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Federal Constitutional Court Stops Electronic Voting Roulette

2009-03-04 22:45:59, erdgeist

The Federal Constitutional Court decided today that the use of voting computers is unconstitutional. Rather, elections in Germany must be understandable by everyone without any special knowledge. The court declared the constitutional principle of a public voting process a fundamental requirement for democratic elections. This was the core issue on which the CCC campaigned against voting computers. Conversely, the court determined that speedy election results are not a requirement for democratic elections. The NEDAP voting computers, as used in Germany so far, will be consigned to the scrap heap of history.

In its  decision today regarding the constitutional vote of the German Federal parliament in 2005, the judges of the Federal Constitutional Court made clear that comprehensible and secret votes are the core of our democratic system. This system is eroded by the use of voting machines. It must be possible for people without technical knowledge to trace and understand the complete voting process. Therefore, votes shall not be saved solely in electronic memory at any time.

The Ministry of Interior and the National Institute of Natural and Engineering Sciences have to date promoted a "culture of expertism", where voters were dependent on someone else having determined the reliability of the voting system. This is no longer possible. The democratic act must never be removed from the direct control of the voter.

"Those still praising the digital spirit or greater efficiency of electronic elections fail to understand the character of democracy and must not be entrusted with essential aspects of the country's electoral system", says CCC spokesman Dirk Engling.

But the court left the door to electronic voting slightly open--if any given voter can prove the correctness of the vote and the counting-process, without any special knowledge. These requirements on voting computers however mean a de-facto ban, because the economic arguments fall down when only one voter asks for a recount of paper ballots. The court also rebuffed the failure to disclose the technical functioning of the voting process, which was guarded by NEDAP and PTB as trade secrets.

Engling commented on the hurdles erected by the Federal Constitutional Court: "We are eager to see whether future producers of election computers are able to demonstrate their systems meet the standards set by the judges. The CCC will be watching closely."

At the same time the court corroborated the principle of secret balloting, thus making the introduction of on-line elections more difficult. In addition to the lack of public oversight, many other issues remain around on-line elections including the possibilities of trading one's vote and voting on using someone elses account.

Despite public disputes, several German communities fell for NEDAP's promise of "20 years of use" and bought voting machines. "They now should quickly file claims against the producers, as the machines failed to provide features as promised", CCC spokesman Engerling says, "Soon these machines won't be anything but bulky chess computers."