GERMANY'S HIGHEST court just ruled that the use of voting machines in the country's last election was unconstitutional, a verdict that likely will mean no machines will be used when Germans vote this September.
The Federal Constitutional Court upheld two complaints about the use of the machines in 2005. It found they violated provisions requiring that voters be able to assure themselves — without specific technical knowledge — that their vote was recorded correctly. However, it upheld the result of the 2005 election, saying there was no evidence that the machines malfunctioned or were manipulated.
The use of electronic voting was challenged by a father-and-son team. Political scientist Joachim Wiesner and son, physicist Ulrich Wiesner complained that push button voting was not transparent because the voter could not see what actually happened to his vote inside the computer and was required to place "blind faith" in the technology.
In addition, the two plaintiffs argued that the results were open to manipulation.
Germany first introduced electronic voting in European elections in 1999 and first used it in parliamentary ballots in 2002, but 2005 saw the first large-scale deployment of the technology.
German hacker-cum-data-protection group Chaos Computer Club has been spearheading a campaign with the Dutch foundation Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet (We don't trust voting computers) to stop the further spread of electronic voting because of fears about the risk of electronic errors and the potential for abuse.
In 2008, the Dutch government decertified the use of existing paperless systems and rejected a proposal to develop a new generation of voting computers. Computerized voting machines were used in five of Germany's 16 states in the last election, and some 2 million of the country's nearly 61.9 million eligible voters could vote only by machine.
Judge Andreas Vosskuhle stressed that the court was not banning machines for good, but said the machines used so far did not meet its standards. Germany's next national parliamentary election will be held on Sept. 27 this year. Interior Ministry official Hans-Heinrich von Knobloch said that officials would work to satisfy the court's requirements, but he did not expect it would be possible to use machines in this year's election.