Despite vocal mistrust of e-voting, 151 Flemish municipalities in Belgium will use new electronic voting machines in October 14 elections. More than 60 percent of the country’s Flemish citizens as well as voters in the Brussels region will choose their local and provincial leaders using a newly developed Linux-based e-voting system made by Venezuelan company Smartmatic. Belgium has been experimenting with e-voting systems since 1991 and is one of the few European countries that is still using a form of electronic voting. The Netherlands, for instance, banned the use of electronic voting machines in 2008 after a group of activists successfully demonstrated that both types of electronic voting machines then in use could be tampered with. The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany decided in 2009 to stop using electronic voting machines because results from the machines were not verifiable. There were some experiments with e-voting in the U.K., but bigger projects never got a foothold, said a Belgian government report detailing the history of e-voting in Europe. Meanwhile, while a wide variety of voting machines are used in the U.S. and about 20 percent of the population of Estonia votes via the Internet, Belgium is one of the few European countries that still invests in new e-voting technology.
Belgians themselves are divided about the usefulness of e-voting. In Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, only 39 of the 262 of the municipalities have voted electronically. They have been allowed by the regional government to continue the practice at their own expense, using machines put in place before the adoption of the Smartmatic machines in the Flemish municipalities. The rest of Wallonia will vote using paper and pencil because that system is cheaper, local newspapers reported. A crucial issue involved in voting-machine usage is the ability to verify votes, said Kerstin Goos, a junior researcher at the Competence Center Emerging Technologies at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research in Germany, who studies e-voting in Europe. Paper trails are used quite often for verification, using printed voting records that can be recounted manually if necessary. Those paper trails were not used in Germany and the Netherlands, making it impossible to verify the elections manually.
Security issues arise even when paper trails are used, according to Goos. “Critics argue that systems still can be manipulated in a way that the printed version is different from the cast vote,” said Goos. “One main concern about possible fraud enabled by electronic means is that its scale could be much larger and possibly undetected compared to traditional voting methods,” she said, adding that the combination of improved accuracy and speed of the tallying process is typically given as a primary reason to use e-voting. The Smartmatic system being used by the Flemish municipalities print ballots on paper that resemble supermarket receipts. The voters’ choices are displayed in normal printed text and in machine-readable bar code. The voter has to fold the paper, scan the receipt and put the ballot in a box.