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Protest against voting machine

12 July 2006 – The current voting machines are unverifiable as well as superfluous. We must therefore return to voting with paper and pencil, says Rop Gonggrijp, founder of the XS4ALL internet provider. With other people, he has launched a campaign.

At the municipal elections of last March, Amsterdam was one of the last municipalities to switch to the voting machine. At the campaign website, this is mentioned as one of the reasons to start a campaign now: “A number of people behind this site are Amsterdammers. And perhaps you first have to vote with a computer to realise how serious it all is”.

Gonggrijp: “Critics now try to brand us as a Grachtengordel initiative [the term refers to the elites living in the city centre – Ed.], but that is not correct. The point is that ten, twenty years ago, it was nearly impossible to get people to understand what is wrong with voting machines. As a result of stories from America, they now get the idea”.

In America, many voting machines are sold by Diebold, a company whose CEO is an important contributor to Republican campaign funds. Also, critics say that its computers are not properly protected against manipulation.

Gonggrijp does not want to suggest that there would be anything wrong with the Dutch suppliers of voting machines. “I think they have the best intentions. But I do not want to be dependent on the good intentions of a company. What is more, what will happen if Diebold decides to buy them?”

Objections against the voting machine include the impossibility to verify the results, because the source code of the software is secret and because there is no paper trail. There are indications that a member of a polling committee at a polling station in Zeeland may have committed fraud.

In addition, many people need assistance when voting with a computer. “The number of incidents has risen alarmingly”, says Gonggrijp. “People, when helping each other, may influence each other’s voting behaviour. Also, there have been reports about members of polling committees looking over the shoulder at how people vote”.

The Amsterdam Ombudsman has started an investigation of incidents in the Bos en Lommer district. The report should contribute to improved procedures at the next elections. “Voting is something you do on your own!”, he says in a column.

Gonggrijp thinks that it is not feasible from a practical point of view to switch to the voting pencil at the 22 November Parliamentary elections, but it should be possible at the Provincial elections in March 2007. That it will take longer for the election results to become known is not a problem: this will only make the elections more exciting.

Meanwhile, the municipality has sold the ballot boxes and has decided to have the voting pencils turned into a work of art. Is this not a waste, if we have to get rid of the computer? Gonggrijp: “The costs of pencils and ballot boxes are a fraction of what it costs to vote with a computer, so that is not the problem. And fortunately, the municipality has not bought the computers but leases them”.

The latter is the result of an amendment passed in 2004 by the city council, in which the municipality was told not to spend money on voting machines yet. The municipality was also called upon to promote that open source software for voting machines is made available.

One of the sponsors of the amendment was social-democrat council member Tijs Reuten. In retrospect, he says that the amendment did yield results: “The municipality was planning to buy voting machines. After the discussion in the council, it was decided to lease them, with the intention of switching as soon as certified voting machines with open source software become available”.

Gonggrijp thinks this is not sufficient: he wants a return to the voting pencil. A campaign website has been opened, where buttons, t-shirts and mugs can be ordered. Also, people will be called upon to express a ‘polite protest’ at the polling station. “The polling committee will be obliged to include this in their report”.


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