Technology: Big Brother is counting your vote

 作者:鲍载     |      日期:2019-03-02 12:13:02
By MAX GLASKIN When Norway’s voters go to the polls on Monday, they will be taking part in an electronic election. In the 92 polling stations in the capital, Oslo, 190 computer terminals will check voters’ identities against the 360 000 registered names in a central database. After the votes have been cast, 20 vote-reading machines will count them – and could give a result just three hours after the polls close. ‘We want to decrease the opportunity for fraud, increase the accuracy of the count and do the job with fewer people,’ says Kjell Bjornar Nibe, the project leader for the state-owned company SDS. Although the company says it could run an election totally without paper ballots, a Norwegian parliamentary committee earlier this year decided not to amend the law to allow this. ‘An election with only electronic voting can be much more secure and correct than a paper-based one,’ says Nibe. ‘But we feel the committee did not have the necessary knowledge to trust such an advance in the use of technology.’ Norway has a proportional representation system like Japan’s, with each of the country’s 19 constituencies electing several MPs. There are 165 MPs in total; Oslo, which is a single constituency, elects 16. The electronic system was devised and tested two years ago in local elections. Each voter has a card with their name and a barcode. They present this at the polling station, where it is read by a light-pen connected to a PC linked online to a central database. This then checks the cardholder’s identity and eligibility to vote. Voters without cards can give their name, or part of their name and their social security number, to be keyed in and sent to the database for identity checking. This is expected to process voters twice as quickly as manual, paper methods. Oslo only covers about one-tenth of the voting population from Norway’s total of 4.3 million. However, the electronic system should make it easier to deal with votes cast under a quirk in the law that lets people vote at several polling stations – though only their last vote, or the vote at their local station, counts. The central database helps to regulate this. The ballot papers from Oslo will be counted by optical mark readers leased from DRS, based in Milton Keynes. More commonly used in education for marking multiple-choice exam papers, they contain LED reading heads that can discriminate between marks and erasures. Together, the 20 machines have a capacity of 200 000 papers an hour. Each OMR will count the ballots independently, to produce a result matrix from a batch of papers before sending the data to the host computer; thus no vote can be traced back to a particular ballot paper. The OMRs are clustered in groups of five. ‘In Oslo we expect 300 000 people will use their vote,’ says Nibe. ‘If collecting procedures from polling stations can feed as fast as we can read, we should be finished (with the count) in less than three hours.’ To keep costs down, the PCs for identity-checking have been borrowed from schools. In Britain, a spokesman for the Electoral Reform Society says that it has sufficient faith in OMRs to use them in union and private voting ballots, but there is concern that fully electronic voting would leave no record if the count was questioned afterwards. ‘We are perfectly happy to see the introduction of technology to elections, but there must always be a hard copy of the votes,’ he says. Last December, the Home Office allowed the first public trial in Britain of an OMR in a local referendum in Bognor Regis, Sussex. The machine counted 3064 ballot papers in 33 minutes – a task that would normally take 10 people more than two hours. The Home Office estimates that 5 per cent of the cost to the public of a general election is spent on counting the vote – about £2 million in total. SDS has also been working with a Belgian systems engineering company, dZine of Kortrijk, which expects to provide a service for a fully electronic general election in Belgium in the spring of 1995. Derk Ghekiere, the general manager at dZine, says the drive has come from Belgian politicians anxious to know election results quickly. Trials will take place in Antwerp,