Serious testing beforehand should have brought to light a software bug in Belgium's voting computers, concludes Poureva, an NGO campaigning for an end to Belgium's use of automated voting systems. The group says the bug possibly affected the results of previous elections also.
The bug hit JITES - the first generation of voting computers, used in Brussels' 17 municipalities and in several municipalities in Wallonia, during the election in late May,. Despite testing and certification beforehand, the voting machines made errors in counting preferential votes. Problems were detected in close to 2,000 votes, from a total of 21 million votes.
As after previous elections, Belgium's Directorate General for Elections, part of the Ministry of the Interior, in early June again made available the source code for applications used in the 2014 elections. The source code is being studied by Poureva. "This year, the source code of the software used for electronic voting is much more interesting than in earlier years", the group says. "Because it contains Bug #2505, which disrupted the elections of 25 May 2014."
To be examined minutely
After dissecting the software, Poureva concluded that if the software had been 'seriously tested', the bug would have been found before the elections.
A spokesperson for the ministry was quoted by Datanews, a Flemish IT news site, as saying that the had bug stumped election officials. The software performs several different checks, and provides an alert when it detects an irregularity. The ministry at that point decided to postpone publication of the results by several hours, to allow a solution to be found.
According to Datanews, this year's elections software is also being studied by the Dutch Software Improvement Group. At the request of the Belgian government, the company will probe the software for security issues, but will also evaluate how well the code can be maintained, and the complexity of software solutions.
There were no problems reported in the use of Belgium's new (second) generation of voting computers, which are based on Ubuntu Linux, and were also used in the 2014 elections - in other municipalities. These voting machines run an application that is tailor-made for each election. The voting machines have no hard disk, and just a few bytes of flash memory. The Ubuntu Linux operating system and lists of candidates are loaded using a USB key.