Thursday, August 14, 2014

British politician makes strong case for e-voting in UK

E-voting technology is quickly gaining in popularity in many countries all around the world, but the United Kingdom continues to lag behind. At least one British politician is aiming to change that. Commons Speaker John Bercow is making a major push toward updating the British electoral system to integrate more e-voting technology and innovations. While some of his opponents worry that this would dramatically change the electoral process, Bercow says that the shift to e-voting as an option should not be seen as “earth-shattering,” but rather as a natural step in moving the nation forward.

There are many possibilities for how e-voting could be implemented in Great Britain and Bercow is open to exploring a range of options. He understands how many people, particularly young adults, have come to seen smartphones, tablets and other digital devices as extensions of themselves. These devices can already be used to handle a range of private and confidential information, including e-mail and banking, so why can't the electoral process also be included in this? Bercow says that allowing citizens to vote via their mobile devices is a natural step.

However, this isn't to say that the shift should be taken lightly. Security measures must be in place to maintain and protect the “integrity of the ballot box.” The voting process for the citizen should also be painless and easy, as to encourage greater voter turnout. The recent European Union elections only saw a 33.8 percent turnout. That is far too low to be a truly representative democracy.

To Bercow, a 21st century democracy in action should be epitomized by a good citizen who must pick up a postcard weeks in advance before “dragging themselves down to an empty community hall or primary school on a wet Thursday to put a cross on a tiny piece of paper.” In line with modern technology and contemporary society, that ballot can be cast and counted in an automated fashion and possibly even remotely. This would also allow for greater access, particularly for voters who may have difficulties getting to the appropriate polling place in a timely and convenient way.

Voters want their voices to be heard, which is also why Bercow is pushing toward “crowdsourcing” ideas and public opinion too. These so-called digital consultations would not be binding, but they would help to advise the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy on how best to implement the new technology. “Perhaps the time has come,” said Bercow, “for the House of Commons to allow greater choice, more flexibility and public participation.”

E-voting technology has already been implemented in some fashion in the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. An expansion of this into other British elections and votes only makes sense.

It is completely open to debate whether Britain should move forward with full Internet voting by way of web-connected devices like smartphones and computers or if they should start with electronic voting terminals at set polling places. However, the democratic process in the UK is due for an update one way or another.

The next United Kingdom general election is scheduled for May 7, 2015. This will elect the 56th Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Ireland and Northern Ireland push for more e-voting technology

Source: Wikimedia
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland don't see eye-to-eye on many issues. The relationship between the two can be strained and, for many outsiders unfamiliar with the area, it can also be quite confusing. Whereas Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland is a sovereign state on its own. And even though they may have their differences, it appears that they have at least one thing in common: they both want to increase the use of electronic voting technology.

An article in the Belfast Telegraph recently discussed the accuracy of predicting elections in the area and how “it would be good to have even more information on the innards of the voting system to analyse.” In order to gain this more detailed analytical data, several parts in Northern Ireland are calling for “a system of electronically counting votes.”

By moving to e-voting technology for the tabulation of ballots, far more detail about the voting patterns in different areas could become clearer. It would make it easier to see where party support was coming from and, thus, parties could then better organize their campaign strategies to target perceived “openings” and how they could reinforce their efforts where they were “falling short.” As more data became publicly available and as this data was organized into charts and tables, smaller parties would collect insight that would help make them more competitive against more established parties and politicians.

Of course, using a computerized model of counting ballots would also mean that election results could be reported sooner.

A similar push for e-voting machines and electronic vote counting is being witnessed in the Republic of Ireland as well. While e-voting machines have been “maligned” in the country, Ireland's Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Charlie Flanagan has noted that it takes too long for the results of local and European elections to be reported.

“Counting is taking far too long,” said the Children's Minister. “Electronic voting must be returned to the political agenda.”

In three constituencies during the 2002 Irish general election, electronic voting equipment was used on an experimental basis. Tests were conducted and the equipment was purchased, but the governing bodies of Ireland never expanded the e-voting technology to the rest of the nation. Flanagan feels it is time to revisit this technology and the many benefits it can provide.

E-voting allows for better accessibility for people with disabilities, for instance, and the technology can help to invigorate and energize the youth vote. With countless strange stories coming out of manual voting and manual ballot counting, updating and upgrading to electronic voting can modernize the electoral process and minimize human error.

From Dublin to Belfast, the people of both Ireland and Northern Ireland are rooted in deep tradition. However, the traditions of paper ballots and manual vote counting must be put forth for public debate, opening an opportunity for e-voting to reach both the United Kingdom and the independent Republic of Ireland.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Russian security fights off attacks on e-voting system

Just as there are countless advantages to e-voting technology, those opposed to it are quick to point out some of the problems or flaws of various electronic voting systems. One of the most common concerns, has to do with privacy and security.

However, if electoral commissions, government organizations and private suppliers take the appropriate precautions, it becomes highly unlikely that the ballots and the overall results of any election would be compromised due to outsiders “hacking” into the system and manipulating the results. Indeed, the most recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia serve as an example of how preparation can prevent and avert such attacks.

According to the Central Election Committee in Russia, some 1,800 hacking attempts were made on its website. All of these attacks were suitably repelled and the integrity of the elections were kept intact.

There may have been some concerns about an attack coming from within Moscow or some other part of Russia itself, but a greater concern was expressed by the Central Election Committee about hacking and manipulation coming from outside sources. As such, the CEC has made the formal decision that it will further bolster security on its website and throughout its network, particularly when it comes to the software that is used with the state automated electronic vote-counting system. There are risks, to be sure, and these must be addressed.

“We cannot afford to permit Russia's elections to be remotely controlled,” said CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov.

With the current system, the vote-counting system operates within the confines of a local network. However, the software requires access to the Internet in order to function and this can represent a security risk, even if the vote-counting system is not directly linked to other networks open to the general public. With error accumulation, the system could be “prone to remote control from outside the country.”

Russia has been using an IT system of vote counting for its elections since 1995 and this system has been fundamentally upgraded since that time. Today, it comprises over 3,000 IT facilities across Russia. Satellite and digital communication channels are readily utilized and officials work to keep these channels as secure as possible.

That being said, Russia is attempting to provide some level of transparency in an effort to aid the perceived integrity of its elections. For example, elections in Crimea and Sevastopol will be open to foreign monitoring. This does open Russia to the world in a way counter to the perception of a closed-off Kremlin.

While not commenting directly on the e-voting system being utilized in Russia itself, Dr. William J. Kelleher does note that electronic and online voting “can be both secure and confidential.” He also states that, “Without insider information, up-to-date professional security systems are nearly impossible to break into.”

The next major Election Day in Russia is scheduled for September 14.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why candidates need to focus on first-time voters

Most people have a tendency to be loyal and to gravitate toward what is comfortable and familiar. If a person has a Honda as his first car, he is more likely to purchase another Honda as his next car than someone who had a Ford as his first car instead. It's not that Honda is necessarily any better or worse than Ford; it's that this person already has a good idea of what to expect from a Honda and already has some grasp on its strengths and weaknesses. This psychological concept can be seen from a commercial perspective when it comes to buying certain brands or preferring certain products, but it also plays a very critical role in the world of politics.

A good number of political candidates may gravitate their attention toward their core demographic, but the electorate will continue to age and it is arguably even more important to focus their efforts on the newest and next generations of voters if they hope to secure their political future. Pursuing the youth vote also means attempting to secure that first voter advantage. If a young person is voting for the first time and chooses candidate A from party X, he or she is more likely to vote for party X again in the next election.

This situation is playing out right now, leading up to the 2014 presidential elections in Indonesia in July. The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) has clearly recognized this, as the party's presidential candidate Joko Widodo has garnered a lot of attention on social media in the country. And social media is a platform that is dominated by younger demographics. When “Jokowi” was announced as the PDI-P's presidential candidate, the hashtag #JKW4P quickly started trending locally. This would then lead to further influence on other young voters who may not have otherwise cared or paid attention to the upcoming election.

Of the 187 million people registered to vote in Indonesia, an impressive 29 percent (54 million) are under the age of 30 and an incredible 22 million – aged 17 to 21 – are voting for the first time. If the PDI-P is able to capture the hearts and minds of these 22 million voters, they would have secured 12% of the popular vote already.

In Indonesia, as well as other countries around the world, the youth movement is centred upon technology. Countless election-related apps have sprung up in Indonesia, educating the public on the importance decision they are about to make. American President Barack Obama certainly leveraged technology and social media during his 2008 campaign and the youth of Nigeria support e-voting technology. Whereas older generations may be reluctant to change, young people are embracing the power and convenience of the Internet and e-voting.

A presidential or other political candidate in nearly any part of the world must be cognisant of this shifting paradigm if they hope to stay relevant in the years and decades to follow. The parties and candidates that clearly demonstrate their dedication to social media, the Internet and advancing technology within and beyond the election cycle will be better positioned to appeal to younger generations.

And if receive that same kind of enthusiasm and dedication in return, they may just see a flood of voters buying more Hondas for years to come.