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A Black day for democracy in Hesse – State Supreme Court allows voting computers

2008-01-23 00:00:00, erdgeist

The State Supreme Court in Hesse has announced NEDAP voting computers can now be used in the Hesse state elections this coming Sunday. The Court justified its decision with jurisdictional reasons since, as a matter of principle, verification is only permissible after the election in an official ballot verification procedure. The Court consequently had no opinion on the constitutionality of the use of NEDAP voting computers. The Chaos Computer Club (CCC) regrets this because the by-elections are now threatened in Hesse in light of the close-run results forecast if a ballot verification procedure is contested after the election.

With the aid of a Hesse voter the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) filed an application for an injunction on January 4th, 2008 in order to prevent the use of the contested voting computers in the Hesse state election. In this application the CCC first and foremost cited the lack of verifiability of the election result and consequently doubts around the election's overall legality. German importers HSG Wahlsysteme have for years assured local authorities that the pricey NEDAP voting computers are secure.

Joint investigations by the CCC with the Dutch foundation "Wij vertrouwen Stemcomputers niet" ("We don't trust voting computers") demonstrated their susceptibility to manipulation. [1] Moreover, the election observations subsequently launched at the CCC's initiative have publicised major flaws in the use of voting computers by local authorities.

The Court did not conduct a detailed appraisal of the technical facts of the case in the urgent ruling since these would still be subject to query in an official ballot examination. Due to this decision thousands of voters in the state of Hesse are being denied the opportunity of casting their vote using the traditional tried and trusted paper and pencil method.

Election committees, campaign workers and voters will no longer have the opportunity to examine the vote - a recount will consist solely of a renewed printing out of the result stored in the tabulating computer. The compliance to the published model design of the voting computers used, or the error-free and tamper-free functioning of the computers' software is impossible to reproduce or verify. These still remain the manufacturer's commercial secret.

Rejection of the application reveals an enormous gap in electoral law. For reasons of procedure voters cannot have the voting procedure examined beforehand by the process even though they may have grave misgivings. They are merely left with the option of appealing after the election.

A number of voters who intend to challenge the ballot after the election have already contacted the Chaos Computer Club. CCC and partner organisations will be carrying out extensive election monitoring to spot irregularities and procedural infringements in the conduct of the election. Large-scale infringements of prescribed procedures have already been observed in the test votes arranged as a "safety measure" by the Hesse Ministry of the Interior.

The core argument of advocates of the NEDAP voting computers is that the systems can indeed be manipulated but can be made sufficiently secure by additional procedures. This assumption has been clearly refuted, as in past election observations.

The ways in which the Hesse State Government and the local authorities involved have argued during the legal proceedings reveal an appalling attitude to democratic processes. Convenience and the speed of the count seem to be the prime objective. Constitutional requirements for the election's plausibility and legality plus the secrecy of the ballot have now become minor concerns and critical voters are regarded as a source of irritation.

An appalling example of disavowal of the democratic process was exemplified in the statement from the district of Viernheim. The two largest parties in Germany, the SPD and CDU, here have stated that they would be unwilling to commit any staff to the counting process if voting computers were banned. Some campaign workers even launched a petition abandon the count in future. In view of this attitude the politicians in Viernheim should perhaps consider a career in some central Asian dictatorship. A smooth running of ballots without recounts is also much appreciated there, commented CCC spokesman Dirk Engling.

A decision is expected in the next few months in other proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court on the admissibility of voting computers in connection with the 2005 Bundestag elections. The Chaos Computer Club has produced a detailed analysis of the possibilities for manipulation and the principal problems of voting computers. [2]

The Hesse State Supreme Court's fast-track decision will not impede the movement to abolish voting computers in Germany. The increasing doubts of many voters of the trustworthiness of NEDAP voting computers should even give progressive-thinking politicians pause for thought.

Summarising, CCC spokesman Dirk Engling stated: In Germany perhaps we will soon only be disputing whether a mandate was obtained without manipulation. Holders of elected office should understand that a growing number of citizens have legitimate doubts about the computerised voting process.

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