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New campaign calls for safe e-voting

FOR IMMEDIATE USE: 4 November 2003

A coalition of technical, legal and political experts has today launched a campaign to ensure that electronic voting can be trusted by voters and politicians across Europe.

Voters and candidates must be able to feel certain that voting intentions are accurately recorded. If any doubts do arise then all stakeholders must be able to verify and audit all aspects of the election. Without these protections, debacles such as the count of votes in the US presidential elections of 2000 are likely to be repeated on this side of the Atlantic. This could destroy voter trust in the electoral system and politics more widely.

Computerised voting is inherently subject to programming error, human error, equipment malfunction and malicious tampering. Due to the opaque nature of the technologies involved, which few understand, it is crucial that electronic voting systems provide a voter-verifiable audit trail. This is a permanent record of each vote that can be checked for accuracy by the voter before the vote is submitted, and is difficult or impossible to alter after it has been checked. This must be achieved without compromising the secrecy and integrity of the ballot.

E-voting systems lacking these safeguards are being rushed upon voters across Europe with little regard for the risks and the costs to our democracies. The UK has held e-voting trials in local government elections, and will hold more as part of the 2004 European elections. France, Spain and Ireland have also held trials. E-voting is already established in Belgium and Switzerland. The European Commission is looking at introducing e-voting across the EU, and the Council of Europe is developing guidelines for elections involving e-voting.

The campaign is calling on all concerned European citizens to sign up to a resolution demanding a voter-verifiable audit trail. This can be done online at the following address, which also contains more information on these issues:
http://www.free-project.org/resolution/

Jason Kitcat, one of the campaign founders, said: "This is an issue which needs to gain the attention of politicians before it's too late and we have unauditable electronic election systems installed. Our hope is that by mobilising the voices of technical, legal and political experts we can nip this potentially disastrous problem in the bud."

Ian Brown, another campaign founder and director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, commented: "Unsafe e-voting systems could prove a very expensive way to destroy voter trust in elections. Governments need to look at less gimmicky ways of increasing public involvement in politics."

Louise Ferguson, a board member of the Usability Professionals' Association and a leader of its voting project, said: "We need to ensure that new systems for voting are well designed and secure, or we risk losing voter confidence in the democratic process."

Mikko Valimaki, chairman of Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI) added: "We have already seen real problems with e-voting machines in the US. One candidate in the 2000 US elections was awarded -16,022 votes due to a technical error. While this problem was fixed in time, in a democratic society we cannot tolerate software or hardware errors in the voting system."

Contact for enquiries:

Jason Kitcat
Founder, the free e-democracy project
Mobile: +44 7956 886 508
E-mail: jeep@free-project.org

Louise Ferguson
Board member, Usability Professionals' Association UK
Mobile: +44 7810 260 637
E-mail: louise@louiseferguson.com

Ian Brown
Director, Foundation for Information Policy Research
Mobile: +44 7970 164 526
E-mail: ian@fipr.org

Mikko Valimaki
Chairman, Electronic Frontier Finland
E-mail: mikko.valimaki@effi.org

Notes for editors

  1. The Foundation for Information Policy Research (http://www.fipr.org) is an independent body that studies the interaction between information technology and society. Its goal is to identify technical developments with significant social impact, commission and undertaken research into public policy alternatives, and promote public understanding and dialogue between technologists and policy-makers in the UK and Europe.
  2. The free e-democracy project (http://www.free-project.org) researches and advocates the responsible and appropriate use of Free Software technology in government. It previously developed the GNU.FREE Internet Voting software and retains a strong interest in electronic voting issues, primarily through advocating why it could be an undesirable advance.
  3. The UK Chapter of the Usability Professionals' Association (http://www.ukupa.org.uk/) brings together UK professionals from the design, technology and research communities who share a vision of creating compelling technology that meets users' needs and abilities.
  4. Electronic Frontier Finland (http://www.effi.org/) was founded in 2001 to defend users and citizens of the Finnish society on the electronic frontier. EFFI works on legislative proposals concerning issues such as personal privacy, freedom of speech and user rights in copyright law.
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