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Town and province elections in Belgium

October 8, 2006

Today, we were required to vote for the Belgian town and province elections (voting is mandatory in Belgium). A certain percentage of polling stations used an electronic voting technique. After identification, a person gives you a (presumably blank) magnetic card, you enter a voting booth, insert the card into a computer and, with a stylus, you point on a screen. The screen mimics a paper used in the old-fashioned way of voting: white circles on the left of a candidate’s name. After you voted, the computer gives your card back and you simply put it in a ballot box. If you want to know more about potential problems with electronic voting, you can look at Poureva, Recul démocratique and the Wikipedia article about electronic voting, e.g..

While looking for articles about electronic voting, I found this one about the perception of electronic voting in Belgium : “Electronic Voting in Belgium: A Legitimised Choice?” [1]. They tried to figure out:

  1. how easy/difficult it was for electors to vote on a computer: apparently, the vast majority of people find the procedure easy.
  2. to what extent they trust voting on a computer: apparently, a majority of people find this voting system trustworthy
  3. if they have a philosophical/social opposition to voting on a computer: apparently, nearly no one has an opposition to voting on a computer.

Although I don’t criticize their method, I don’t totally agree with their conclusion:

it seems quite clear that the introduction of electronic voting in Belgium is a choice that is legitimised by the vast majority of the population. More than 80 per cent answered positively to the questions regarding ease of use, confidence and social acceptance with regard to the new method of voting.

  • To legitimse is “to make legitimate”, “to make (something) legal or acceptable”.
  • Legitimate = “allowable according to law, or reasonable and acceptable”.

One has not to talk about the legality of electronic voting since, as they said, a Belgian law was passed to establish it. But we can ask on the way politicians passed this law. Do they asked citizens about it? Have they said that in their programme before election? The vast majority of the population can think that the electronic voting system is acceptable. But are they fully informed of all the ins and outs of such systems? If the governement absolutely needs an electronic way of voting, can’t it give the voters a way to verify the vote and observers a way to verify the votes after the election?

A simple way could be a small printer in the voting booth, printing the voter’s vote as soon as she/he takes back her/his card. This way, the voter can check if the machine correctly printed the vote. This vote is supposed to be the same in the magnetic card. And if one observer has any doubt about it (or anything else), one can still re-count votes with papers. The magnetic cards give a simple way to quickly obtain the results. The papers give a simple way to recount votes.

[1] P. Delwit, E. Kulahci and J.B. Pilet. “Electronic Voting in Belgium: A Legitimised Choice?” Politics, 25: 153-164 (copy).

From → My life

  1. I have just a simple question : Maybe the printing ballot is a solution but why doing such investment if the paper-based solution is working and costs less ? just wondering.

    I’m sure you know the analysis of the latest Diebold system :

  2. The paper-only solution proved to be reliable with time (at least there is a way to verify results). The computer-only solution is said to be faster to obtain results. The printing ballot could be a solution to combine the fastness of the computerised solution and the reliability of the paper-only solution.

    The rule would be to trust the results obtained electronically and verify them with the paper version where they cannot be trusted. Of course, if a lot of polling station results are disputed, it’s better to stay with the paper-only solution (both economically and from a reliability standpoint).

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