Security Experts:

Dutch to Count Election Votes by Hand to Thwart Hackers

The Hague - Dutch authorities will count by hand all the votes cast in next month's general elections, ditching "vulnerable" computer software to thwart any cyber hacking bid, a top minister said Wednesday.

"I cannot rule out that state actors may try to benefit from influencing political decisions and public opinion in The Netherlands," Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said in a letter to parliament.

On March 15 The Netherlands kicks off a key year of elections in Europe, due to be closely watched amid the rise of far-right and populist parties on the continent.

Dutch officials are already on alert for signs of possible cyber hacking following allegations by US intelligence agencies that Russia may have meddled in November's US presidential polls to help secure Donald Trump's victory.

Plasterk told parliament that fears over "the vulnerabilities of the software" used by the country's election committee "had raised questions about whether the upcoming elections could be manipulated."

He insisted in a letter to MPs that "no shadow of a doubt should hang over the results" of the parliamentary polls, which some analysts predict could result in a five-party coalition.

Therefore the interior ministry and the election committee had decided "to calculate the results based on a manual count."

Some 12.6 million Dutch voters are eligible to cast ballots to usher in a new 150-seat lower house of parliament, with some 31 parties having so far registered for permission to field candidates. The election committee will rule on Friday how many parties will be allowed to run.

Far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) have been leading the opinion polls for months, leaving Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party (VVD) trailing in second place.

A polls aggregate on Wednesday predicted Wilders would emerge as the largest party with 27-31 seats, with Rutte's party gathering just 23-27 seats -- both far short of the 76-seat majority needed.

That would presage a period of intense haggling to form the next government.

Related: Obama to Announce Retaliation Against Russia for Election Hacks

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Related: U.S. Vows Response to Russian Hack at 'Time and Place of our Choosing' 

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