Alarming results from Italian experimental e-voting

By EDRi · May 10, 2006

During the recent Italian political elections an experimental e-voting
system for counting votes – not for expressing the vote itself – has
been used in several polling places. The system has been used in
parallel with normal, manual counting operations; but it was quite
clear that the goal of such experiments was to progressively switch
all counting operations to using automated, computer-based systems.

Emmanuele Somma, fellow of Free Software Foundation Europe,
participated as an official observer to the counting operations in one
polling station (section 224 in the city of Rome) and reported on
his experience, which casts an alarming shadow over the reliability of
the system used and of the “human element” involved.

According to Somma, the computer operator was not able to produce the
necessary official documentation which, according to law, qualifies
personnel assigned to supervise electronic counting operations;
after the system erred in assigning votes to one list, the operator
proceeded in manually – and illegally – correcting the error, and was
stopped only by the intervention of Somma; it seemed overly hard for
the president of the polling station to check the activities of the
computer operator for lack of technical knowledge.

The request of Somma to have a copy of the CD-ROM containing the
program that was used for the automated counting operations was
refused, as the operator claimed that such program was a “trade
secret”. What is worse, Somma reports having found a copy of that
CD-ROM and a paper containing the access codes to the system in the
trash outside of the polling place, while the counting operations were
still undergoing.

Somma concludes his report by suggesting that automated counting
operations are far from being that model of efficiency and reliability
that has been boosted by the government; given the claimed costs of
such a system – more or less 37 millions euros – and its perceived
advantages, which – assuming the system really works – amount to
having the final voting results just a few hours before, it arguably
remains a mystery why Italy should implement e-voting systems in the
near future.

Reports of Emmanuele Somma of the Italian e-voting experiment (11.04.2006)

(Contribution by Andrea Glorioso – Italian consultant on digital policies)