New elec­tronic vote count­ing sys­tem mod­i­fied with­out Elec­toral Com­mis­sion’s con­sent

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Re­bekah Cilia

Sources who were in the count­ing hall where the new elec­tronic vote count­ing sys­tem was be­ing tested yes­ter­day ex­pressed se­ri­ous con­cerns over the way the sys­tem had been mod­i­fied be­tween the first and sec­ond mock test.

It tran­spires that the com­pany re­spon­si­ble for op­er­at­ing the sys­tem had made amend­ments to the sys­tem with­out in­form­ing the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion or the po­lit­i­cal par­ties’ del­e­gates.

Such changes made with­out their con­sent could be po­ten­tially danger­ous, sources claim.

Dur­ing the first mock test of the new sys­tem in Novem­ber, a num­ber of con­cerns had been flagged, es­pe­cially on the num­ber of bal­lot sheets that the sys­tem failed to recog­nise and were sub­se­quently passed onto a hu­man ad­ju­di­ca­tor. This amounted to ap­prox­i­mately 40 per cent of the votes.

In the sec­ond mock test, held yes­ter­day at the Naxxar count­ing hall, the num­ber of bal­lot sheets not recog­nised by the sys­tem was sub­stan­tially less, nearly half the orig­i­nal amount. Sources claim that such a steep de­cline in the num­ber of votes not be­ing recog­nised was due to the changes made by the con­trac­tor.

If the scan­ners, which are be­ing kept in the new strong room, are ca­pa­ble of be­ing mod­i­fied and tam­pered with with­out the knowl­edge of the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion there is a se­ri­ous prob­lem, sources told this news­pa­per yes­ter­day.

Fur­ther­more, the first mock test can­not be com­pared to yes­ter­day’s sec­ond test as the sys­tem did not scan like with like.

The new elec­tronic vote count­ing sys­tem will be used in the up­com­ing MEP and lo­cal coun­cil elec­tions in May.

Chief Elec­toral Com­mis­sioner Joseph Church told the press, at an event dis­play­ing the sys­tem in Novem­ber, that un­der the new ‘eCount’ sys­tem, full re­sults will not take longer than half a day to be pub­lished.

While the in­fra­struc­ture of the count­ing hall in Naxxar has been mod­ernised to house the new elec­tronic sys­tem, the vote count­ing process has also been mod­i­fied.

Bal­lot boxes will still be put into the strong room on ar­rival as usual, how­ever, the votes will be scanned elec­tron­i­cally and the vot­ing pref­er­ences will be de­tected by the scan­ner. The bal­lot pa­per will then be dis­played on a big screen at each district’s sta­tion.

If the sys­tem does not recog­nise a bal­lot sheet, it is passed on to hu­man ad­ju­di­ca­tors who – with the party del­e­gates present – will recog­nise it them­selves. The scan- ning sys­tem does not au­to­mat­i­cally re­ject any votes.

Party del­e­gates and elec­toral com­mis­sion­ers will also have an app where they can view any bal­lot sheet in ac­cor­dance with a unique num­ber that is printed on its back af­ter the sheets are scanned. Each district – which will have two scan­ners – will also have an Idox com­pany spe­cial­ist present in case any tech­ni­cal hitch or prob­lem arises.

The ‘eCount’ sys­tem is be­ing op­er­ated by lead­ing providers of spe­cial­ist elec­tion so­lu­tions Idox, and elec­tion se­cu­rity tech­nol­ogy com­pany Scytl. Idox has 23 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in elec­tion fields and re­cently con­ducted the elec­tions for 32 Scot­tish lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Scytl spe­cialises in the se­cu­rity as­pects of such elec­tronic elec­tion man­age­ment so­lu­tions.

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