Hacking concerns result in Dutch election votes to be counted by hand

Hilversum vote
Voters show up early to cast their ballots in Hilversum (photo: Gemeente Hilversum / Twitter). (A voting station in Hilversum (photo: Gemeente Hilversum / Twitter))

The votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections in March will all be counted by hand only, to avoid any chance of hackers interfering with the outcome, Minister Ronald Plasterk of Home Affairs announced on Wednesday. This follows concerns about the security of software used by the Electoral Council and warnings that the Dutch election may be targeted by foreign parties.

"I cannot rule out that state actors may try to benefit from influencing political decisions and public opinion in the Netherlands", Plasterk said in a letter to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, on Wednesday, AD reports.

Last month American specialists issued a warning that Russian hackers may try to influence the Dutch elections, similar to how the U.S. Democratic Party was targeted in the run up to the United States elections last year. And earlier this weak cyber security expert Sijmen Ruwhof revealed that the software used at Dutch polling stations to send election results, is outdated and very vulnerable to hackers. In his own words he said that "the average iPad is more secure than the Dutch voting system". 

According to Plasterk, fears over "the vulnerabilities of the software" used by the Electoral Committee "raised questions about whether the upcoming elections could be manipulated". He therefore decided that the votes will be counted by hand and the results will be given through by telephone, instead of by computer, to rule out the possibility of a hack. "No shadow of a doubt may hang over the results of the Tweede Kamer elections."

The downside to this method is that the results will likely only be known later than usual. 

Opposition party D66 finds it worrying that Plasterk is only now, six weeks before the elections on March 15th, taking measures to make sure the counting of the votes is safe. "Plasterk is only now realizing that the vote-count software is not safe. Last week Plasterk still responded naively and said that the election would be safe and no action was required." parliamentarian Kees Verhoeven said, adding that this matter touches the heart of democracy. "People should be able to be confident that the number of votes a party gets is correct."