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As you know, do you like it or not, the electronic voting has become a topical issue for all our local states (cantons) :
    -    According to the Federal Council, in mid-2009 the basic conditions for opening the electronic voting for the Swiss abroad should have been met by the cantons,
    -    The Council for the Swiss abroad (ASR-ASO) voted in late August three resolutions calling for the early introduction of electronic voting,
    -   Every cantons have appointed a project managers "electronic voting" and establish(ed) a steering committee "eVoting", etc.
It is politically important to act now, before the government began laying the rails, possibly in a direction that would be (as in Geneva) questionable

First, here is some information and comments on the debate about electronic voting which took place in Geneva's Grand Council at the end of the Summer (August 28).

The article about electronic voting, which was adopted (after a lively debate, but without amendments) by the Grand Council is as follows:

The Constitution of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, 24 May 1847, is amended as follows:
Article 48, para.2 and 4 (new content, former paragraphs 2 and 4 becoming 3 and 6), para. 5 (new)
2. A voter may vote in a local vote, by mail or, to the extent provided by law, electronically ª.
4. The elections are controlled by a central electoral commission appointed by the State Council.
5. The State Chancellery is responsible for consolidating the results of votes and, in addition to the elections for a centralized counting.
In the spirit of the proposers, it must be understood:  "the «remote electronic voting» in other words, the Internet voting".

Both in committee and then in the press and in the plenum, the debate was completely out of the old left-right divide, and most parties were sharply divided: The constitutional law has been accepted by 39 Yes especially with the Socialist Party, Christian Democratic Party, the MCG (Geneva citizens movement, of populist orientation), and scattered votes, it was rejected by 28 No, the Greens, some Liberals and Radicals, the Swiss People's Party, and 9 abstentions. Socs, Libs and the Rads groups, in particular, had not given watchword, having proved too disunited on the issue
Ultimately, the choice was widely imposed to let the people decide on the principle (63, 2 abstentions). [Le Courier, 29 August 2008]

The Committee on Political Rights itself was very divided, with a very narrow majority for both bills (the above constitutional one, and the application one, see below), and a large minority against the two. It has served extensively in 15 meetings from December 2006 to May 2007, then the debate on the bill was deferred until the Summer 2008 session of the Grand Council -although the state chancellery has repeatedly called for the "emergency" of the vote. So, the constitutional change has been accepted, but the (application) law on electronic voting has been postponed (yet it was the first goal, the Constitutional Law is only the daughter of the commission -March 2007).

Since the accepted law is a constitutional change, it is subject to mandatory referendum and the people will have to vote.

Clause 5 is only an endorsed facts, the law has not been previously adapted to the current change.

Clause 4 is actually required by the federal law, in the case of votes at the federal level by operating an electronic means (electronic voting or Internet) and is therefore a consequence of paragraph 2. And this will be a permanent electoral commission (and which may hire "experts") and will replace the "tellers of the parties" that are currently delegates of parties represented in the Grand Council, which are responsible for overseeing the smooth conduct of the elections.

Paragraph 2 is the great innovation, with its final  "or, to the extent provided by law, electronically".
It remains there, obviously, in the pure principle.

Normally, it was expected that the Grand Council adopts a second law (so-called "application") it would be added to those on "the exercise of political rights". The bill has been referred to the committee.
The committee report (on the two bills) is available -in French- on the site of the GC-Ge. I had prepared comments (in French) to encourage the GC not to accept the proposed text of the second project (application law).    
A majority of 41 MPs (Socialists, Radicals, Citizens Movement and Christian Democrats, and scattered votes) against 17 (UDC and liberals, mainly) - and 9 abstentions (Liberals and Greens) - have decided to refer the application law to the committee. [Le Courier, 29 August 2008]

Several points of this project of law were (in effect) very disturbing, eg, lack of technological neutrality *, or the burden of responsibility placed on the citizens in case of piracy.
   (*) Advocated operations were strongly related to the architecture and procedures of the current pilote system, notoriously poor (English text); members of parliament have widely echoed this in the debate, even the strongest proponents of the principle of electronic voting.

But it was another very serious problem : the prohibition of access to the program source of the electronic voting software; and in particular never in electronic format, this prevent any automatic analyzes of the code. The same is true (and it was in the past the same) for documentation of the system in use :
8 The source code of the applications which run the electronic voting system, as well as documents related to the security of the system, with the exception of the results of the audit referred to in paragraph 6, cannot be disclosed to third parties under the law on public information and access to documents of the 5th October 2001.
9 Members of the Central Electoral Commission will nevertheless have access at any time to them.
10 The source code can also be studied, but not reproduced by any voter who has a scientific interest and purely  ideal and is committed to respect confidentiality. The State Council establishes the terms and conditions of this test.
[Extract of the bill referred to committee]
This position, which dodges a fundamental right of citizens in a democratic society, is yet confirmed by the Federal Chancellery:
The technical documentation on an electronic voting system, as well as advice on safety, are cantonal confidential documents.  These documents are not public.  Cantons already applying the principle of transparency may make the consultation of these documents or code programs to conditions, or reject it outright, as it contained information security that are sensitive or secret business.
[Tomas Helbling, Vice-Chancellor of the Confederation mail toà O.M. 20/08/2008]

However, the Geneva Administrative Court has recognized:
Given the interest of citizens to ensure itself of the reliability of a voting system, restrictions on disclosure imposed on access to source code appears contrary to the principle of proportionality.
[The distribution and copy the source code is excepted. Court case 29/11/2005]
In opposition to this secretive position, that might be called mockingly "obscurantist" (as so-called "security by obscurity"), the minority report notes :
[The source code] is roughly a set of instructions that describe the operations of a computer program. Its opening - or public disclosure - allows high-level scientists to study it in order to discover possible loopholes and ensure that the program performs really the actions it is expected to make. Knowledge of the source code doesn't permit yet to penetrate the system. A computer specialist, that we have heard, used the metaphor of the blueprint of a museum's security system. A professional burglar may, by studying such a plan, identify weaknesses or inconsistencies in the system, but can not enter the museum, because it will not have the passwords or keys to pass various obstacles described on the plan. Thus, it is generally accepted in the computing world, that open the source code for a program will improve it, because larger number of scientists are able to look at."
But the commission did not dare to go to the end, even the minority, by including the requirement for a complete publication of the source program and documentation system.

The selection of "pure hearts" (al.10 of the project) would limit the choices to persons authorized by the government (and therefore exclude opponents1). The ban of any copy would prohibit the help of a third person or the use of specialized investigative tools (usual and fruitful). The undertaking of confidentiality would prevent to publicise its findings.
But experience shows that studying a large and complex software requires a strong dedication (or be very well paid), while the probability of discovering a fault or flaw becomes only tangible with the availability of technical tools and especially the presence of many minds, and the emulation obtained by open intellectual discussion.

Conversely, putting the software under a license "Open Source" such as the OSI one (giving freedom to experiment), and as the result of the fundamental interest of the subject, will lead -on the contrary - to benefit from the analysis and improvement by the academic world and computer specialists (often passionate).


However, it is that the Swiss law does not know the transparency of the vote, unlike other principes (English text) that are legally required.
The federal administration writes that this is only a practice, generally recognized in doctrine and sometimes in jurisprudence.

It would be advantageous, to avoid overall and definitely such a drift toward secrecy, to include in the law on political rights, even cantonal constitutions, or better yet in the Federal Constitution: 
the disclosure and transparency (global observability) are mandatory for all procedures and essential means implemented in a popular vote,

to allow democratic monitoring of potentially* the whole people, as the use (and doctrine) have established it for the vote at the voting booth.
   (*) Not that everyone will be able to read and understand software or other tools, but that everyone could freely invest its confidence -or appoint- the expert he wants to listen or to do this task.

NB: In addition, it can be shown that "security through obscurity" generally has no value in engineering, and especially in this area..


1 The spokesman of the State Chancellery of the Republic and Canton of Geneva treats, on his blog , the opponents of the state's pilote electronic voting system as "illuminated", as "originals" without solid foundation, as "Dr Diafoirus"* not knowing to ask the right question, "always expatiating" and even as "idiots" looking at the finger showing the moon!
   (*) Physician charlatant and pedantic, Le Malade Imaginaire, Molière, 1673