Saturday, December 10, 2005

Venezuela's electronic voting woes

HAD it not been for the almost accidental discovery of an anomalous piece of software, Venezuela's parliamentary election might have passed off on December 4th in relative normality. True, fewer than 30% of the electorate might have voted, and there would have been the usual cries of fraud. The opposition has grown hoarse over the past couple of years alleging malpractice by the electoral council (CNE), which is supposed to be independent but is dominated by supporters of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's leftist president. Nevertheless, all but the radical fringe and the no-hopers were planning to take part, albeit under protest.

Less than a week before the poll, six parties, representing nearly half the opposition candidates, pulled out. ...

The pull-out was prompted by a routine audit of electronic voting machines, watched by international observers. An opposition technician discovered a file that allowed the voting machine to store the sequence of votes cast. Polling stations were also to have electronic finger-print machines, so each vote could, in theory at least, be matched to an individual. That the ballot might not be secret matters in a country in which the government has used voting data to deny jobs and government services to opposition supporters.

The CNE suspended the audit. The opposition parties held an urgent meeting with observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS). According to a diplomatic source, the head of the OAS delegation told José Vicente Rangel, Venezuela's vice-president, that the opposition would pull out unless the finger-print machines were withdrawn. On November 28th, Jorge Rodríguez, the CNE's president, said this would happen.

But the message from the opposition's activists was overwhelming: their voters would not turn out for an election organised by the current electoral authority. So the opposition leaders called for the election's postponement.

Economist - Venezuela's legislative election: Technical hitch, political stand-off - Dec 1st 2005

Now let's think about those paper ballot scanner vs. ballot boxes.
I had to use a scanner in my last municipal election.
In a ballot box, your vote gets all jumbled around.
But in a paper ballot scanner, all is nice and tidy, one paper ballot stacked on top of another. That means if I keep track of the order in which everyone hands over their ballot for scanning... I KNOW WHO EVERY SINGLE PERSON VOTED FOR.
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