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Voting Machines Banned by Dutch Minister 155

Posted by Zonk
from the no-business-here-go-screw-up-belgium dept.
5heep writes "Dutch Government Renewal Minister Atzo Nicolai has banned the use of one type of computer voting machine in national elections next month. The turnabout came after a group called We Don't Trust Voting Computers protested the vulnerability of electronic voting to fraud or manipulation. The reason for this ban is the radio signals emitted by the machines which can be used to peek at a voters' choice from several dozen meters away."
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Voting Machines Banned by Dutch Minister

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  • Hey Slashdot (Score:3, Insightful)

    by isaacklinger (966649) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @10:24AM (#16657037)
    How about writing to the people responsible [ministernicolai.nl] to show some support?
    • Can we not just submit our support electonically? ;-)

    • Only the Sdu computers (a small minority) are banned. The rather thoroughly hacked Nedap computers are still okay, according to minister Nicolai. Instead of showing him some support, ask him to ban those too, because they're really not any better.

      A few minor improvements have been made, but the basic problem remains: voting computers are a black box, and it's impossible for normal voters to check if they work properly, if their vote is being counted, if somebody has messed with it (and it is easy to mess wi
  • by truedfx (802492) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @10:25AM (#16657053)
    According to my local newspaper, these voting machines have been used in the last two elections.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by FST777 (913657)
      More information:

      There have been roughly two types of voting machines in use in the Netherlands: one produced by Nedap and one produced by Sdu. The latter is the one that is banned a few days ago, because they could be spyed on from a distance. Curiously enough, the platform "we don't trust voting machines" proved that voting machines can be spyed on a few weeks ago, but they proved that with the Nedap machine.

      The platform never had a chance to test this problem with the Sdu, since they only had acces
  • by Zarniwoop_Editor (791568) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @10:25AM (#16657057) Homepage
    Paper ballots... you can count them... You can check them, you can verify them.
    Computer Ballots don't leave the average Joe with any sense that they can be verified.
    Too much potential for problems with Electronic voting from a voter perception perspective.
    I like putting my little X on the ballot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MeltUp (633868)
      Why can't they make these things simple and thrushtworthy for everyone?
      It ain't so hard:

      - Enter voting office
      - Receive a "voting paper"
      - Enter voting booth
      - Insert voting paper into machine
      - Push the button for the candidate you want. (Machine's critical components are covered in faraday cage, to stop any readable transmissions)
      - Vote is printed on paper
      - Check the print and fold the paper along the prefolded line, so text is no longer visible
      - Publicaly put it in the urn (where they just fall in a disorder
      • by quigonn (80360) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @11:04AM (#16657659) Homepage
        The only justification (at least in the Netherlands and Germany) for voting computers is cost reduction - adding a voter-verifiable paper trail would completely totally destroy this "advantage" (which is very questionable, anyway).

        But, in fact, there is no reason to reduce cost in this process. Cost shouldn't matter here, since secret, equal, free elections are a crucial process within democratic systems. Besides that, the pen and paper method is the most simple method you have, everybody understands it. In fact it's so simple, everyone can audit the whole process. Contrary to that, audits of computer-based systems can only be done by a few experts (and a complete audit goes from a security audit of the software down to as far as checking the hardware for possible modifications).
        • by Kijori (897770)

          Cost shouldn't matter here, since secret, equal, free elections are a crucial process within democratic systems.

          The proponents of an electronic voting system don't disagree about the importance of secret, equal, free elections. The part that causes the disagreement is whether this can be achieved with electronic machines, which would also allow cost savings, faster counting and other possibilities, like allowing people to change their vote, translation into many, many languages at every polling station, et

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by quigonn (80360)
            How can this save costs? Do you know how expensive those machines are? Compared to simple pen and paper, they amortize after about 20 years of operation. And that's the _maximum_ operation period (for XP-based machines like the SDU voting computers probably even shorter). Faster counting? How relevant is that whether the election officials can go home one or two hours earlier? You shouldn't sacrifice something as crucial as _voting_ to getting home earlier. And regarding your "changing your vote" argument:
        • Cost reduction is not the only advantage ... counting votes is much quicker electronically.
      • by Borland (123542)
        Or better yet, have a hybrid system that has an electronic tally back up to verify against the paper system. But the unordered system isn't necessary I think. Someone on a different site said that they were more worried about the accuracy of the system rather than the privacy of it. If we're at a state where retaliation for voting is likely, then we have more serious problems then voting integrity.

        Not that having a modicum of privacy isn't important, but the priority is lower than ensuring that vote coun
      • Insert voting paper into machine
        Machine? Where I live we use a pencil.
    • Why should we take E-voting advice from a Dutch guy who probably thinks our Joint Chiefs of Staff are a bunch of Native American elders rolling extra-large doobies?

      And it's not like the Dutch know what a proper voting machine looks like. As Taco himself said, these Dutch diebolds have less space than a Nomad and no wireless: lame
    • Agreed!!!!!
      Paper receipts are worthless, as well as redundant, as they will only be used in a re-count, which will only be instigated due to a grounded contention which won't arise except when the rigged vote is particularly clumsy.
    • by Barsema (106323)
      >Computer Ballots don't leave the average Joe with any sense that they can be verified.
      Not only the average Joe, they don't leave any Joe with a sense they can be verified becouse they can't!
      >Too much potential for problems with Electronic voting from a voter perception perspective.
      It's not just preception.
    • by MtViewGuy (197597)
      That's why here in California most people vote nowadays using mark sense ballots akin to like filling out a Scantron form when you did your college entrance exams.

      Mind you, I'd prefer such ballots to be marked with a pen or a permanent-ink marker stamp, since this eliminates mostly the issue of pencil-filled ballots with either not-dark enough marks and/or erased marks, which can open the door to serious voter fraud.
  • Why would these machines transmit radio signals, and why would they broadcast who someone was voting for?!
    • by jbaas (1020697)
      I'm not sure if it's this type of machine or one of the others, but at least one of them doesn't transmit anything on purpose, but there is RF radiation coming from the display, and the chip that drives it. You can't actually read what's on the screen, but you can make a fingerprint and compare it to known fingerprints.
    • by rbarreira (836272)
      Read this [wikipedia.org].
    • It doesn't really transmit radio signals. The little LED screen gives some EM noise which can be detected using a radio. When the screen shows a non-standard character (like à or ë) it has to acces another part of it's memory, and that changes the frequency of the noise. You can hear this difference.

      Unfortunately, there is only one party which has a non-standard character in it's full name (an 'è'), so when the noise frequency changes, you know the voter chose that particular party.
      • by hcdejong (561314)
        Actually, what you describe is how the Nedap machine (which hasn't been banned) works.

        The machine that's been banned is the SDU NewVote, which uses a Windows computer and a touchscreen. According to the report, the AIVD could view the entire contents of the screen.
    • Don't get your panties in a bunch; it sounds like Van Eck phreaking [wikipedia.org] to me.

      Information that drives the video display takes the form of high frequency electrical signals. These oscillating electric currents create electromagnetic radiation in the radio frequency range. The radio emissions are correlated to the video image being displayed, so in theory they can be used to recover the displayed image.

    • All electronics emit radio frequency signals. Take an old radio, switch it to 'shortwave', then place it next to some piece of electronics and have fun.

      In the US, the common code name for shielding computer equipment is known as TEMPEST. Some Googling will find you lots of information on the problem.
      • by quigonn (80360)
        Tempest for Eliza [erikyyy.de] is a very interesting demonstration of the whole problem. You feed it with an audio file, and by showing the right graphics on your screen, it transmits that audio file on a configurable frequency.
  • Europe understands something we (Americans) are still struggling with.
    • by FacePlant (19134)
      Europe understands something we (Americans) are still struggling with.

      Nah. It's just that the Dutch actually value their democracy.
    • Yes, the Dutch politicians understand something US politicians don't: cheapass symbolism gets you just as many votes as actual problem solving. Instead of fixing the problem, they *ban* electronic voting.
      • nonsense. they ban using the machine, since it's crap. that isn't to say there might in the future be found a valid and acceptable alternative
      • by hcdejong (561314)
        No they haven't. They banned one specific voting machine, which has been demonstrated to compromise voter anonymity.
      • by dmatos (232892)
        RTFA Troll.

        Security concerns regarding one particular type of voting machine were raised. They were proved to be valid. It is possible to determine, at a distance of tens of metres, what is on the display of machine. Through this, one can tell who is being voted for at any particular time. The ballot is no longer secret.

        Because of this, that particular type of voting machine can no longer be used in elections. Other electronic voting machines will be tested for the same problem before they are allowed
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by quigonn (80360)
        Actually, banning _is_ the solution. Voting computers make voting less verifiable, less auditable, more expensive (although the Voting machine producers claim otherwise), so why use them? What reason justifies switching from a proven, working, easy-to-use, easy-to-audit system (pen and paper) to a new technology of questionable quality?
  • I know more than a bit about electronics and electrical engineering, having spent part of my early career designing various gadgets. I have to wonder why all this fiasco with these electronic voting machines when it would be so very easy to simply build a small printer which uses a roll of paper (think cash register) inside to create a paper polling record.

    It would not add substantially to the cost, and the small rolls of paper that resulted would be perfect in cases where a recount was demanded or required
    • by ben there... (946946) on Tuesday October 31, 2006 @10:36AM (#16657199) Journal
      If the paper were inside, it would be just as useless. All you'd need to do is hack the system to display a different vote than it prints.

      Any electronic voting machine should print a ballot that you stuff in a box. Electronic tabulation of votes could be used for preliminary results, but the printed ballot that the voter can read and verify should be the final word.
      • by Benwick (203287)
        No, the paper is printed and is first displayed to the user, behind plexiglass (or such), so it is confirmed after printing but before it drops into the ballot box.

        By the way, can somebody please gag Karl Rove? Thx.
        • I'd prefer not to even complicate the system with that. While the printed ballots would be viewable, if they drop into a box in the booth, you don't have the chance to observe what happens to the ballots, due to the privacy concerns of its location. It is much easier to secure a ballot box that is right out in the open, and to secure the ballot's complete transit from booth to counting, first by the voter herself, then by election observers.
        • by hcdejong (561314)
          You'd have to be able to observe the entire path of the printout, from the printer to the ballot box.
          And even then: what's to stop the machine from printing extra ballots when it detects that no one is watching?
          • I was thinking about that a bit, and you could even print something like:

            o Al Gore
            George Bush


            and then after the voter has verified their ballot, have the printer change it to:

            o Al Gore
            o George Bush


            with the circle next to George Bush filled in.

            There are probably countless other ways to change the ballots if you can't observe the whole process (including printing additional fake ballots or replacing all the ballots in the printer bin). It's unnecessarily complicated while the ballot box has worked for
    • by rbarreira (836272)
      Or even better, just ditch electronic voting machines until they can be proved as safe as paper voting in all ways (which might never happen in my opinion). Yes, I'm a geek. Yes I like computers. No, I don't like using computers for voting.
    • People not being able to vote due to paper jams. More moving parts will be problematic.
    • Of course a vote can easily be done on a programmable Point of Sale machine of the type used in restaurants. The problem though is that then you cannot sell it for $100,000 each...
      • The parent makes a good point. Many of those Point of Sale terminals would probably make better voting machines than the expensive $100,000 each voting machines.

        - Each of those point of sale terminals has a printer (for paper records).
        - Each has been thoroughly analysed to minimize the likelihood of hacking.
        - At least here in Canada, many of the communications are encrypted.
        - Due to widespread use, we have much empirical data on how hard / easy each machine is to hack.
        - Some have even been developed to min
    • by pw700z (679598)
      If you've never heard of Van Eck Phreaking, it is facinating. I've seen it demonstrated. Scary, indeed. Essentially using some equipment and an antenna, you can view from a distance whatever is displayed on a screen by picking up the EMF emmissions and reconstituting them into an image. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Eck_Phreaking [wikipedia.org] The Wise Wiki references "LCDs" - although I've never seen an LCD eavesdropped in this way. I don't doubt it's possible, though.
  • In todays world, you'd think some systems are better closed than open.

    In the case of an election, hackers can't hack paper ballots or fiddle with code. Stick with what works in this case.

    If you go exposing something this important to an electronic medium, realistically, you risk catastrophy.
  • Can't one do a similar thing with regular voting? X-rays or whatever...
    • With tons of money and if the ballot were printed with thick pure lead, maybe it could be theorically possible, and maybe people won't notice the big trucks just outside. But with normal ink, I don't think you could do that without killing the targeted voter with the radiation.

      OTOH, a small camera+radio transmitter correctly placed in the booth is just fine for that job and any TLA can have them by dozen.
  • WHY? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Virgil Tibbs (999791)
    exactly what is it that the dutch and the americans find so hard about putting an x on a piece of paper is beyond me next they will be telling us that only 99.9% of them are illiterate!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by aadvancedGIR (959466)
      Years ago, I heard about a big election in an african country in which a large proportion of the population was illiterate. The solution was easy, they simply ask every party to choose a distinctive sign. On the ballot, they put those signs in front of the names of the candidates (plus their photos) and it worked rather fine.
      Conclusion: illiteracy is absolutely not an excuse for not having correct voting procedures.
  • Nothing in the media about open sourcing the OS that runs on it however. Too bad, it could've been some good publicity for the OSS ideals.
  • This is a huge victory of the tech people! This shows that if you try hard enough, you can convince people who know nothing about computers, open source, EM radiation, etc.

    The guy who started the group is a hacker, who started the best ISP in the Netherlands, XS4ALL. they have a very good record when it comes to consumer privacy and helping the internet evolve. He's a nerd, like most of us, but he can convince other people. We can do more if we try harder.
  • In the PDF document they tell that they were challenged by the builder of the original voting-machine to turn it into a chess-computer.

    Which they did. :)
    • And the winner for the presidency is... Queen to King's Bishop seven?!
      • by Incadenza (560402)
        And the winner for the presidency is... Queen to King's Bishop seven?!
        Sorry to bother you, but we don't have presidential elections in the Netherlands. Queen wins here every time.
  • You may disagree, but not using voting machines seems the best idea so far. Hell, our country had an electional scandal because of the vote data being stored insecurely, despite the fact that the elections were paper-based. It is highly unlikely to find the guilty (or even to confirm manipulations) in a voting machine situation as digital voting lets someone to modify the results maliciously without leaving a trace. Is that a right route to take?
  • >"What can be detected is the image on the screen that's visible to the voter, by which his voting could be monitored,"

    says the government minister. They're talking about van Eck eavesdropping. Think about the cost-benefit ratio for an attacker. The Dutch must take ballot secrecy really seriously.

    Tempest equipment is economically out of the question, maybe this is a niche for an e-ink display.
  • The government should develop a new "internet" of sorts, give access to every citizen, provide each citizen with a special proprietary "voting box" that is connected to this "internet". Everyone can vote from his or her home. This way, we could also vote directly concerning different bills and acts in congress, instead of having some stupid representative that doesn't properly represent you do your voting for you. They can come up with the ideas, but we can vote for them. I like this idea... Any takers?
  • It's simple really, use our best communication tool to do politics => the net.

    How to do that securely?

    Well, first of all internet has the potential to bring a *HUGE* change, it could be much much more, a Direct Democracy where everybody could participate on every issue all the time and from every where.

    When, Where, What. A revolution.

    Of course there is one consequence: votes could be bought. Is it a problem? Can it be fought? To be decided by each group.

    Here, I'm working on such an internet democracy too
  • I cannot trust computer code I am not permitted to read.
    There is no legitimate reason not to allow the owners of voting machines to read every last bit of the code loaded onto any computer used to register or tally votes.
    Otherwise, paper ballots, hand counted.
  • OK, in theory it is possible to have a secure voting system - plenty of pdfs around, just go search for it.

    However, what I don't understand is why is it such a big deal that voters can't keep a receipt of how they voted. Or that votes have to be so secret. Yes it'll be good if they are secret or at least most of them.

    So what if it means the voter can sell his/her vote?

    Also, if someone could coerce 1 voter to vote a particular way (the proof being the receipt) AND get away with it, if you are pragmatic it is

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