Voting and Free Software

Harald Welte laforge at
Fri Nov 15 11:24:49 UTC 2019

Hi Matthias,

sorry for being late to the party.

On Tue, Nov 05, 2019 at 08:55:31AM +0100, Matthias Kirschner wrote:

> Do you agree with this criticism or what do you think about that topic? 

I wholeheartedly agree with any criticism of so-called electronic (in
fact rather: software defined) voting.

In fact, I find it highly problematic not only in public elections, but
I also find it very problematic for any kind of democratic voting even
within "private" entities.  I find it ridiculous that e.g. German political
parties use electronic voting systems to elect their candidates.  They
even do that with "rented" equipment from service providers, including
systems that uses insecure wireless protocols.  What a nightmare.

Similar systems are used quite frequently for general assembly of NGOs
as well as shareholder meetings up to the largest publicly traded

Of course the question of how much of a problem computerized voting in
private entities is depends on the type of entity.  For some kind of
company of whom I'm not a share holder, it may be less of (at least my)
problem.  But for political parties which nominate who will be on the
list of people that I can then vote for in public elections? I would
consider that quite problematic...

Luckily, in Germany we at least don't have to worry about voting
computers in government / public elections anymore.

Some historical background, for those outside of Germany or who didn't
witness the events ~ 10 years ago.

More than a decade ago, I was (an insignificant) part of a group at CCC
that learned that in fact several German states had passed regulation to
use "voting machines" (voting computers) in public elections.  We then
went to observe several elections and documented the way how the (back
then NEDAP) voting computers were stored in insecure facilities (with
tilted window overnight at the city council room where they were
stored), etc.

Some other folks at CCC at the time then went on to port a chess program
to the voting computer to defeat the argument by the manufacturer that
this device is not a general-purpose computer but can only be used for
counting votes.

The Dutch [hacker] initiative "wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet"
( had just done
groundbreaking technical research against the same Nedap voting machines
a year or so before.

At some point in a conversation with Till Jaeger (whom I met frequently
around that time related to that subject came up,
and to him (like me) it was big news that this was actually already
legal in Germany.

The rest of the story is history: The matter went to the German
constitutional court.  And much to the surprise of many (myself
included) that constitutional court actually requested the CCC to
prepare and provide (one of several) subject matter expert opinions.

In March 2009, the German constitutional court ruled that the use of
voting machines in the 2005 federal German elections was
unconstitutional.  See
and an English press release of the court at
as well as an English translation of the court order at

That case made by Ulrich Wieser (
represented by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Karpen and "our" Dr. Till Jaeger,
de-facto removed the use of electronic/computerized voting from Germany,
as the rules for federal elections propagate implicitly or explicitly
down to other public elections.

Please note that the court didn't rule that computerized voting is
outlawed.  It just raised the bar extremely high, making it so hard that
I see it practically impossible to ever build voting computers that
comply with that high bar.  The court basically states that the common
voter must be able to reliably determine if his vote has been counted
unfalsified alongside the entire chain of counting.  The court stresses
that this assessment/determination must be possible *without* the voter
having special subject matter expertise.  The court also states it is
not possible for the voter to "delegate" that trust to some kind of
government type approval of voting computers.

I perceived this ruling as an incredible victory int the continued fight
for freedom of the German society, and I'll use this opportunity to
thank everyone involved back then, from the many individual at the CCC
to Ulrich Wiesner, Till Jaeger and last but not least the judges at the
German federal constitutional court at that time.


- Harald Welte <laforge at> 
"Privacy in residential applications is a desirable marketing option."
                                                  (ETSI EN 300 175-7 Ch. A6)

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