The Malta Independent 9 March 2021, Tuesday

New electronic vote counting system modified without Electoral Commission’s consent

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 2 December 2018, 09:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

Sources who were in the counting hall where the new electronic vote counting system was being tested yesterday expressed serious concerns over the way the system had been modified between the first and second mock test.

It transpires that the company responsible for operating the system had made amendments to it without informing the Electoral Commission or the political parties’ delegates.

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Such changes made without their consent could be potentially dangerous, sources claim.

During the first mock test of the new system in November, a number of concerns had been flagged, especially on the number of ballot sheets that the system failed to recognise and were subsequently passed on to a human adjudicator. This amounted to approximately 40 per cent of the votes.

In the second mock test, held yesterday at the Naxxar counting hall, the number of ballot sheets not recognised by the system was substantially less, nearly half the original amount. Sources claim that such a steep decline in the number of votes not being recognised was due to the changes made by the contractor.

If the scanners, which are being kept in the new strong room, are capable of being modified and tampered with without the knowledge of the Electoral Commission there is a serious problem, sources told this newspaper yesterday.

Furthermore, the first mock test cannot be compared to yesterday’s second test as the system did not scan like with like.

The new electronic vote counting system will be used in the upcoming MEP and local council elections in May.

Chief Electoral Commissioner Joseph Church told the press, at an event displaying the system in November, that under the new ‘eCount’ system, full results will not take longer than half a day to be published.

While the infrastructure of the counting hall in Naxxar has been modernised to house the new electronic system, the vote counting process has also been modified.

Ballot boxes will still be put into the strong room on arrival as usual, however, the votes will be scanned electronically and the voting preferences will be detected by the scanner. The ballot paper will then be displayed on a big screen at each district’s station.

If the system does not recognise a ballot sheet, it is passed on to human adjudicators who – with the party delegates present – will recognise it themselves. The scanning system does not automatically reject any votes. 

Party delegates and electoral commissioners will also have an app where they can view any ballot sheet in accordance with a unique number that is printed on its back after the sheets are scanned. Each district – which will have two scanners – will also have an Idox company specialist present in case any technical hitch or problem arises.

The ‘eCount’ system is being operated by leading providers of specialist election solutions Idox, and election security technology company Scytl. Idox has 23 years’ experience in election fields and recently conducted the elections for 32 Scottish local authorities. Scytl specialises in the security aspects of such electronic election management solutions.

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