Thursday, December 31, 2015

E-voting in South Korea expanded to corporate world

The adoption and widespread implementation of electronic voting technology in the election of government officials, presidents and other elected officials can oftentimes be hampered by the bureaucracy and party politics of public office. The technology is already here and it's ready, but some politicians are hesitant to that sort of change. And this is why some of the best advances may be coming from the private sector.

The private sector is inherently more agile and quickly adaptable to change than the public sector. Major corporations and multinational companies in particularly can reap many benefits from using e-voting technology within their own decision-making infrastructure. In the case of South Korea, it has now been announced by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) that it will adopt electronic voting for its own internal processes.

Part of the motivation behind this move, according to an article in Business Korea, is to “act as a stimulus for the enhancement of voting rights of shareholders.” In many ways, the shareholders in a company are not dissimilar from the citizens of a particular country. The decisions made by executives and elected officials affect the shareholders and citizens directly, and thus the shareholders and citizens want to ensure that their opinions and preferences are heard.

KEPCO is not the first company in Korea to make this move, as some 452 Korean companies have already adopted e-voting as part of their own practices. This is according to the Korea Securities Depository and it reflects an astronomical increase compared to just 79 companies at the end of last year. This still only represents 19 percent of companies in the KOSPI and 24 percent of companies in the KOSDAQ, so much more progress needs to made among public companies in Korea to implement electronic voting.

The positive trend toward the higher adoption of e-voting among corporations and public companies is also being reflected in other parts of Asia. More specifically, e-voting was mandated for listing companies in Taiwan earlier this year. The popularity of e-voting in the private sector is growing and will quickly become the norm.

For elections in the South Korean government itself, progress has been slower. The country's people are generally more conservative in nature, though it did elect its first female president two years ago. This demonstrates some inclination toward a more progressive mindset, one that would be more amenable to the adoption of e-voting for public elections too.

At this time, elections in South Korea do not use technology for voter registration purposes, nor is an e-voting system used in elections for public office. It's quite possible that the growth of e-voting in the private sector, as demonstrated by KEPCO's announcement, will help to spur further development in the public sector too.

This is in addition to tests and demonstrations of e-voting in recent years that have further illustrated that Korea, a country rich in tradition yet definitely on the forefront of innovation with such heavy hitters as LG and Samsung, is ready to adopt e-voting on a more public context. It's ready to move into the 21st century.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reviewing the results of Bulgaria's e-voting referendum

One of the purist and most direct ways to gauge the popular opinion on an important issue is to hold a referendum. In this way, you are granting voters the same access to expressing their viewpoint as they have during a regular election that would see the selection of new heads of state and legislative representatives. When the referendum ties into the electoral process itself, the cycle is completed.

This is a big reason why the recent referendum held in the country of Bulgaria is so important. The results of the referendum could set a precedent not only in Bulgaria itself, but also in other democracies around the world. It could also expedite, maintain, or diminish any progress made in other countries seeking similar movements and advances in its electoral processes.

The referendum was first proposed last year and consisted of three different questions. After some debate among government officials, the national referendum was eventually narrowed down to a single question. It asked the people of Bulgaria whether or not they would support the use of technology to allow for remote voting through electronic means.

The support for e-voting was largely being gauged in the context of distance voting. More specifically, the referendum question was worded as thus:

“Do you support that remote electronic voting is enabled when elections and referendums are held?”

Despite what some of the opponents may have to say about the adoption of e-voting and i-voting technology in modern elections, the result of the Bulgarian referendum is one of overwhelming support for the use of remote electronic voting.

The exact figures from different sources vary somewhere between 69.5 percent and 72.5 percent, but the Bulgarians who did participate in the referendum have clearly indicated that they support and favor remote electronic voting in future elections and referendums. Compare this to the mere 26 percent who voted against the introduction of electronic distance voting. Even in the district with the least support for the adoption of e-voting, Shoumen, a 57.8 percent majority still marked their ballots with a “yes.” The capital city of Sofia saw the largest support for e-voting at 76.5 percent of the vote.

The referendum question itself was also posed to Bulgarians who are living or working abroad through a number of overseas polling stations. This only makes sense, as this is the demographic that would be affected the most by the implementation of remote e-voting possibilities in the Bulgarian democracy.

Interest in electronic voting technology and interest in participating in nationally-held elections are also growing in Bulgaria. When the country last held a referendum in 2013, voter turnout was a mere 20.22%. With this most recent referendum, that figure nearly doubled to 39.67%. There is still much room to grow and to learn, but the positive trend demonstrates promise.

While this level of voter turnout in the e-voting referendum in Bulgaria is not enough to be legally binding at the governmental level, which requires a turnout of at least 48.7 percent, it is above the 20 percent threshold needed in order to require the National Assembly in Bulgaria to further debate the issue and to keep the conversation moving forward.

Where the Bulgarian democracy goes from here remains to be seen, but given the steadfast determination of President Rosen Plevneliev in pursuing the e-voting agenda, the issue will clearly remain top of mind and a continued topic of hot debate. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The continued growth of remote e-voting in India

As the world's second largest country by population and the world's largest democracy overall, India certainly faces more than its fair share of bureaucratic and logistical challenges in addressing the needs of its citizens. The economy is growing and jobs are being created, but living conditions for many Indian residents continues to be wearisome. And with this many people anxious to have their voices heard for how to move the country forward, capturing their intentions on Election Day can be a logistical and administrative nightmare.

One strategy that has been making significant progress in recent years is the rising adoption of electronic voting technology, particularly as it pertains to the possibility of an Internet-based online voting solution. It has been said by the Central Election Commission that a new e-voting system will be introduced soon and this will help significantly with reducing or even eliminating the issues surrounding extraordinarily long queues on voting day.

The appeal of being able to cast a ballot online is multi-faceted, going beyond the convenience of avoiding long lineups on Election Day. The simple convenience of being able to vote from home or even on a mobile device is undeniable, as is the ease of access for people who may have geographic or physical challenges to overcome. This should help with improving voter turnout too.

What's more, it's said that voting online would help to mitigate issues related to the intimidating attempts made by “goons paid for by the local leaders” that have become a problem at voting places.

The benefits for the government and for the electoral commission cannot be understated either, by reducing the wastage of paper and other resources that are needed to run a more physically-oriented election.

This all sounds very good, but it's also increasingly clear that much more work remains to be done. The e-voting and online voting solution appears to be working, but the registration process for i-voting has been nothing short of a catastrophic debacle. The Gujarat Congress issued a statement decrying the lack of adequate preparation on the part of the State Election Commission in its execution of the online voting system.

More specifically, it says that some 20,000 citizens “had registered for online voting, but necessary details for registrations were not timely shared with them by SEC.” While the SEC had sent the required usernames and passwords to registrants, the required weblink was not included. What's more, because of further technical complications and challenges, registered voters could not even complete the activation of the e-voting process.

The logistics of the situation were further exacerbated as the convenience of voting from home was nullified. Registrants were told to visit a local office in person to complete a verification form, but upon arrival, they were told to go to the magistrate office for even further verification. This is no longer convenient at all and, as such, more preparation in preparing the infrastructure for e-voting and i-voting is clearly required.

All is not lost and other democracies around the world can look to India to address problems with their own e-voting and i-voting systems in a more pre-emptive manner. Moving forward, India endeavors to make it easier for non-residents to vote online too and the recent mandates toward this goal should spur on further progress and development. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Once again, electronic voting guarantees exact results in Venezuela

Image: Reuters
Eleven years and thirteen elections after electronic voting was introduced in Venezuela, voters headed back to the polls to elect its parliament representatives. The elections, held on December 6 registered a participation rate of 75%, which is an impressive turnout considering that voting is not mandatory in Venezuela. 

Venezuela’s system automates all stages of the election, from biometric voter authentication, to voting, results transmission, tallying and results publication. The system has been deemed reliable by important observation organizations such as the Carter Center and the European Union.  

Weeks before the election, a report published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance stated that "the strength of the Venezuelan electoral process lies in the automated voting and vote-counting system". Meanwhile, Leonel Fernandez, head of the observation mission from UNASUR said in his post-election balance that "The Venezuelan voting system is solid and safe." 

One of the most important attributes of the technology used in Venezuela is its high level of auditability. Before, during and after the election, technicians from participating political parties, independent auditors and electoral authorities review the system thoroughly. 

In addition, during the night of the election a public audit was performed to compare the printed vote receipts against the precinct counts issued by more than 50% of the voting machines. No significant issues were found.  

On Sunday night the official results of 96% of the seats in contention were published, and they were accepted by all political parties without exception.

1,799 candidates were competing for the 167 seats that constitute the parliament. This was a heavy contested election, where few votes made the difference to declare the winners. For example, in Aragua, a state in the central region, one parliament seat was decided by only 83 votes, a difference of only 0.06%.