Electronic vote counting
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Electronic vote counting

The European and local council elections will be held in two months’ time but the electors have yet to be told officially whether vote counting would be done manually or electronically. The people need to be informed. They have a right to know and the government and the Opposition are in duty bound to inform them.

The Electoral Commission too must put the record straight.

The Nationalist Party had expressed serious doubts on the e-counting system. Its secretary general, Clyde Puli, complained that changes had been made to the chosen software without the PN having been informed about it in advance. That, he continued, meant the system could not be trusted as it was evidently open to abuse.

The issue was about the scanning of ballot sheets to determine which were valid and which were not. It seems that, initially, far too many sample votes had been detected as being invalid by the system. The PN claimed the programme was unilaterally modified without its knowledge.

Neither the Labour Party nor the Electoral Commission, on which both large political forces are represented, reacted to those comments, at least publicly.

At some point, Labour proposed that the political parties should be given a copy of the valid votes, which they could keep for three months. But Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami cried foul, noting that such practice could enable the parties to look for a particular voting pattern agreed in advance with a voter, which, of course, amounted to a corrupt practice.

Lack of effective communication by the main players caused confusion among the voting public, mainly on whether the e-counting system would happen or not this May.

Speaking on TVM a few weeks ago, Mr Puli had indicated that fresh proposals his party had made seemed likely to lead to an agreement and solve the trust issue. The Prime Minister said the government was studying these proposals.

The Electoral Commission did not react, though it should have felt in duty bound to explain to the people what had really happened and what action, if any, was being taken to address the matter. Regrettably, it seems the Electoral Commission, like other similar bodies, is far more concerned with appeasing the political parties than be fully accountable to the people.

Earlier this week, Mr Puli called a press conference to announce the PN had moved a number of amendments to the General Elections Act and the Local Councils Act to ensure the vote-counting process is transparent, fair and free from any manipulation that could lead to doubts on whether the system could be trusted.

It submitted three main proposals. First, that votes are first vetted manually before being scanned electronically. Second, that, in view of this, there would be no need for parties to be given access to copies of the votes for three months. Third, anybody caught copying votes or the data accessible to the parties in the counting hall would be fined up to €10,000 – up from €1,000 – and jailed for a maximum of 12 months.

Hopefully, the matter can now be concluded. That, of course, depends a lot on how Labour will react to the PN’s latest proposal. It should lose no time in publicly communicating its decision.

The Electoral Commission can then give an account of the state of play.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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