Software Glitch in Electronic Voting System during Belgium’s Federal Election

By Kim Smiley

A root cause analysis of electronic voting – at the most basic level, the idea behind elections seems very simple – let every citizen vote one time and count them.  But in reality, it often proves difficult to quickly and accurately collect and count thousands and thousands of votes.   The recent software bug during the May federal elections in Belgium illustrates some of the technical difficulties that can come into play during an election.

Root Cause Analysis Cause Mapping of  Belgiums voting system

Belgium held federal elections on May 25, 2014 and used an electronic voting system to collect and count many of the votes.  While computing election results, officials realized that some of the votes weren’t calculating correctly.  Announcement of the election results was delayed while the problem was addressed, but the bigger problem is that any software hiccups during elections make people question the validity of the vote.

A root cause analysis by Government officials have stated that the problem was quickly addressed and that the impacted votes would not have changed the outcome of the election, but the lack of transparency in the process worries some.  In fact, many countries have banned the use of electronic voting because of concern over potential issues and Belgium is one of the only European countries to still use e-voting machines.

There are two separate electronic voting systems in use in Belgium.  The software glitch impacted the older, first generation Jites system computers using DOS operating systems.  The Jites system was certified and tested, but the test program should be reevaluated before future elections because it missed a significant software glitch.  Another option would be to upgrade the first generation computers before the next election to reduce the risk of future issues by only having one system to test and maintain.

Conducting a large scale national vote is a tricky problem and worth pondering.  The system needs to be transparent enough that the public feels the system is “fair”, but secret enough that individual voters are ensured privacy.   Officials need to be able to ensure that only eligible voters participate, but need the process to not be so onerous that it inhibits citizens’ ability to navigate it (think the ongoing debate in the US regarding photo IDs).   There are a number of strong, opposing forces at play in the process and any issues like a software error only add fuel to the fire.

To view the Outline and the root cause analysis Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.