November 2, 2008

Electronic Voting Stupidity in Finland

The Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI) organization has published a highly critical press release of the electronic voting problems in three small Finnish communities.
It seems that the system required the voter to insert a smart card to identify the voter, type in their selected candidate number, then press "ok", check the candidate details on the screen, and then press "ok" again. Some voters did not press "ok" for the second time, but instead removed their smart card from the voting terminal prematurely, causing their ballots not to be cast.
Here, the issue is one of usability. 232 votes were ignored because of the missing press on the OK button. The number might seem small, but taking into account the small scale of this trial, the number adds up to about 2 percent of the whole electoral roll in the small communities that participated in the trial.

The most amazing thing is that even though the authorities admit that there was a usability problem, there will be no repeat of the vote.

It is very strange, though, that there is no mention in the EFFI press release about voter confidentiality issues, even though administration officials have admitted that they know the exact identity of each person that left an uncounted ballot because of this issue. There is no mention of verifiability of counting either.

EFFI does make a strong statement for abandoning such stupid experiments. A purposefully simplified and transparent voting procedure is an aim in itself. Traditionally, this has meant a paper ballot, into which a number is written with a pen. The vote counting is left to teams of voluntary people from all parties in each voting location. Even with such a system, the full count is usually achieved in hours. The additional good that is supposed to be provided by a computerized ballot is a complete mystery to me.

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