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,
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
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).
about electronic voting,
which was adopted (after a lively debate, but without amendments) by
the Grand Council is as follows:
In the spirit of the proposers, it must be understood: "the «remote electronic
voting» in other words, the Internet voting".
|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.
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
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.
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
has repeatedly called for the "emergency" of the vote. So,
the constitutional change has been accepted, but the
law on electronic voting has been postponed (yet it was the first goal,
the Constitutional Law is only the daughter of the commission -March
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
It remains there, obviously, in the pure principle.
Normally, it was expected that the Grand Council adopts a second
"application") it would be added to those on "the exercise of political
rights". The bill has been referred to 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
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.
This position, which dodges a fundamental right of citizens in a
democratic society, is yet confirmed by the Federal Chancellery:
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
committed to respect confidentiality. The State Council establishes the
terms and conditions of this test.
[Extract of the bill referred to committee]
The technical documentation on an electronic voting
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.
However, the Geneva Administrative Court has recognized:
[Tomas Helbling, Vice-Chancellor of the Confederation mail
Given the interest of citizens to ensure itself of
reliability of a voting system, restrictions on disclosure imposed on
access to source code appears contrary to the principle of
In opposition to this secretive position, that might be called
mockingly "obscurantist" (as so-called "security by obscurity"), the
minority report notes :
[The distribution and copy the source
code is excepted. Court case
[The source code] is roughly a set of
that describe the operations of a computer program. Its opening - or
public disclosure - allows high-level scientists to study it
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,
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
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
Conversely, putting the software under a license "Open Source" such as
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).
it is that the Swiss law does not know the transparency of the
vote, unlike other principes
(English text) that are legally
The federal administration writes that this is only a
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:
to allow democratic monitoring of potentially* the whole people, as the
use (and doctrine) have established it for the vote at the
disclosure and transparency (global observability) are mandatory
for all procedures and essential means implemented in a
(*) Not that everyone will be able to read and
software or other tools, but that everyone could freely invest its
confidence -or appoint- the expert he wants to listen or to do this
NB: In addition, it can be shown that "security through obscurity"
generally has no value in engineering, and especially in this area..
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