All The More Reason

The Appearance of Piety is really as bad as Piety itself
March 24, 2007, 11:33 pm
Filed under: French Presidential Elections

France’s elections this time round will have some electors voting electronically. Here’s one criticism of it.

“Le système de vote actuel a été conçu pour que quiconque, même le plus ignorant, puisse se forger l’intime conviction que le vote s’est déroulé honnêtement, dit Roberto Di Cosmo, chercheur au laboratoire Preuves, programmes et systèmes (CNRS, université Paris-VII). Lorsque le vote se fait par voie électronique, est-il possible de se forger, seul, la même conviction ? La réponse est non : il faut recourir à l’expert, à l’argument d’autorité.”

The United States had electronic ballots in the 2000 and 2004 elections, and they didn’t exactly go off without a hitch either. Now, clearly one can rig an election with paper. However, I would argue that it would be easier to find out that an election was rigged if it were done on paper. Furthermore, there doesn’t have to be anything necessarily sinister going on here. Pure incompetence could be enough to blow some of the ballots that are done electronically. I hardly need mention that conspiracy theorists would have a field day if the first round results were close and certain areas in the electronic ballots were different than expected.

And yet Roberto Di Cosmo’s point, which I hadn’t initially thought of, goes to a deeper problem with the introduction of electronic ballots. It speaks to the increasing trust one must have in the expertise of select individuals. To put it another way, any 1000 Frenchmen picked at random could be capable of counting the paper ballots of the first round. It’s arguable that there are even 1000 Frenchmen in total that will be capable of not only understanding the software for this machine, but to ensure that the ballots are properly counted. This is a gigantic shift in the balance of power, and not necessarily for the better.

Finally, there’s an aesthetic component of voting that should not be completely neglected either. Making a vote feel more like a bank transaction does commercialise the feeling of voting. I don’t want something that was such a struggle to gain as a right in the first place to feel like I’m withdrawing money for pints.

There’s a petition going on here for those that feel that electronic voting is not yet suitable for presidential elections.

Jonathan Smith


3 Comments so far
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Soon a translation of Roberto Di Cosmo’s quote.

Please note that, in order to sign our petition, you have to :
– either be French
– or live permanently in France

Comment by Pierre Muller (

Thanks for the clarification. I wonder if this story will pick up steam before the elections or not. Good luck with the petition and your efforts.

Comment by J.S.

[…] of which brings us back to a theme explored in a previous post on this site, namely, the gigantic shift in power that technological advances can produce. If all […]

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