Because of a risk of eavesdropping the government of the Netherlands has banned electronic voting machines from future elections, and will return to paper voting.

“Research indicates that a secure voting machine that is immune to the risks of eavesdropping can’t be guaranteed. Developing new equipment furthermore requires a large investment, both financially and in terms of organization. The administration judges that this offers insufficient added value over voting by paper and pencil,” the Ministry of Internal Affairs said last week.

In its decision, the government also banned so-called voting printers. Because they leave a paper trail, the printers had been suggested as a potential alternative to traditional voting computers that store the vote counts in their memory.

A group of experts headed by Bart Jacobs, a professor at Radboud University in Nijmegen, dismissed the printer option. The group concluded that “even with regular testing of each printer, it can’t be guaranteed that all devices stay within the required emission limits” that safeguard against eavesdropping.

Instead of electronic voting machines, the nation will now shift focus to electronic vote counting. Election officials will initiate tests where a person will read out the elected name on the voting form. In one test, a second person will count the vote by scanning a barcode. A second test will use a special counting-device.

The reliability of voting machines marks a victory for a local activist group called “Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet” (“We don’t trust voting computers”) that is headed up by noted Dutch computer hacker Rop Gonggrijp.
The group published a note on its Web site on Friday declaring victory: “We, the proponents of election results that can be verified, are winning all over the world!”

The group cited earlier rulings against voting machines in other regions including California, Germany, the U.K., Ireland and Italy. “Protests are being held all over the world. Voting without a paper trail is on its way out,” the group cheered.

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