27 November 2020

Elections ACT rejects alleged flaws in electronic voting systems

| Dominic Giannini
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Voting Elections ACT CMAG Photo: Region Media

A new report has alleged that there were errors in the code used by Elections ACT. Photo: Region Media.

The ACT Electoral Commissioner has rejected the assertion that it was only by “good luck” that flaws in the ACT’s electronic voting system did not impact the final vote tally.

A report by cyber-security expert and cryptographer Dr Vanessa Teague and mathematician Andrew Conway said the code used by Elections ACT incorrectly grouped votes and did not round down, which is explicitly required in the ACT Electoral Act.

“Although we do not believe any of these errors caused the wrong candidates to be elected this time … there is a realistic possibility that they could cause wrong election results in future years if they are not corrected,” the authors asserted.

The flaws in the system lead to the miscounting of more than 20 votes in this election, according to the report authors, who allege that the electronic voting and counting system (EVACS) does not reliably combine votes with the same transfer value, which means that some of the votes would be wrongly transferred during redistribution. Under the Hare-Clark system, votes are not passed onto the next candidate at full value.

READ ALSO What is the Hare-Clark system?

Commissioner Damian Cantwell said the Commission welcomes constructive, responsible and professional engagement with the report’s authors and is working through the report before providing a thorough response.

The initial analysis is that Dr Teague’s assertion of coding errors is wrong but there are parts of the report that warrant merit, Mr Cantwell said.

The code used by Elections ACT needs to be made publically available and independently examined, as was the case between 2001 and 2016, so flaws in the voting system could be identified ahead of the election, Dr Teague said.

“The code is not openly available, but the errors are evident from the official distribution of preferences given the published votes,” she says.

Damian Cantwell

ACT Electoral Commissioner Damian Cantwell said the Commission would look through the report in detail. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

This assertion was disputed by Mr Cantwell who said that the code was available to third parties upon request and the signing of a non-disclosure agreement to ensure that the Commission has the ability to work and examine any potential flaws before they are made public.

“The reputational damage and the confidence that the ACT community must have in the process that delivers the ACT elections can be undermined significantly,” he said.

But he did not think the process has not been undermined this year.

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Multiple serious errors were also discovered in systems used by pollsite e-voting and votes received over the internet, but sat outside the scope of the analysis, the report said.

Around 1,500 eligible overseas voters used the internet to vote, which is a different system from the offline e-voting stations at booths in the ACT.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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There are a number of issues with electronic voting.
Particularly ensuring anonimity and trust(authenticity).
This presentation gives an overview of the issues with electronic voting.

russianafroman4:21 am 29 Nov 20

I believe the experts on this occasion

Regardless of the outcomes in relation to e-voting in the recent US election, the concerns raised alone should be addressed in e-voting systems for Australian state/territory or federal elections in the future. Otherwise, there can be disputes and lack of confidence in the voting systems used. This would also be applicable to how paper ballot counts are checked and audited. The main concern for me is e-voting that could be prone to underhanded vote manipulations. I believe there should at least be an option of paper ballot voting at polling booths for eligible voters.

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