Storm gathers over French voting machines

20th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Some 1.5 million people will cast electronic ballots in France's presidential election, but the roll-out of machines has sparked a rumble of protest from citizens who fear they are vulnerable to fraud.

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Some 1.5 million people will cast electronic ballots in France's presidential election, but the roll-out of machines has sparked a rumble of protest from citizens who fear they are vulnerable to fraud.

Voting machines have been set up in 82 French towns and cities, home to some 1.5 million out of France's 44.5 million voters, ahead of the first round on Sunday and the runoff set for May 6.

Officials say the paperless system, where voters use a touch-screen kiosk to key in their choice, will save time and money -- and point out that no problems have been reported since the machines were first introduced in 2003.

But widescale use of the machines has run into opposition from voters and politicians, and more than 70,000 people have signed an online petition against the move to e-voting.

Opponents cite US and other studies that have found the machines error-prone and vulnerable to hackers, who could theoretically break into the software and change the results of the vote.

"There can be massive and undetectable fraud, carried out by anyone," warned Chantal Enguehard, an IT researcher at the CNRS institute.

"On the evening of April 22, everyone will say 'Great, it went well' -- because no one will be able to tell if there has been any fraud."

Centrist presidential candidate Francois Bayrou has called for France to "refuse this evolution, and stop all use" of the machines, while the Socialist Party of Segolene Royal has raised the alarm over a "lack of reliability" and a risk of "massive and undetectable fraud".

South of Paris the town of Issy-les-Moulineaux, where the mayor, an ally of right-wing presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy, has introduced 100-percent e-voting, is in the eye of the storm.

Local politicians of all stripes -- Communist, centrist, Socialist and Green -- have called for a moratorium, warning of a risk of technical faults and fraud.

Spearheaded by the website www.betapolitique.fr, a dozen citizens from Issy filed suit Tuesday to block the use of machines on technical grounds, claiming they ran on software not yet approved by the interior ministry.

But a court in Versailles Thursday threw out the case, saying that there was no violation of voting rights, according to the plaintiffs.

The US firm Election Systems and Software announced this week it was replacing the contested model, the "Ivotronic", with an older machine vetted by the government, in Issy and seven other towns.

Regional authorities have insisted the machines now in place provide "all guarantees for the exercise of the vote".

A similar legal suit was turned down this week in Cergy-Pontoise west of Paris, while another was filed in Montpellier in the south on Wednesday.

But Nicolas Barcet of betapolitique said he was considering an appeal before the State Council, France's highest administrative court, claiming the machines are being introduced without proper precautions.

"I am all for modernising the administration, but I'm just saying 'Watch out', the current procedures don't allow for proper verification," he said. 

Barcet complains that, "according to all IT experts", the French rules on e-voting published in 2003 allow for the use of machines that do not meet the proper standards of transparency.

"I'm not paranoid, I don't think anyone introduced a virus to alter people's votes -- but it's more about sparking a real debate."

"We are going to replace a transparent urn with a black box -- which no voter will have the possibility to check -- we will never know for sure if the result corresponds to the voters' choice."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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