The maneuver caused an uproar. The government tabled an amendment in the Senate on Tuesday February 16, in order to introduce advance voting for the 2022 presidential election. The text proposed that this vote take place the week before the poll, on a date set by decree. Voters would then go to certain polling stations in certain municipalities, the list of which would have been drawn up by the Minister of the Interior, to vote in advance on machines.
This proposal has drawn the wrath of politicians of all stripes, including within the presidential majority. An argument was opposed to him, by the extreme right in particular. “Voting machines – a fortiori by anticipation – are one of the known means of rigging electoral results”, said François Asselineau, the president of the UPR. “What need to do except to defraud?” added the leader of the Patriots, Florian Philippot. For Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the boss of Debout la France, there is no doubt: Emmanuel “Macron wants to steal the presidential election from us. (…) Our democracy is in danger of death!”
The amendment was overwhelmingly rejected by senators on Wednesday, February 17, in committee, but the accusations remain. It remains to be seen whether they are true.
Voting machines were introduced in France in 2002, but they are subject to a moratorium, which prevents new municipalities from using them, since 2007. During the presidential and legislative elections of 2017, only 66 were still using. In an answer to the question of a senator on the future of these devices, the Ministry of the Interior recognized that year “serious difficulties”. Place Beauvau pointed to the“longer waiting times” in equipped polling stations, the “high cost for municipalities and the State” (between 4,000 and 6,000 euros for the purchase of a machine in 2007, to which must be added the maintenance costs), but above all the “mistrust” voters, unable to physically count the ballots.
In his response, the concerns of the Interior were still palpable. The ministry also suggested that aging machines exposed the elections to cyber attacks, because of their obsolescence, but also because their configuration before the ballot involved potentially dangerous human intervention.
“Evidence of fraud, there isn’t any, because we can’t see it”, immediately swept away Chantal Enguehard, lecturer in the computer science department at the University of Nantes. The computer scientist denounces a voting system “totally opaque”. She illustrates her point: “Imagine an election with paper ballots and a ballot box. In the evening, you see employees of a private company arrive who leave with the ballot box, who lock themselves in a room and say to you: ‘Wait an hour and we gives the results. ‘” For the academic, “this is exactly what happens with the voting machines: the count is no longer public”.
“No one can know what happened to the voting computer while it was in use: neither the voters, nor the members of the polling station, nor the public authorities.”Chantal Enguehard, lecturer at the University of Nantes
If she does not have evidence of fraud, Chantal Enguehard ensures that the list of technical incidents related to electronic voting is “long as the arm”. The Voting Observatory, which has produced a report by election since 2007, notes a constant anomaly: at each ballot, there is a gap between the votes cast and the signatures. This difference is on average three to five times greater in offices where voting computers are installed.
The computer scientist makes another observation, in a summary published by the scientific journal Interstices, in 2017: when voting machines are used, blank ballots are twice as numerous on average. She makes several hypotheses to explain it. The “blank vote” option may be more explicit or voters find it difficult to use the tool and vote blank by default. Perhaps they doubt the secrecy of their electronic vote? Or perhaps the machine transforms their vote … In any case, nothing can prove that these anomalies are due to voluntary manipulation of electronic voting.
In the United States, researchers have shown that fraud is possible. Princeton University Scientists Hack Voting Computer In One Minute, Study Finds (PDF in English) published in 2006. In 2018, academics from Berkeley analyzed the results of a local election in Georgia. Their study (in English) showed that ballots were not recorded by the machines. This anomaly was also more common in polling stations with a higher proportion of African-American voters. According to the researchers, these quirks could not reasonably be attributed to chance.
“Securing voting on machines and on the Internet is extremely difficult”, recognizes Pierrick Gaudry, CNRS researcher attached to Loria, the computer science research laboratory at the University of Nancy. It is indeed necessary to succeed in reconciling two objectives. “As a voter, no one needs to know my vote, but I also need to be convinced that my vote was taken into account and that there was no manipulation”, he sums up.
“It is really difficult to have the same type of guarantees with electronic voting as those we have with ballot box voting, extremely robust and of excellent reputation, as practiced in France.”Pierrick Gaudry, CNRS researcher attached to Loria de Nancy
How to solve this puzzle? “In the United States, where these machines are used extensively, they have recourse to additional methods to have guarantees., explains Pierrick Gaudry. More and more, machines will print a paper ballot that will be put in a ballot box. “ Cryptography could also help voters to have confidence in this electronic vote. “Each voter, when he votes, would retrieve a tracking code and could verify via a web page that his ballot was indeed put in the ballot box”, considers the researcher. Paradoxically, giving a voter proof of his vote could encourage corruption: a voter could indeed present this proof to a candidate who would pay him for having voted “well”.
In France, to ensure that the voting machines work well, the authorities must be satisfied with audits, deplores Pierrick Gaudry. “Systems are audited, but auditing both hardware and software is really crazy work, notes the computer voting specialist. In addition, it is extremely difficult to be sure, on D-Day, that it is this hardware and this software that are running. “
Like many of his colleagues, the scientist is campaigning for the specifications of voting machines to be made public by their manufacturers. ” The more specifications we have, the more guarantees we have”, he underlines, based on an opinion of the CNIL issued in 2019. For the moment, the technical data are jealously guarded by manufacturers, “American, Spanish and Dutch”, which produce the devices used in France, indicates Chantal Enguehard. “Right now we just have, ‘Don’t be afraid, someone has checked, there is no bug.’ It’s really hard to accept “, regrets Pierrick Gaudry.
With the voting machines, “you have both the risk of fraud, which casts doubt, and the absence of direct verification, which prevents any doubt”, summarizes Gilles Guglielmi, professor of public law at Panthéon-Assas University. ” The citizen does not have the means to check the result of his vote”, points out the lawyer. He recalls that this is precisely the argument of the Constitutional Court of Karlsruhe (Germany) to decide to stop all electronic voting experiments across the Rhine in 2009.
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