it throws up.

"Sinn Féin is not against electronic voting but we believe that the form introduced here may be flawed and we are calling for a number of changes to be introduced to ensure that the system works as it should.

"We are not alone in voicing our concerns. The Computer Science Department in Maynooth recently published a study called Electronic Voting: A Safety Critical System, highlighting concerns around the system (NEDAP/Powervote) employed by the government and how it meets the needs of democracy.

"Furthermore in March 2002 the Department of Environment asked a company called Zerflow to carry out a security assessment. They pointed out serious flaws in the system. The Minister said that the Zerflow concerns were 'considered' but no changes made in the system.

"The PR-STV system used in 26 county elections is a complicated process, especially when dealing with eliminations, surpluses and transfers. Developing computer programmes that correctly fulfil legal requirements under electoral law is a very difficult task. One of the means often employed to ensure a high degree of safety is to use a method called Formal Design which proves each part of the code. Such a system is employed in many systems where safety is critical eg: power stations, transport systems, hospitals etc. But it seems that it was not used here. And the fact that the source code is not available to the public for inspection means that its actions cannot be verified.

"It is important that there is full public confidence in the system of electronic voting which is being used. Sinn Féin is recommending that :-

1. Formal methods of development to ensure safety should be used

2. Citizens should have access to how the rules governing elections are being implemented and all source codes and design must be publicly available for inspection

3. A paper copy of the vote, verified by the voter, should be held for the purpose of independent recount.

4. There needs to be a change to the 1992 Electoral Act to allow counting of all votes when distributing a surplus, insteading of counting only the last sub parcel

5. There should be a provision which allows people to exercise their franchise without endorsing the candidates, through a 'none of the above' or spoiling option.

"Electronic voting using a kiosk type system is achievable but there are serious questions about how the current system was produced, how the count is recorded and the ability to independently recheck. These are serious concerns which should be addressed urgently."ENDS

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