Thursday, September 17, 2015

Improving Bulgaria’s election administration with remote voting

Discussions on the current state of democracy tend to gravitate toward regions like the United States, the United Kingdom and India, but perhaps some of the more compelling changes are happening in other parts of the world. Some of the greatest developments are occurring in places like Brazil and the Philippines, for instance, and a major referendum is set to take place this October that could change the face of democracy in Bulgaria.

To be run alongside the Bulgarian local elections on October 25, the national referendum has been reduced down to a single question from the original proposition for three questions to be included. The proposition came forth from Bulgaria's current President Rosen Plevneliev and the question that remains on the referendum is on the subject of remote electronic voting.

More specifically, the referendum question is stated as follows: “Do you support the idea to be able to vote from a distance, electronically at elections and referendums?”

Noteworthy on how this question is being framed is that it is being positioned only as a plebiscite, meaning that the result of the referendum may not necessarily result in immediate change in how future elections are run in Bulgaria. However, if the popular vote returns as a yes, it will be a clear indication that Bulgarians are ready to modernize and improve the administration of elections in their country.

Strong support for remote electronic voting in Bulgaria has already been demonstrated, as the motion is being described not only as a presidential initiative, but as the initiative of over half a million citizens who “put their signatures down.” These same citizens, among many others, must also vote “yes” in October's referendum to ensure their voices are heard loud and clear by the country's politicians and electoral officials. Fair and equal access to exercise their right to franchise is an absolute must for all Bulgarians if the country's democracy is to be seen and understood as fair and equal too.

With the aid of a robust and secure technological infrastructure, remote e-voting can be more efficient, more convenient, and more cost-effective too. As it stands, nearly one million Bulgarians abroad have voting rights and without such a system in place, they would be effectively disenfranchised. President Plevneliev does not agree that millions of Bulgarians should be left out from the political arena simply because they have decided to work abroad.

The availability of e-voting would be in line with how the majority of people live and work today. “We already daily use the opportunities that technology provides us,” stated Plevneliev. “Electronic voting is the future, it will certainly happen. The question is not if, but when.”

Bulgaria certainly would not be the first to entertain the adoption of e-voting or even i-voting over the Internet. The country would be able to look to positive examples, like the i-voting system in Estonia, for inspiration and guidance on how best to implement a reliable, safe and secure system for electronic voting. Now is the time for Bulgaria to automate its elections, maintaining the integrity, legitimacy and relevance of its modern democracy. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Voter rights and the barriers to voter registration in USA

It is undeniable that while the United States is not the largest democracy in the world, it is one of the most influential. What happens in America has a profound impact all across the globe. And this is why next year's presidential election is so important.

With Barack Obama currently serving his second term as the President of the United States, he is no longer eligible for re-election. Even so, as a Democrat and as an American citizen, he has a vested interest in how the election turns out. More to the point, the President recently published a guest article on Medium discussing the current voter ID laws in the country and how they are hindering the expression of the true American will.

“The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights of any democracy,” he states before reminding readers that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the singing of the Voting Rights Act - the act that broke down legal barriers and made it easier for African Americans and other minorities to cast a ballot.

However, while all American citizens do have the legal right to vote in the United States, not all have had equal access it. The President points out that there are “still too many barriers to the vote” even today, particularly among minorities.

As President Obama decries, the current “provisions specifically designed to make it harder for some people to vote,” like the restrictive photo ID requirements. His Republican opponents say that these voter ID laws help to reduce or eliminate voter fraud, but the President view these laws as unnecessary barriers that prevent the proper expression of a true democracy.

Because the current requirements can vary so widely from state to state, progress will be difficult and the move toward nationalized standards may be a better option. The first step toward greater voter turnout, which would result in a more representative government, is to get as many eligible voters registered in the first place. This could be aided by the expansion of electronic voter registration, a proposal that is gaining more support each day. An additional option is to link the electronic voter registration to driver's licences for a simpler and more automatic solution.

Looking ahead to the 2016 election, Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has also spoken out against the restrictive voter ID laws in many states and she continues to be a champion for equal voting rights for all eligible voters. By removing these restrictive barriers and erecting more accessible electronic voter registration systems, more citizens who are current disenfranchised can exercise their democratic right more freely.

For the minorities and other groups who feel like they're being left behind, politics can feel like an “us against them” scenario where they are powerless to elicit change. That cannot and should not be the case. All eligible voters can and should have a voice in how their country is run. And it starts with voter registration.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Australia to replace postal voting with i-voting platform

With a land mass of over 7 million square kilometres, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. However, it is also one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with a total population of density of just 2.7 people per square kilometre. Compare that to the approximately 32 people per square kilometre of the United States and the 349 people per square kilometre in India. What this means is that reaching each and every citizen can be quite a logistical challenge, particularly for residents of the Outback.

It's no wonder that the Australia Post is considering the elimination of traditional home delivery for mail, moving toward local “community mailboxes” instead. For some Australians, this could mean walking several kilometres simply to fetch or to send off any mail at all. The future of the postal service in Australia is uncertain and this could leave postal voting in jeopardy.

As it stands, Australians do have the opportunity to vote through the mail, but this configuration is rife with challenges. Sending blank paper ballots to citizens and then requiring them to send the ballots back can be costly and time-consuming, not to mention potentially unreliable as the ballots could be lost in the mail. Online voting can overcome many of the issues of postal voting, particularly for Australians living in remote areas. If they can get online, they can vote and the ballot can be received and tabulated instantly.

As with any change, there are risks and challenges associated with online remote voting system. Ian Brightwell, Chief Information Officer for New South Wales’ Electoral Commission, has indicated that Internet voting is worth the risk. By moving toward internet voting, the democratic process is far more accessible not only for residents of remote areas, but also for Australians who may be living overseas or travelling interstate. There is no requirement to return back to their home district to cast a ballot.

Australian authorities are not considering to replace traditional voting altogether; their goal is to provide a complimentary alternative that will enhance the accessibility of the electoral process. Brightwell foresees the iVote system accounting for no more than 10-15% of all ballots cast.