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Saturday 17 March 2007

Voting systems company threatens Dutch state

Voting systems company threatens Dutch state

“Buy my company now or you won’t have provincial elections”

February 28th, 2007

After invoking the Dutch Freedom of Information Act, the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation has received a number of unnerving documents from the Dutch Electoral Council. These documents describe the wheeling and dealing of Jan Groenendaal, whose company is responsible for all the software sold by the Nedap/Groenendaal consortium that sells the voting computers used in over 90% of Dutch municipalities. Groenendaal's company writes the software that tabulates the election results on both the local and the national level. The Dutch government depends on Groenendaal's company to the extent that it currently cannot hold elections without his help. The Electoral Council concludes this in Image:Pdf_icon.png worried letters (Dutch) to the responsible minister that are part of the correspondence now made public.

The letters also show that Groenendaal was more or less blackmailing the Dutch government at the time of the previous parliamentary elections. On November 10th, he sends an Image:Pdf_icon.png e-mail (english translation) warning the ministry that his company will cease all activity if Rop Gonggrijp of the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation becomes a member of the independent commission that is investigating the future of the electoral process. This commission was instituted after earlier Image:Pdf_icon.png exposés by the foundation Gonggrijp founded. Despite this intervention, Groenendaal probably senses that the commission's report (due in October 2007) is likely to negatively impact the value of his company. Therefore, Groenendaal makes a very straightforward business proposal in the same e-mail, : "The ministry buys the shares of our company at a reasonable price, [...] and we will still cooperate during the next election (the Dutch 2007 provincial elections to be held March 7th).

On November 22nd 2006 (the day of the national elections) he wrote Image:Pdf_icon.png a letter (Image:Pdf_icon.png english translation) which doesn't spell blackmail as explicitly to minister Nicolaï, in which he indicates his need to sell quickly because he would like to “abruptly” retire. But when that letter fails to elicit a fast response, Groenendaal writes an Image:Pdf_icon.png alarming e-mail (Dutch) to the Electoral Council in which he says: "We are heading towards a very dangerous situation". Right in the heat of election preparation, he writes: "I have ordered my employees to halt all activity until we have received an answer that is acceptable to us", and asks the secretary-director of the Electoral Council to intervene on his behalf. As far as we know, the Dutch government never filed criminal charges in relation to this attempted extortion.

The mails also show that Groenendaal was contemplating going to court to force the public prosecutor to arrest Rop Gonggrijp, founder of the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation. Groenendaal writes: "After all, his activities are destabilizing society and are as such comparable to terrorism. Preventive custody and a judicial investigation would have been very appropriate." The company also contemplated suing Gonggrijp as well as the TV-program EénVandaag for damages. In their October 4th 2006 broadcast, EénVandaag showed that Nedap voting computers could easily have their software exchanged and that large numbers of these computers were stored in unprotected locations. Groenendaal would also like to see the foundation's two legally bought voting computers confiscated.

In the documents, one can also read how, before the November 22nd elections, Groenendaal sent a letter to all Dutch municipalities which use his system in which he criticizes the Ministry of the Interior for their handling of the crisis regarding the concerns over the verifiability of voting computer election results. In this Image:Pdf_icon.png letter (Dutch) Groenendaal, on behalf of his company, rejects all responsibility for a well-run election. The minister deemed it necessary to quickly follow up with Image:Pdf_icon.png another letter (Dutch) to try and control the damage. In general in his Image:Pdf_icon.png e-mails (Dutch) Groenendaal (sometimes signing as "generally acknowledged election expert") shows frustration over the way in which the Dutch state, after years of neglect, is re-taking control over the elections. Where possible, Groenendaal attempts to Image:Pdf_icon.png sabotage (Dutch) this process. When the Electoral Council informed Groenendaal that it would like to put a copy of the source code of his software at a so-called "escrow organization" for safe keeping, Groenendaal demanded a 100 Million Euro guarantee from the Electoral Council in case something would happen to the source code for which the escrow organization could not be held responsible.

Publicly to this day the Dutch government has always indicated to have a large amount of trust in Nedap/Groenendaal. Dutch election results are calculated using software made by Groenendaal that has never been inspected by any independent body, despite an Image:Pdf_icon.png advice (Dutch) by the Dutch Electoral Council to subject this software to inspection. And when the Dutch government found out how easy it was to replace the software in Nedap voting computers, it ordered replacement and inspection of all the memory chips. These inspections were done by Nedap/Groenendaal, which was thus inspecting itself. These inspections prompted the Dutch government to issue a press release (Dutch) titled: "No doubts regarding reliability of voting machine".

According to Rop Gonggrijp of "We do not trust voting computers" the use of voting computers threatens the verifiability of election results, because the computers in use today do not allow for any post-election audits. “These e-mails shed new light on the relationship between Nedap/Groenendaal and the state, and thus also on the entire chain of events regarding voting computers. We too had the opportunity to wreak havoc regarding the election organisation. But that’s never been our intention, we’re merely here to campaign for elections with a verifiable outcome. Had we e-mailed the minister in this tone, we’d be at the police station now”, says Gonggrijp.

"We do not trust voting computers" has written an Image:Pdf_icon.png open letter to the new responsible minister Ter Horst calling on her to “take the necessary measures needed to restore confidence in the electoral process and in the notion that our government can not be blackmailed”.

Background information

The "We do not trust voting computers" foundation has been campaigning against the use of the current generation of voting computers in The Netherlands since the summer of 2006. As a result of this campaign, it was revealed that Dutch election legislation fails to address key issues regarding voting computers and that the voting computer inspection regime is faulty at best. Inspections by an independent party (a private company named Brightsight) are limited to a very small number of machines and the inspections mostly test for resistance against vibrations, high humidity and power failures. Resistance against wilful manipulation is neither part of the legal requirements nor of the actual inspections.

"When we started to think about demonstration software that would lie about election results (called “Nedap PowerFraud”), we kept in mind that the system should not lie after an election that was obviously a test of the system. We decided we needed to store the votes and only decide whether or not to perform the fraud at the moment the election was closed, so our program would have as much information as possible to make that decision."
From the security analysis (8M pdf, in English) of the ES3B voting computer, manufactured by Nedap/Groendendaal.
Slashdot thread - "security by obscurity?"

In September the foundation legally bought two Nedap voting computers and showed it was relatively easy to create a version of the built-in software that manipulated the election results. It also turned out the chips that held the software could be easily replaced. Subsequently the Dutch government decided to have Nedap/Groenendaal inspect and seal all voting computers. Researching the voting computer also showed that voting computers emit radio waves that can be used to determine what is being voted, threatening the secret ballot.

As a result of the concerns raised over voting computers an independent commission led by ex-minister Korthals Altes was appointed in December 2006. This commission will report on the future of the Dutch electoral process in October 2007. A sub-commission led by ex member of parliament Loek Hermans will look back and examine the decisions made surrounding the introduction of voting computers. Nedap voting computers and Groenendaal election software are also used in parts of France and Germany, and both countries are said to be rolling out more computers. In 2004, Ireland bought 50M Euro worth of Nedap/Groenendaal equipment (sold as "PowerVote") and then decided not to use it in elections after doubts regarding system security were raised. The state of New York is currently contemplating buying 28.000 Nedap voting computers (sold as "LibertyVote") and accompanying software (appropriately named "LibertyControl").

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