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11th Apr 2021

Dutch will count votes on offline PCs to prevent hacking

  • Emptying the ballot boxes on election day, 2010 (Photo: Photo RNW.org)

Dutch municipalities will be allowed to use computers to count the votes cast in the 15 March elections, but only if those are not connected to the Internet, the Dutch government said on Wednesday (15 February).

Officials were also banned from using USB-sticks or other devices to bring the results from municipalities to the headquarters of the 20 electoral districts, Dutch interior minister Ronald Plasterk wrote in a letter to the Dutch parliament dated Wednesday.

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  • Dutch minister for interior affairs Plasterk wants to prevent foreign hacking of the elections (Photo: Council of the EU)

The measures are part of Plasterk's attempt to rule out hacking, especially from Russia, and follows a report by Dutch broadcaster RTL at the end of January.

RTL said the software that was used to register the votes was vulnerable to hacking because it did not contain any security requirements for computers it was used on.

Plasterk then decided that the registering of votes should be done by hand. Registering votes was the only part of the electoral process that was theoretically open to hacking.

The Dutch government said it does not have concrete evidence hacking attempts have been made in recent years. However, after the reports of Russian influence in the US elections, the possibility is on everyone's minds.

Voting itself is done on paper in pencil and the contents of the ballot boxes are counted by hand.

Municipalities and the Dutch Association for Citizens' Affairs, involved in the counting the votes, requested a meeting with Plasterk to discuss the practicalities of the plan.

The Dutch Electoral Council had said that with the software now banned, the chance of people making counting mistakes was higher, and that the final tally would be delayed.

To accommodate them Plasterk said he agreed they could use technology to help them count, like a spreadsheet programme, as long as the machines they are accessed on are offline. The results should also be transferred to the electoral districts on paper.

The Dutch government has previously said it was “very, very alert” to potential foreign influence in the elections.

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