Some in France Refuse to Surrender to E-Voting

According to an article in ARS Technica, a study of more than 21,000 polling stations in France found discrepancies at 30% of the polling stations that use electronic voting machines, as opposed to only 5% of polling stations that use hand marked paper ballots.

"Discrepancies," for the purposes of this study, means a difference between the numbers in the electoral registers, which voters sign after voting, and the numbers regarding total vote counts from the voting machines and paper ballots.

The study took more than a year to complete and was conducted by Ms. Chantal Enguehard, a member of the Laboratory of Computer Science, Nantes Atlantique. It's purpose, according to Ethical Citizen, a transparent voting advocacy group that partially funded the research, was "to determine whether it was possible to observe quantitatively alterations or improvements to the functioning of polling stations equipped with computers to vote. The first results, announced at the press conference, confirm this hypothesis and show the need to develop for the future tools that will enable independent evaluators to measure the quality and reliability of elections."

Electronic voting was brought to France in 2004. There has always been strong French opposition to these machines, especially from elderly voters. This may be rooted in France's "long and cherished tradition of paper ballots and ballot box transparency -- literally, the ballot boxes are see-through, and anyone can monitor them during an election to ensure that there's no funny business."

See the photo of a French ballot box below...

French ballotbox.jpg

French Ballot Box: Take a lesson, U.S.: it's literally transparent, just like democracy OUGHT to be!

Image credit: David Monniaux
Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0

This is different than in the United States, where many elderly voters like the touchscreen machines because of their ease of use.

But on this issue, the United States and France have one thing in common; rightwing support for the electronic voting machines. In Chatenay-Malabry, a suburb of Paris, Mayor Georges Siffredi, who is aligned with the rightwing UMP party (French president Nicolas Sarkozy's party), says, "They are simple calculating machines. They don't even give percentages. They simply add up, so I don't see what particular problems there could be."

Judging by Siffredi's comments, France, the nation of Albert Camus and Voltaire (one of the most brilliant minds of the Age of Enlightenment), is not immune to willful ignorance and outright idiocy.

About 80 percent of the voting machines used in France are manufactured by Nedap, a Dutch company. Here is a video of a Nedap machine being hacked in 60 seconds, and a video news report can be watched here.

Just weeks before their November, 2006, elections, the Netherlands banned the Nedap machines after a live demonstration on Dutch TV that showed a hacker taking about 90 seconds to reprogram the machine to give any result desired, regardless of the actual votes cast.

Rop Gonggrijp, the hacker who performed the televised hack, said, "With practice, it took us just 90 seconds to replace reprogrammed chips in the Nedap machine that then allowed us to control the election results as we wished. For the Nedap machines, we found no encryption for any part of the computer code."

According to Gonggrijp, the Nedap machines are as poorly designed and have as little security as the infamously crappy Diebold AccuVote TS.

The other 20 percent of France's electronic voting machines are made by Election Systems and Software (ES&S). According to Dan Rather's 2007 report, "The Trouble With Touchscreens," ES&S machines are made in sweatshop conditions in the Philippines, with workers being paid less than $2.50 a day and having to work with no air conditioning in Manila's extremely hot and humid weather. And the quality control test for ES&S machines is the so-called "vibration" test" [PDF]:

Originally, a fraction of the [ES&S] machines underwent a so-called "vibration test." And what was this quality control test for machines on which Americans would cast hundreds of thousands of votes?

EDDIE VIBAR [former ES&S electrical engineer]
They shake the machine. If there is something inside the machine like components or screws, all of that gets shaken around inside the machine as well.

This manual shake-test would have been a joke at any quality electronics factory. But Vibar says that even this crude test was only done on a fraction of the machines. Why? Because, Vibar says, management didn't want to slow down production.

Yet France, under the leadership of the rightwing Sarkozy, keeps using the Nedap and ES&S machines.

Some European nations have seen the light. Ireland bought 7,500 Nedap voting machines at a cost of €52 million ($70.7 million), but after concerns about their security and reliability, the Emerald Isle stopped using them.

In Italy, "disputes over an electronic system to centralize results of the general election last April, which Romano Prodi won by just 24,755 votes out of more than 40 million cast, prompted the Interior Ministry to rule out use of such a system in the next election."

And there is growing opposition in France to the use of these machines. Voters are rightly concerned that the machines are not fully secure or reliable.

A petition on this French website against the use of electronic voting machines has received over 102,600 signatures. "Citizens can no longer verify the good conduct of elections. They are not capable of understanding what happens in the polling station," said Pierre Muller, who runs the website.

Another French website has filed a legal complaint in a French court, saying machines used in a Paris suburb are different from the machines given approval by France's interior ministry.

Two leading French political parties have called for a moratorium on the use of the machines, as have several smaller parties.

France's tradition of paper ballots and envelopes placed in literally transparent ballot boxes is very strong. Vincent Feltesse of the Socialist party, referring to this traditional system, said, "[These] are symbols and rituals that are vital to us. The democratic ritual is fundamental."

It may well be that France will soon ban the use of these electronic voting machines, as have Italy, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

Let's hope the American tradition of denigrating all things French (remember "Freedom Fries" and Freedom Toast"?) won't prevent our nation -- whose democracy is teetering on the brink of collapse due to a complete lack of election integrity, a "President" who has committed wholesale assaults on our Constitution and the Rule of Law, and a cowed, supine Congress that simply refuses to hold him accountable for his many High Crimes and Misdemeanors -- from banning these anti-democracy machines.

Again, we implore all Americans to contact their House representative and their Senators and DEMAND they ban the use of electronic voting machines. Demand that all elections in the United States be conducted:

1) with hand marked paper ballots;

2) counting the ballots by hand at each precinct;

3) citizens allowed by law to observe the ballots being counted; and

4) the precinct results posted publically before being sent to the central tabulator.

Soldiers have the job of defending our nation; we citizens have the job of defending our democracy. Let's get busy. Contact your House Representative here. Contact your Senators here.


Some in France Refuse to Surrender to E-Voting:

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