Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why isn't Australia using e-voting yet?

A very common assumption that many people make is that the citizens living in more developed countries typically have access to and use more advanced technology on a regular basis. It can only be assumed that highly technologically-inclined countries like Japan and South Korea have access to some of the fastest Internet connections on the planet. It only makes sense that smartphone adoption rates in the United States are through the roof.

As strange and as counter-intuitive as it may sound, this is oftentimes not the case when it comes to issues related to government operations and public infrastructure, particularly in the context of national elections. In an otherwise highly advanced country like Canada, federal elections are still conducted with paper ballots. And while progress has been made, electronic voting on Election Day is not yet a reality for the people of Australia.

Support for the imminent adoption of e-voting technology is growing in Australia with an increasing number of its citizens questioning why they are not yet voting through electronic means. It is perhaps with a not-so-subtle dose of irony that Australians are noted as being “the pioneers of the secret ballot electoral system,” a foundational tenet of the modern democracy. Even so, Australia continues to be “behind the pack” when it comes to e-voting.

The benefits of e-voting are numerous and have been discussed many times on this blog. The efficiency of vote registration and tabulation is higher, human error is minimized, paper waste is drastically reduced, accessibility is improved, and reporting is far faster too. This isn't to say that Australia has not experimented in the increased use of technology in its elections in one form or another.

Postal voting for absentee ballots, which is particularly important for Australians living in more remote areas like in the middle of the Outback, is set to be replaced by a new i-voting platform. The traditional method of sending blank ballots through the mail and expecting citizens to send them back is time-consuming and costly, whereas online voting is more convenient and most cost-effective. It's also immediate and could account for as much as 15% of all ballots cast by Australians in major elections.

Should Australia move forward with e-voting technology on election day, the infrastructure for voter identity verification could be powered by the myGov system. This is a system that is already being used to access a broad range of government services, like child support and Medicare. The technology is already here, so it's simply a matter of getting the legislation put in place so that the voting process can be digitized.

Unfortunately, a federal parliamentary committee voted unanimously against the adoption of a fully automated voting system last year and the issue is seen as “not pressing” for most politicians in the country. In order for the policy makers to be more interested in the issue, the people of Australia must express their own support for e-voting much louder and more prominently.

A research project, titled Mobile Voting, is being put together by a team at the University of New England to determine how viable a mobile e-voting platform would be in Australia as a means of supplementing, rather than replacing, the existing paper-based ballot system. They'd also have to address potential threats and problems with e-voting, like the possibility of hacking or problems with the infrastructure.

Due diligence must be performed, of course, but Australia can look to positive examples around the globe for successful implementations of e-voting in its various forms, including the possibility of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. 

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.