The Chief Electoral Officer Makes a Disturbing Diagnosis of the Problems that Occurred during the Municipal Elections of November 6, 2005
The Chief Electoral Officer of Québec, Me Marcel Blanchet, tabled in the National Assembly an evaluation report that makes a troubling diagnosis of the problems that occurred during the municipal elections of November 6, 2005, in some of the 162 Québec municipalities that used new methods of voting. One hundred and forty (140) municipalities used electronic voting while 22 “tested” the postal ballot.
“The major problems that were encountered during polling and the release of results have eroded the confidence of many persons regarding the new methods of voting” recalled Me Blanchet. “It was in order to shed light on these events and determine what happened that I created an internal evaluation committee which conducted a review that is unprecedented in Québec.”
An In-depth Review that Used the Expertise of All those Concerned
The evaluation committee that reviewed the November 2005 polls examined:
- the written reports of 144 returning officers, three suppliers of electronic voting services and the supplier of postal ballot services;
- the complaints received by the Chief Electoral Officer following the elections, the motions presented before the courts, as well as judgements rendered by the courts.
The committee also met most of the returning officers as well as several stakeholders in person: services providers, experts, observers and complainants. It also reviewed the rejected ballot papers in seven municipalities, as well as technical audits of electronic ballot boxes and voting terminals used during the municipal elections. For this last stage, the evaluation committee called on the expertise of the Centre de recherche informatique de Montréal (CRIM).
The Problems Encountered in November 2005 are the Result of Many Circumstances
“We all remember the events that marked the municipal elections of November 6, 2005,” recalled the Chief Electoral Officer. “Not only did the systems fail, but the corrective measure proposed were insufficient, poorly adapted and often came too late. The primary objective of our evaluation was not to point fingers since all those involved with the municipal elections of 2005 must share come responsibility for these problems,” explained Me Blanchet. “We are keen to understand certain situations and examine certain problems that arose primarily in order to be able to trace the path toward electronic ballots that, if maintained, should be marked by transparency and integrity that are at the heart of our democratic values,” declared the Chief Electoral Officer. The root causes of the problems encountered by the various actors of the 2005 municipal elections, include the following:
More specifically, it is possible to pinpoint a number of circumstances that increased the risks:
- an imprecise legislative and administrative framework that did not adequately assign roles and responsibilities or address the risks inherent in electronic voting;
- absence of technical specifications, norms and standards that would have guaranteed the quality and the security of the voting systems used;
- poor management of voting systems (especially lack of security measures) leaving a lot of room for errors, accidents and the absence or insufficiency of solutions in case of problems.
“Ten years of using electronic voting with no major problem, ten years of increasing satisfaction by municipalities who kept asking for it, had given some credibility to this new approach to holding elections,” surmised Me Blanchet. “What we experienced on November 6, 2005, and what our examination of the situation revealed, should convince us that this approach is more risky than earlier thought,” concluded the Chief Electoral Officer.
- Voting machines, machines used for quality control of components and machines aimed at ensuring the security of the methods of voting and the integrity of the vote were not adequately tested.
- In most cases, there was no backup plan covering all potential problems.
- Procedures on how to use voting systems were not documented.
- Due to the importance of the technical aspects of the vote, some returning officers had difficulty harmonizing their responsibilities with those of service providers, leading, for instance, to loopholes in the training of election staff
- One of the suppliers overestimated its ability to simultaneously serve a large number of municipalities, particularly the largest municipalities.
- This supplier probably delegated too much responsibility to sub-contractors (especially regarding training).
- Imprecise contracts and incomplete specifications blurred the relationships between municipalities and their service providers.
- There were no independent experts on electronic voting to whom returning officers could turn.
It is worth recalling that in Québec, a municipal election involves all democracy partners. Thus, under the Act Respecting Elections and Referendums in Municipalities, a Québec municipality that would like to hold an election using electronic voting or the postal ballot has to sign a memorandum of understanding with the minister of Municipal Affaires and Regions and the Chief Electoral Officer. The Act Respecting Elections and Referendums in Municipalities also states that it is a municipal actor, that is, the returning officer, who is in charge of the election and has responsibility for election operations, including honouring and administering the contract signed between his municipality and a supplier, for instance, of electronic voting systems. The Chief Electoral Officer, for his part, provides assistance to returning officers who so request and may, in keeping with his responsibilities and expertise in election matters, examine special situations and make recommendations.
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