Software bug disrupts e-vote count in Belgian election

A bug led to incoherent election results, the Belgian government said

By , IDG News Service |  Legal

A bug in an e-voting application halted the release of European, federal and regional election results in Belgium, the country's interior ministry said Monday.

On Sunday, problems occurred when counting votes made on older voting machines in around 20 of the country's 209 cantons, the ministry said.

The voting machines in question are x86 PCs from the DOS era, with two serial ports, a parallel port, a paltry 1 megabyte of RAM and a 3.5-inch disk drive used to load the voting software from a bootable DOS disk.

A bug in the voting software used at canton headquarters where the votes are counted caused "incoherent" election results when it tried to add up preferential votes from those machines, ministry spokesman Peter Grouwels said. The application counted the results in different ways that should always get the same outcome but that wasn't the case, he said, adding that the release of the results was immediately stopped when this was discovered.

The fault appeared in the system despite the fact that the application was especially developed for these elections, was "tested thousands of times" and was certified by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, he said.

Halfway through the night the developer of the voting application, Stesud, came up with a solution for the problem, said Grouwels. Stesud declined to comment.

The solution allowed the cantons to resume the count and send the results to the ministry that can now proceed to allocate the seats, Grouwels said. Some cantons already managed to send the results to the ministry because the heads of the cantons stayed up to wait for the problem to be solved or came back, others however went to bed and are dealing with the issue on Monday, he added.

The problematic voting machines are one of two kinds in use in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. Since 2012, other parts of Flanders have been voting on a Linux-based e-voting system made by Venezuelan company Smartmatic. In Wallonia, the French-speaking part of the country, about 80 percent of the municipalities vote using paper and pencil.

Voters that use the old system receive a magnetic stripe card that they feed into the computer before using a light pen to select candidates from a list shown on a CRT (cathode ray-tube) screen. The vote is than loaded onto the magnet stripe card, which the voter places into an "electronic urn" that reads the stripe and sends the result to the main computer in the polling station.

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