Friday, June 20, 2014

Remote voting civil initiative in Slovakia needs 50k signatures


When discussing the technology involved in running an election, most conversations turn to voting machines, for example, or they may talk about the infrastructure involved in recording, tallying and transmitting the ballots as part of an election. By large, the vast majority of ballots cast in an election are done in person in some form or another, but it is just as important to consider the voting rights of citizens who are unable to make a physical appearance at an official polling place on Election Day. And this was a hot topic issue leading up to the presidential elections in Slovakia earlier this year.

After no candidate was able to secure a majority in the first round of voting on March 15, a second round of voting was conducted on March 29 in which Andrej Kiska defeated Robert Fico with 59.38% of the popular vote. Part of the problem with this election was that it effectively did not allow for true remote voting. The current Slovak law says that citizens without permanent residence in the country can vote, but they must be present on Election Day. There is no support for remote voting, since this cohort “still isn't numerous enough to make it worthwhile investing such an amount of money”, according to Slovakia's Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák.

To demonstrate the interest and desire of the Slovakian people in Internet voting and support for remote voting for those living abroad, a civic association of Slovaks living abroad has put together a petition. As it stands, expatriate Slovaks can vote via the postal service, but having an Internet-based system could make it easier for voters to engage and participate. The petition seeks to get at least 50,000 signatures before being delivered to the Slovak parliament.

The two main reasons cited by Kaliňák as to why Internet voting is not yet viable in Slovakia are related to cost and security risks. These are issues that have also been raised in other countries around the world, but they have also been suitably addressed by voting experts like William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. He says that most hacking jobs “are the result of human insiders abusing their positions” and not the fault of the voting technology itself.

Indeed, recent expansions in remote voting technology have already been successfully demonstrated in Australia and the Philippines. However, if the petition is able to get the 50,000 signatures it desires, this would provide a clear illustration to the Slovak government that a large contingent of the Slovak people, particularly those living and working abroad, are calling for an updated electoral system where they are better able to cast a remote vote without having to rely on a more archaic postal-based system. 

The 2014 Slovak presidential elections have come and gone, but the civil initiative of those Slovak expatriates still have several months to get the signatures they need. The goal is to collect the 50,000 signatures in 12 months, which would give them a soft deadline of January 2015.