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Dutch FOI disclosures reveal the odd business of evoting

Stranger than fiction

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Freedom of information disclosures in the Netherlands have revealed details of a bizarre dispute between Dutch electoral authorities and the supplier of the software used to administrate the elections.

Letters obtained by the "We don't trust voting computers foundation", reveal some startling comments by Jan Groenendaal, the man whose company provides the software the Dutch officials use to organise elections - which polling stations will be staffed by which people, which facilities will be used and so on.

His software is used with the Nedap voting machines currently used in 90 per cent of the electoral districts, and although it is not used in the actual vote count, it does tabulate the results on both a regional and national level.

According to the freedom of information disclosures, Groenendaal wrote to election officials in the lead up to the national elections in November 2006, threatening to cease "cooperating" if the government did not accede to his requests.

To understand these requests, some background is important.

On October 4 last year, the Dutch TV program Een Vandaag aired a story about a group called the "We don't trust voting computers foundation". They had obtained two of the voting machines used in Dutch elections for testing, and demonstrated on air how the machines might be compromised.

One of the "hackers" was a man called Rop Gonggrijp.

Following the airing of the programme, the Dutch authorities ordered an investigation into the allegations. They also set up an independent commission, designed to scrutinise the electoral process in the Netherlands.

Groenendaal responded by threatening to sue Een Vandaag, and demanded that the two machines acquired by the foundation be confiscated. He also wrote to Dutch election officials suggesting the Gonggrijp be arrested and detained. He wrote: "After all, his activities are destabilising society and are as such comparable to terrorism. Preventive custody and a judicial investigation would have been very appropriate."

The disclosures also show that Groenendaal wrote to the government threatening to cease all activity if Rop Gonggrijp was appointed to the independent commission.

A spokesman for Nedap told The Register that the disclosures were being blown out of all proportion "It is really much ado about nothing," he said. "Groenendaal's software doesn't have anything to do with determining the results in the elections, that is all done on our machines, and is developed in house."

But in his blog Jason Kitcat of the Open Rights Group says it is "very worrying" that someone so important to democracy in the Netherlands would behave in this way. He says the scrutiny that e-voting is now getting in the region is long past due:

"The Dutch have had evoting for years, and it has always had pretty lax monitoring. [After the hacks were broadcast] the government got interested and started asking for checks on the software."

He believes it is this that precipitated Groenendaal's series of communications

The report from the Commission is due in late 2007. Nedap says the review is timely. The spokesman told us: "Our election law is derived from the mid-1990's. Society evolves, and it is a different world. We have to adapt."

We contacted Groenendaal for comment, but he has not returned any of our messages. ®

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