Security of Voting Machine in German State Election Questioned | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.01.2008
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Security of Voting Machine in German State Election Questioned

Experts said that security regulations had not been observed thoroughly during this past weekend's neck-and-neck elections in the German state of Hesse. Computer programmers said the machines could have been manipulated.

Man assembling a voting machine

Older citizens also have problems with voting machines, experts say

The Chaos Computer Club (CCC) said in Berlin on Monday, Jan. 28, that tampering would have been possible on the voting machines used in eight different townships in Hesse on Sunday.

The CCC's Constanze Kurz said that people could have had unauthorized access to the computers. Furthermore, the club said the voting computers were stored in private apartments of party members in the township of Niedernhausen the night before the election.

Top election candidates Koch (l) and Ypsilanti

Top election candidates Koch (l) and Ypsilanti

"Storing voting computers in the homes of local politicians overnight is a nightmare scenario, even for Hesse's Interior Ministry," CCC's spokesman Dirk Engling told Focus newsmagazine. "We couldn't even have imagined such a thing," he added.

The club also said two of its experts had been left alone with computers for a substantial length of time at two different polling stations.

"Actions inappropriate"

State election supervisor Wolfgang Hannappel confirmed that "the possibility of manipulation existed theoretically," but also said there "was no indication that something like that has happened in Germany."

The election results in the eight townships in question also corresponded with the general results for the entire state, he added.

Local election officials had taken the computers home on Saturday in order to be able to deliver them directly to polling stations on Sunday, Hannappel said. To place emphasis on the party membership of the officials would be to "steer the issue in the wrong direction."

Man pushing button on computer keyboard

Computer experts say that digital votes cannot be recounted like paper ones

What the officials had done, however, was not appropriate, and it was "a case of a formal breach," he added. Furthermore, in response to the claim that CCC observers were left alone with computers already delivered to two polling stations before election directors arrived, he said that "someone should normally be present" when the computers' arrive.

Still, Hannappel said he did not anticipate the votes to be repeated.

Hesse's election examination office was investigating the validity of the state election irrespective of the accusations of manipulation feasibility, he added.

Official results left the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats only one-tenth of a percent apart.

Some older voters had difficulties

According to Focus, 50 people had also observed that a majority of older voters had problems using the voting machines. The magazine reported that helpers at the polling stations were forced to offer senior citizens their aid.

Hannappel defended the use of computers: "As long as voters are not severely visually impaired -- which is also a hurdle when voting on paper -- there's no problem."

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