Protesters Sue to Stop Use of French E-Voting Machines

Campaigners have filed suit to prevent the use of electronic voting machines in the forthcoming French presidential election. They say the machines do not meet the legal requirements set out by the country's Constitutional Council.

Seven electors from Issy-les-Moulineaux, on the outskirts of Paris, attended the Administrative Court in nearby Versailles, seeking an injunction preventing their city council from using the machines. They also filed complaints from 19 others, while campaigners in other cities petitioned their courts, said Nicolas Barcet, one of those involved.

The first round of the French presidential election will take place on Sunday, and if none of the 12 candidates standing wins an absolute majority, the two polling the most votes will go forward to a second round on May 6.

The protestors in Issy and other cities used a judicial procedure to which the court must respond within 48 hours; they will know by Friday whether their demands have been accepted.

About 80 of the 36,000 or so municipalities in France will use electronic voting systems in the presidential election, up from about 50 for the national referendum on the European constitutional treaty in 2005.

Although only a few machines are in use at the moment, there are concerns about their nature and the way they are being introduced.

"I'm very worried about the future of our democratic system," said one of the campaigners, Laurent Pieuchot, who is also a polling station supervisor and elected member of the city council for Issy-les-Moulineaux.

French elections are conducted via secret ballot. Traditionally, electors enter a polling booth and place a slip of paper printed with the name of their chosen candidate in an unmarked envelope. The next step is quite literally transparent: They then place the envelope in a transparent ballot box. This allows observers to ensure that the ballot box was empty at the start of the election, and for voters to ensure that their ballot has been received.

But electronic voting machines do not allow lay observers to verify proceedings in the same way, and voters have no way of knowing that their vote has been registered as they wish, the campaigners say—they must simply have faith in the programming of the machine.

Such concerns did not form part of Tuesday's legal challenge, however. That procedure can be invoked only on the grounds of noncompliance with the legislation.

One challenge focused on the way in which the machines are physically protected from interference. The protesters say that some models do not comply with a requirement that two different keys carried by two people are needed to open the machines and initiate the count. Another of the grounds for challenge revolved around the homologation of the voting software. The iVotronic voting machines delivered to Issy carry software dated January 2007, Pieuchot said, but the Constitutional Council voted to approve the machine on Oct. 19, 2005, based on tests of an earlier software version by verification body Bureau Veritas.

The Constitutional Council published a communiqué on March 29 listing the three models it has approved: the iVotronic, manufactured by Election Systems & Software and distributed in France by Datamatique; the Point & Vote from Indra Sistemas; and the ESF1 from NV Nederlandsche Apparatenfabriek (Nedap).

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