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Excel ate my elections


Software AG (Dominion Voting, OPT2VOTE) Warwick D. Tata (Everyone Counts) Swindon B. Software AG (Dominion Voting, OPT2VOTE) ... Polling day 3 May 2007 ' ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Excel ate my elections

Excel ate my elections!
  • Jason Kitcat, Sussex University
  • Ian Brown, Oxford University

UK elections May 2007
  • Scottish Parliamentary elections used e-counting
  • 10 e-voting/e-counting/telephone vote trials in
    English local council elections

England e-voting trials
Accrediting observers
  • 2006 Act allows accredited observers to attend
    polls and counts
  • Does not cover remote servers, testing lab
    results, source code etc.
  • FoI rights v. helpful

Observation aims
  • To evaluate the integrity of technologies and
    processes used in the electoral pilot schemes.
  • To examine whether the pilot schemes might
    increase the risk of electoral fraud or error.
  • To observe whether the pilot schemes risk the
    secrecy of the ballot.
  • To collect the views of voters, candidates and
    officials on the schemes piloted.

Procurement process
  • Pilot programme announced 17 Oct 2006
  • Closing date 17 Nov 2006
  • Final approval 29 Jan 2007
  • Polling day 3 May 2007
  • The current systems to combat electoral abuse in
    Great Britain are unsatisfactory already, so to
    proceed with these pilot schemes, appears
    ill-timed and betrays confusion over priorities.
    Unfortunately it appears to come down to the
    obsession with modernisation as a means of
    increasing participation at elections. - Sir
    Alistair Graham, chairman, Committee on Standards
    in Public Life, February 2007

Unreliable equipment
  • Failing laptops in Swindon
  • Incorrect tally and error messages in Rushmoor
  • Remote voters with problems in South Bucks
    couldnt use polling station
  • Poor quality ballot papers overwhelmed

Poor usability testing
  • Scottish voters confused by combination of AMS
    parliamentary ballots (Gould 2007 p.52)
  • In Glasgow, 3-5 regional votes spoilt, 10
  • The responses of 100 voters (for each
    election) to various ballot paper designs hardly
    seems adequate given the widespread change in the
    system. (Gould 2007 p.48)
  • 75 misvotes included only one x 15 2 in one
    column (Gould 2007 p.50)

Spoilt Scottish ballots
  • Ballot papers cast gt two million votes cast for
    each election (regional 2,102,623 constituency
    2,101,638 and local government 2,099,945).
  • Rejected ballot papers - Scottish Parliament
    146,099 ballot papers (regional 60,455 or 2.88
    constituency 85,644 or 4.075) rejected gtgt
    rejected ballot paper rate in 2003 - 0.65 of the
    regional ballot papers and 0.66 of the
    constituency ballot papers.
  • Rejected ballot papers - local government 38,352
    rejected ballot papers or 1.83 gtgt 0.64 in

Source Ron Gould (2007) Scottish Elections Review
Problems with counting code
  • Serious problem occurred during Edinburgh count
  • Investigation by DRS technical staff found
    corrupted SQL Server database indices
  • Patch applied to all counting systems next
    morning (Gould 2007 p.102)

Lack of checking
  • Pilot regulations 46(4) Re-count … the
    returning officer may treat a request for a
    re-count as unreasonable unless he has reason to
    believe that the system has not scanned the votes
  • One manual recount in Dereham-Humbletoft ward
    found 56.1 more votes
  • Lack of reliable audit trail one local
    authority was not able to provide any
    information, two count centres produced the
    electronic images but not the decisions taken by
    Returning Officers, and two further count centres
    were able to produce the decisions taken by
    Returning Officers but not the electronic
    images. (Gould 2007 p.106)

Excel ate my votes!
  • Provisional count of regional votes in Highlands
    and Islands unexpectedly found 0 SNP wins
  • Recheck found that votes had been missed due to
    an overwide spreadsheet
  • New result gave control of Parliament to SNP

The golf club attack
  • Voter attacked Edinburgh ballot boxes with golf
    club, ripped up 100 ballot papers
  • Officials taped up ballots for counting

Source BBC News
Loss of confidence in counting
  • Although material had been produced explaining
    how the count operated and briefings were offered
    to candidates on the subject, it is clear that
    many political party agents, candidates, and
    other observers did not fully understand the
    counting process. (Gould 2007 p.106)
  • Combined elections are not only a disservice
    to the local councils and candidates but also to
    the electorate as well. (Gould 2007 p.115)

  • Independent election observers are a key
    mechanism for increasing public trust
  • What should they be observing in e-elections?
  • Plenty of time is required to plan, build
    consensus, procure, design and test systems - and
    fallback plans
  • Real-world UK use of e-voting and e-counting
    systems is a world away from the fully verifiable
    systems being designed by cryptographers

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