Dutch e-voting software goes open source

Public scrutiny

The source code of the software that is used for online e-voting in the Netherlands has been made public by OSOSS, a Dutch association that promotes the use of open source software in government.

Electronic voting in the Netherlands was made permissible by an amendment to the Elections Act back in 1965. Mechanical voting machines were used until 1974, and then gradually electronic versions began to replace them.

In most voting Dutch stations these days an electronic machine by Dutch company Nedap is used instead of paper ballots. Proper verification of the votes - as opposed to a simple comparison of "votes per candidate to the votes per party, and to the total number of votes cast" remains, however, largely unresolved. This has considerably frustrated academics, who so far have failed to retrieve the source code of the Nedap machines via the Dutch "public government" law.

Because of the controversy, online e-voting in the Netherlands at present is still restricted to the 16,000 or so Dutch expats, of which 5,000 used the system during the European parliamentary elections earlier this month.

The system is part of the distance-voting project (KOA), which also allows voting through a phone-based voice-response system. The project, launched in 1999, was outsourced to to tender winners LogicaCMG.

A report by the Dutch ministry of internal affairs earlier this year expressed concerns over security and privacy issues. Electronic voting and Internet voting in particular is seen by many as risky. When the Irish government proposed a Nedap/Powervote system to be used in locally held elections for the European Parliament, it met with fierce resistance from critics because it came without an audit trail.

Releasing the source code of the Dutch e-voting system software will enable voters to verify that the system does what it is supposed to, proponents say. In Australia the software for parliamentary elections is already open to public scrutiny. ®

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