Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Estonian vote-counting system fails

I was impressed by the Estonian presentation at the Internet Voting dialogue (event page: Internet Voting – What Can Canada Learn?). Estonia has done a good job of thinking seriously about the technical issues.

But not good enough apparently, since their Internet vote-counting system failed during the election period.

After the internet ballot-counting system temporarily crashed on Election Day evening, the National Electoral Committee said it will demand compensation from Helmes, the company responsible for the country's vote-counting software.


"The database did not perform queries with the prescribed speed [...] Reliability had thoroughly been tested and it worked flawlessly," said company spokesperson Evelin Lang.

Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) - Elections Agency Fines E-Voting Company - March 7, 2011

via @VerifiedVoting

In Estonian, with video: Valimiskomisjon nõuab Helmeselt kahjude hüvitamist.

There's a bit more information in another ERR story

Estonia's much-talked-about e-innovation fell under doubt by its advocates last night, when, after preliminary results came in at 20:00, a website breakdown impeded election results from arriving for more than 1.5 hours in the most critical time.

An unprecedented software error with the web system was a blow to the trustworthyness of the elections, said National Electoral Committee Chairman Heiki Sibul. "That fact that we have a problem with something as simple as displaying the website - that is not acceptable," said Sibul on ETV, asserting nevertheless that there is no reason to doubt the results.

ERR - Electoral Committee Chief Apologizes for Website Collapse - March 7, 2011

There were also browser errors, which is a reminder that an Internet election is orders of magnitudes more complicated than a paper-based one. There are many different operating systems, web browsers, mobile devices... can you guarantee that your voting system will support all of them correctly? Or are you simply going to exclude people who have a particular set of technology?

Further hinting to the technology's imperfections, another type of error, a browser malfunction, emerged while e-voting was still in progress, due to which voters in three known instances could not view several listed candidates. The voters were, nevertheless, able to cast their votes.

ERR - Electoral Committee Chief Apologizes for Website Collapse - March 7, 2011

Although the election itself was March 6, 2011, voters could cast ballots in advance, including over the Internet. However, this option is not how the majority of votes are cast.

For a large portion of Estonians, election day is already past. More than 27 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in an early voting period, most of them via the nation's internet voting system which the tech-savvy nation first pioneered in 2005.

ERR - Estonians Head to the Ballot Box - March 6, 2011

In all, the turnout was 63%.

So you have a choice: either our paper-based system, in which results are rapidly counted and posted, as they have been decade after decade, a system that isn't broken, or a future Canadian elections official apologising when some or all of our elections system doesn't work, because of computer systems failures. If you think that Canada might somehow be exempt from these kinds of failures, keep in mind it already happened in Quebec: Report on Quebec's municipal electronic voting disaster.

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