Friday, July 26, 2013

What forms of E-voting are used today?

The term "electronic voting" or "e-voting" for short can actually refer to many different types of technologies. We have discussed many facets of e-voting over the course of the last three years, but we now feel the need to return and visit the term "electronic voting." This should be particularly insightful for those of you who are new to reading this blog.

"Electronic voting" can refer to technology that is used to cast the actual vote, as well as technology that is used to tabulate or count the votes. "E-voting" can also sometimes be used in the context of transmitting the information related to the ballots and votes from voting places to central offices.

The most common use of the term "e-voting" would refer to the concept of using a computerized voting machine with electronic ballots rather than using more traditional paper ballots that are marked with a pen or pencil and tabulated manually. The voting machines are usually referred to as DREs or direct-recording electronic machines. The term "Electronic Voting Machine" or "EVM" is also sometimes used.

There are multiple types of DREs that are currently being used around the world. Some DREs use a touchscreen where the voter casts his or her ballot by pressing the appropriate button on the display. Other DREs may involve buttons, wheels or keys next to a computer screen for voters to cast their ballots. Direct-recording electronic voting machines are typically used under the supervision of government representatives or independent electoral authorities.

Varying types of electronic voting machines may be more accessible to different populations. In the case of a touchscreen display, the words can be enlarged for voters who have trouble reading the smaller print on traditional paper ballots. This can also allow for ballots to be displayed in multiple languages for areas where voters may be more comfortable reading instructions in different languages.

Electronic voting may also include remote electronic voting. This would be the case where the voter can act independently without having to go physically to a specific voting place, as the ballot can be cast remotely. This includes voting over the Internet at a computer or using a mobile phone, either through the mobile web or by sending a text message. Less commonly, votes may also be cast via Internet-connected televisions using special channels and technology. Remote e-voting has also been called i-voting, largely because the votes are typically cast over some sort of Internet connection.

The use of electronic voting in the context of counting up all the ballots has a longer history than the use of DREs and other electronic forms of casting a vote. For example, some paper ballots may be punch cards. What this means is that when a voter casts his or her ballot, the punch card can be entered directly into the counting machine that can then automatically read the ballot and add the vote to the final tabulation. Similarly, optical scan machines can use an electronic reader to record the vote rather than having a human volunteer or official record each individual vote. This can be far more efficient and take far less time than the manual counting of votes. Since there is still a paper ballot, it is easier if there needs to be a re-count or an audit for a set of ballots.

E-voting continues to gain popularity all around the world. It is being used in varying levels of capacity in such countries as Venezuela, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Philippines, Brazil, India and the United States.

The Pros and Cons of Internet Voting

Most discussions on electronic voting usually focus on direct recording electronic devices (DREs) or the use of electronic technology in counting the ballots. Under these circumstances, the voter must still cast his or her ballot in person. However, there is another voting technology: remote or Internet voting.

In a more pop culture context, Internet voting has really taken off in popularity. Sometimes called I-voting, because most of these votes are usually cast over the Internet, remote e-voting is used for television shows like American Idol and it is also used for instant polls on popular newsmagazine shows and other programming. Given this, why can't a similar kind of technology be used for government elections and other important electoral events?

There are some advantages to Internet voting:

1. Convenience: Voters can simply log on to their computers or use their smartphones to cast their votes. In an age where convenience is so heavily valued, this is a huge "pro" for remote e-voting.

2. Encourages voter turnout: Related to the first point, having a greater level of access and convenience should theoretically encourage people to vote who may have otherwise skipped the opportunity. By having better voter turnout, the results of each election will be more representative of the overall popular opinion. That said, a study jointly released by M. Bruter and S. Harrison with N. Anstead, S. Banaji, B. Cammaerts and LSE Enterprise for the European Commission actually found an opposite effect on turnout among first time voters. Clearly, further study is warranted.

3. Streamlined Absentee Ballots: With military personnel serving overseas or businesspeople traveling abroad, it can sometimes be difficult for these citizens to cast their votes from afar. If the elections are held online, however, these demographics can be better represented, as long as they have Internet access.

4. Eliminate Long Lineups: One of the problems plaguing many elections, particularly those in the United States, is that there can be remarkably long lineups at the official voting locations. There is a definite bottleneck with paper ballots and manual ballot collection. If the votes can be cast online, assuming the bandwidth is adequate; there can be virtually no lineups at all.

Although these features sound very appealing, there are many issues that come up related to Internet voting:

1. Security concerns: Websites, regardless of their level of heightened security, get hacked all the time. When the magnitude of a major national election is considered, these threats should not be taken lightly and they could potentially compromise the results of any election.

2. Transmission problems: As with anything else conducted over the Internet, a remote electronic vote may encounter some errors and issues as the data is transmitted over the web. Since there is no real paper trail for each ballot, this can be make recounts and error corrections virtually impossible.

3. Bandwidth and server issues: When there are major sales at certain online retailers, the servers may not always be able to handle the increased traffic. The same problem can occur when the servers cannot handle the increased traffic of a major election. Bandwidth needs must be considered and addressed.

4. Authentication: When a voter arrives at a physical voting place, his or her identity can be confirmed by the government official or representative. With remote e-voting, the voter is not physically present in front of a government representative and, thus, the identity can be more easily faked. That being said, given the authentication processes for online banking and other government websites, authentication is an issue that may be more easily addressed.

5. Less thoughtful voting: A recent ICEP study on electoral ergonomy found that voters tended to take less time thinking about their vote when engaging in an electronic ballot (20 seconds) than when using a French ballot (60 seconds). Furthermore, voters aged 18-25 in the 2010 British General election were twice as likely to choose an extremist party if voting by post (remotely) than at a polling station, even when controlling for prior voting intentions. Remote e-voting could further amplify this effect.

 The current systems for Internet voting are far from perfect, but they do represent a paradigm that should be opened for discussion in the future to improve the overall democratic process. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The self-interest problem: Why some people want a return to flawed manual elections


Electronic voting is the future of democracy. An ever-increasing number of countries around the world like Belgium, the US, Venezuela, Mongolia and the Philippines have seen their democratic institutions grow even stronger after abandoning the flawed manual elections and started benefiting from voting’s fast, accurate, and transparent results.

Still, more countries are either already conducting pilot tests or preparing enabling laws for a shift to e-voting.

With all the clear advantages of automating the elections, it does boggle the mind why anyone would still want to return to slow and fraud-ridden manual elections. Yet perhaps the key to understanding the puzzle lies in the very success of e-voting.

Automated elections make such an almost perfect job of eliminating fraud that the people who have made great fortunes rigging elections have suddenly been left holding empty bags, and very much upset.

In the Philippines, poll operators had, for decades, been making a living off politicians  employing the infamous “dagdag-bawas” (add-subtract) scheme, where the highest bidder can be made to win by addition of votes to his total and where the hapless opponent can be made to lose by shaving votes off his or her total.

In 2010, however, these fraudsters have been shoved out from the money train when the Philippines started automating its elections. They were out of jobs overnight. And they are not taking this sitting down.

Yet the legally-instituted e-voting system is not only facing attacks from these disenfranchised poll operators but also from a group headed by a disgruntled ex-commissioner of the poll body. This ex-official, reliable sources confirm, has long been trying to sell his own version of an election system. Unfortunately for this ex-official, his system is part-automated and part-manual, a hybrid that is expressly forbidden in the Election Automation Law of the Philippines.

This does not, however, deter this ex-official in pushing for his selfish agenda, and takes every chance he gets to cast doubts on the reliability and credibility of e-voting.

Many Filipino voters are crying foul over these selfish agenda threatening to undo the gains brought about by election automation. After all, automation brought political stability to the country, a development which directly caused investor confidence to soar at all-time high, and had also led to a surge in foreign and local investments. 

It was also no coincidence that Fitch and Standard & Poor’s have found it fit to upgrade the Philippines to investment grade. It was still less of a coincidence that the country’s economy grew 7.8%, making it the fastest expanding economy in Southeast Asia, even outstripping China’s 7.7% growth.

The stabilizing effects of e-voting in any country cannot be dismissed. It is up to concerned voters to be vigilant so as to ensure that their democracy is not put at the mercy of self-interests.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Peru successfully completes e-voting trials

Image: ONPE Website

After several days of testing and showcasing the benefits of e-voting systems, the inhabitants of the Cañete municipality in Pacarán had the opportunity to experience an automated election for the first time: the July 7th municipal elections.

The Chief of the Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE), Mariano Cucho, was pleased by the fact that it took the electorate only 30 seconds to cast their votes, confirming that new technologies can be used efficiently during voting processes. He stated that “e-voting is really simple, which grants faster results”.

School N° 20174 was selected to carry out this first e-voting experience. A total of 1,361 voters in Pacarán were allowed to exercise their right to vote in the 3 polling stations set up at the institution.

Taking into account the importance of training both voters and polling station workers, voting simulations were conducted during the days leading to the actual election in order those exposed to the new technology, so that they could vote confidently and without hassles. There was an emphasis on explaining to the public the security mechanisms offered by e-voting.

On the other hand, polling station members had the chance to see the swiftness of e-voting in action, particularly during vote counting, and to certify how automation makes their work easier by subtracting human error from the process. 

This experience proves one more how e-voting keeps gaining strength as the best option to safeguard and improve democracy. The Peruvian electoral authorities now face the great challenge of extending this successful trial experience in Pacarán to other territories, until elections are automated in the entire Inca nation.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Origins of leading electronic voting companies

Technology has been the starting point for several leading companies in the world seeking to innovate in the elections, with the firm intention of strengthening democracy and offering citizens solutions to participate in the electoral processes.

The Philippines, India, the United States, Belgium and Estonia have benefited from electronic voting technology to make their way on the road to elections automation and digital democracy.

The governments of those nations have seen these technology companies as allies to modernize their democratic processes. Indra Company, Smartmatic, Scytl, and Election Systems & Software (ES & S), leading companies in the field of elections.

Having participated in elections around the world, these companies face day by day detractors who seek to generate controversies about their origins and the place where they were founded, with the simple intention of distorting or generating opinion arrays that mitigate the confidence in the election results.

Although its founding countries are clearly established: Indra Company and Scytl are of Spanish origin with their headquarters in the same country, ES & S was founded and operates in the United States, as well as Smartmatic which was registered in Delaware, United States and currently has its Headquarters in London, on several occasions have been awarded other origins based on the countries where they have held elections; or the nationality of its founders.

From this issue, it is clear that this type of controversy is only generated with a main objective: to divert attention from issues that are important for democracy and the social development of countries, citizen participation and the power voters have to decide who will be in their governments. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sri Lanka waits for electoral automation

Photo: S Baker

The advantages of e-voting do not go unnoticed by neighbors of countries that have successfully automated their electoral system. One example of this is Sri Lanka, which has been aware of the advantages brought by the implementation of voting technology in India, and now expects to adopt electronic voting as well.

India is one of the leading countries in the use of electoral technology. For almost two decades, it has been showing the world that a country with more than a billion people, and with extreme conditions for its electorate, can carry out elections with utmost reliability and speed. Moreover, the nation is planning to add printed vote receipts to enhance the auditability of its democratic processes. The use of electoral technology has proven to foster citizen participation in younger crowds, as they are coming up with new ways to incorporate it into their lives.

With the adoption of electoral technology, India set an example that was quickly followed by other countries, such as Nepal. Since the positive experience with e-voting is spreading throughout Asia, Therefore, it is not surprising at all that India’s neighbor, Sri Lanka, is now conducting campaigns advocating for the incorporation of e-voting into its electoral system. Since 2010, the Water Supply and Drainage Minister of the country, Dinesh Gunawardene, has been announcing that the government is taking steps toward the automation of the electoral system. He states that the central government acknowledges how easy it is to vote using machines and how e-voting “eradicates corruption and reduces delays in releasing results.” The cost-effectiveness of electoral automation has also been highlighted. However, implementation has taken longer than estimated, and the people are growing restless.

There are already groups on Facebook and Twitter accounts championing vote automation for Sri Lanka. The country is now just waiting for voting machines to be borrowed from India to conduct a demonstration and make the final decision, as it cannot subsist anymore on the unbearably long ballot papers that have been produced in recent elections. 

Sri Lankans are more than prepared to adopt e-voting now because they have been witness to its benefits for years. The country already has the political will and the enthusiasm of the citizenry to back automation, so the only thing missing is for the nation to take the final step. This way, Sri Lanka will enter the elite of countries where democracy is easier and more reliable, and where the will of the people is entirely reflected on their electoral results. We are hoping that that final leap is made very soon.