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European Parliament e-voting app ‘not a solution,’ vice president says

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

New ‘iVote’ app requires MEPs to create Apple account and share data in order to cast ballots.

Members of the European Parliament have in recent weeks started using a new app to make electronic votes in committee meetings, but one of the institution’s vice presidents said the tool stops members from freely casting their votes.

Several committees started casting votes using an application called iVote, but it only works on Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones and requires MEPs to sign up with Apple and share personal data with the firm, said Marcel Kolaja, a member of the Pirate Party and vice president for ICT policy.

Kolaja, who is part of the Greens group in Parliament, said he and colleagues refused to cast votes using the app because they objected to the U.S. technology giant’s terms of service and the company’s data policy.

“The right to exercise your mandate can’t be dependent on agreeing to the terms of service of a private company,” Kolaja said.

“We shouldn’t create information systems that are dependent on one particular proprietary vendor. That’s not a solution,” he added.

The iVote application has been used to cast votes in committee meetings, which often involve long, complex voting procedures. A spokesperson for the European Parliament said “this temporary solution allows the processing of complex votes involving numerous amendments and compromise amendments … and secret votes.”

The application, which was developed in-house by the Parliament, has so far been used in four committees, and “other committees are planning to use it,” the spokesperson said.

An internal Parliament note, obtained by digital rights blog Netzpolitik, said the application was “specifically conceived to handle votes in committees,” but that “in the current circumstances, we simply do not have the time to port it to other platforms.”

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“Being logged in to iCloud is a technical necessity to be able to submit ballots via the Apple cloud,” the note said, adding that “just logging in to vote with iVote does not per se share any data with Apple which was not already shared when creating the Apple ID.”

For plenary sessions, Parliament chiefs agreed on a voting procedure via email at the start of the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. MEPs forced to stay home cast ballots by printing voting sheets, filling them in, signing , scanning and emailing them to the Parliament’s secretariat.

The system — while incredibly cumbersome — allowed MEPs to verify their votes to prevent fraud or mistakes.

“We have taken a huge step forward in modern forms of work. We are the only parliament in Europe that has offered its members to vote digitally and ensured that it was able to work even when members could not travel,” Manfred Weber, president of the Parliament’s largest group, the European People’s Party, told POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook this week — calling it  “a great achievement” both for the administration and MEPs.

But that system was replaced in several committees by the iVote application as they started plowing through work that was left untouched during the height of the pandemic crisis.

“It is unquestionable that the solution [used in plenary sessions] isn’t perfect,” said Kolaja, adding that MEPs often have to cast votes on hundreds of amendments for every bill. “This the problem. Another question is what is the solution,” he added.

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Parliament’s services are working on a more user friendly, quicker version of the print-and-scan ballots for committee meetings in the coming weeks, Kolaja said. But he said this wouldn’t be in use before MEPs return from summer break.


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