Updated | [WATCH] PN shoots down new electronic vote counting system

PN secretary general Clyde Puli says at a second trial of the electronic vote counting system party officials noticed ‘tampering’ in the system • PN says system is unacceptable unless Electoral Commission fixes it

PN Secretary General Clyde Puli says the party will not accept the electronic vote counting system in its current form. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
PN Secretary General Clyde Puli says the party will not accept the electronic vote counting system in its current form. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

The Nationalist Party has said it has no faith in the electronic vote counting setup, after its officials noticed serious shortcomings during test runs of the new system.

PN secretary general Clyde Puli said the party will not accept the system unless changes are made to address problems flagged by its officials during a second test run last Saturday.

Chief amongst the issues noticed was one related to the area of the voting document which is being scanned automatically.

Puli said that some sections of the voting paper were being left out of the scanner, which indicated that tampering had taken place.

The PN had been in favour of the new electronic vote counting method, Puli said, since this would shorten the time taken for votes to be counted, leading to less tension during the process.

However, after the system was mock-tested for the first time around two weeks ago, a number of worrying problems were noticed by PN officials who were in the counting hall.

The system rejected 40% of the votes for being dubious, with these then being sent for manual adjudication. But a number of these votes were being rejected for no clear reason, Puli said.

Moreover, some documents were going to adjudication, while other identical voting papers were being passed through without issue.

“This highlighted inconsistency within the system, and we pointed out these concerns to the Electoral Commission,” Puli said.

Second mock test was worse

The situation became worse when the second mock test was held last Saturday.

“Our officials noticed several strange things happening, and they started asking for explanations on what was going on.” 

It was at this point that it was discovered that the scanning area on the voting papers had been tampered with, he said.

“This was done not only without the PN’s approval, but also without the Electoral Commission’s consent by the contractor which is managing the project. If certain parts of the document are not being read by the scanner, this means that marks can be placed in those areas which cannot be detected, leading to a vote being impossible to read,” Puli insisted.

He added that this could lead to a situation susceptible to vote buying, whereby certain pre-agreed upon marks could be placed on votes.

The PN could not accept the electoral counting system as it is, the secretary general said.

“We cannot accept the e-counting the way it is now. It is the Electoral Commission’s responsibility to address and fix the situation, and regain our trust. The Electoral Commission is the party contracting the company which is managing the electronic system. The system has to be fool proof – it certainly is not in its current state,” he added.

The new electronic system was slated to be used the first time in next year's European Parliament and local council elections.

Labour Party reaction

The Labour Party, in a reaction, said it had made a submission to the Electoral Commission regarding changes made - without consultation - to the electronic voting system during the mock test on Saturday.

The party said it was aware that the tests were being undertaken to try out and improve the system, and that it had given the Electoral Commission the chance to take the necessary measures to ensure that no changes are taken without prior consultation.

However, it added that it couldn’t ignore that facts that the Nationalist Party was trying to “sensationalise” what had transpired during the second test.

“This shows a party which instead of contributing ideas and proposals to improve things, resists change,” the PL said.

“This is the same attitude Simon Busuttil had, when, before the last general election, he had started trying to make people fear that votes would be erased,” it added.