Friday, March 13, 2015

Online voting possibly coming to 2016 Lithuanian elections

The topic of voting over the Internet has been discussed at length on this site. It is absolutely true that more and more people are turning to the Internet for so many more of their daily activities. It is over the Internet that we are able to communicate with one another, just as we are able to complete our online banking, submit our taxes and conduct our business. Why is it that choosing our government officials and allowing our voices to be heard on public matters cannot be accomplished in the same way?

Indeed, the people of Lithuania have cried out for this natural evolution of the democratic process and now their demands are finally being heard. The Lithuanian government has officially approved an initiative wherein online voting could be implemented in time for the country's 2016 parliamentary elections. The proposal was put forth by two ministers from the social-democratic cabinet.

And while this represents a major step forward in modernizing and updating the democratic process in Lithuania to bring it up to speed with the increasingly digital and interconnected age of the Internet, the establishment and deployment of e-voting protocols still has a long way to go. The initiative simply provides for further discussion in parliament about the institution of online voting for Lithuanian citizens in general elections. The actual institution of such a system has not yet been approved.

The people of Lithuania have been urging the government to move forward with Internet-based voting systems for quite some time. Indeed, the World Lithuanian Community and the commission of the Lithuanian parliament passed a resolution back in 2010 to suggest such a move, but discussions continue to this day with no firm decision to include e-voting and i-voting paradigms to the country's democratic process.

The Lithuanian government should take to heart at least two key sources of experience and expertise on the matter.

First, the Internet-based voting system of Estonia has long since been viewed as one of the best in the world. Lithuania would be advised to look to Estonia as a model for how i-voting can be well implemented with a high degree of security, great voter verification, and improved voter turnout numbers. No credible hacking or fraud accusations have been made to date and the advanced identification systems used in Estonia work to prevent voter fraud or vote tampering.

Second, one of the significant motivating factors for implementing Internet-based voting for Lithuania is to better accommodate Lithuanian citizens living and working abroad who would still like to exercise their suffrage right. It places a significant burden on such individuals, particularly from a financial standpoint, to have to return to Lithuania in order to vote. In India, remote e-voting has been mandated for non-resident Indians for this exact reason.

Internet voting should never replace traditional voting in a physical polling place supervised by election officials and vetted volunteers. Citizens should always have the right to cast their ballot in person, ideally through a direct-recording electronic voting machine with a voter-verifiable paper trail and a robust audit system throughout the democratic process. Instead, Internet voter should be offered as an option for citizens wishing to utilize it and it can serve as a very suitable alternative to postal voting, particularly for absentee ballots.

Some sixty-five percent of those polled in Lithuania support the implementation of online voting. As Lithuania moves toward its elections in October 2016, the hope is the parliamentary discussions can move quickly enough to have such a system in place in time.