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Inaugural lecture: Peter Ryan

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Published on Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Peter Ryan will hold his inaugural lecture - Du Temps Perdu à la Recherche: In search of demonstrably free and fair elections - on Wednesday, 4 May.

Democracy is a defining attribute of civilization, but it is fragile and vulnerable. From the dawn of democracy to the present day people have sought to undermine the process of democracy by manipulating the outcome of elections. Over time, various procedures and technologies have evolved to try to guarantee accuracy and secrecy. However, the requirement of ballot secrecy makes this very challenging : there is no God’s eye view against which we can compare the result. In the “modern” era, various technological approaches to securing elections have been deployed, in particular in the US : lever machines came into use at the end of the 19th century, followed by punch cards, optical scanners and touch screens. To date all such technologies have proved problematic and vulnerable to large-scale error or corruption; witness the controversies over the US 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

Creating an election system that is demonstrably immune from error or corruption while at the same time guaranteeing ballot secrecy poses a unique and formidable challenge. Furthermore, such systems must not only be technically trustworthy, they must also be (almost) universally trusted and they must be extremely easy to use. Over the last few decades, cryptographers and information security researchers have turned their attention to the challenge. In this lecture I will outline some developments in the search for demonstrably accurate and secret elections. In particular, I describe the Prêt à Voter and Pretty Good Democracy schemes


Introduction by Prof. Dr. Paul Heuschling, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Technology and Communication. A reception will take place after the inaugural lecture.


  • When? Wednesday, 4 May - 6 p.m.
  • Where? Campus Limpertsberg, room Tavenas (102a, av. Pasteur)