Monday, March 2, 2015

E-voting mandated for listing companies in Taiwan

Democracy takes on many forms and is exercised in a variety of situations. The most common and best-known mechanism where individuals cast their vote is in the context of a governmental election, as would be the case when citizens elect a new mayor of the city or president of the country. E-voting has been demonstrated in a number of democracies around the world, including Estonia and Brazil, but the context of voting—and the use of electronic voting technology—is not limited to the context of electing government officials.  

Students at a school vote for a class president, for example, and board members vote on a variety of issues in corporations and companies of all sizes. And just as innovation, security and integrity are cornerstones of a solid government election, these same principles apply in the context of business and corporate voting too. To this end, the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TWSE) has just made the unprecedented move of facilitating e-voting among listed companies. Indeed, the TWSE expects that more than half of the listed companies will opt for e-voting mechanisms by next year.

That is over 400 companies in a country that is becoming increasingly well known for technology innovation. Global brands like Asus, Gigabyte and Acer are all based in Taiwan.

One of the major goals of this initiative is that the TWSE wants to enhance “the corporate governance of the Taiwanese capital market and [facilitate] the adoption of e-voting for the benefit of foreign and domestic investors.”

Key stakeholders in a number of Taiwanese companies have the right to have their voices heard in the context of corporate decision making and the adoption of e-voting allows them to exercise this right more easily and more freely. The move toward more widespread use of e-voting allows for greater transparency among corporate decision-making and corporate governance, forcing executives to be held more accountable for the directions that their companies take.

The ruling comes by way of Taiwan's Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC), which will now require all listed companies in the TWSE to adopt e-voting if they have over $2 billion of paid-in-capital and over 10,000 shareholders. For any shareholder meetings that take place after January 1, 2016, an electronic voting option must be in place. As it stands, over 200 companies have already adopted e-voting as part of their governance process and this initiative should lead to some hundreds more.

Major corporate decisions, like the election of directors and supervisors, will now be more transparent with greater accountability than ever before. This is a model that can and should be followed in many other corporate environments around the world. E-voting facilitates better representation of shareholders because of greater accessibility both to the voting mechanism and to the reports of results.

Taiwan is a country that has long since aimed to balance its traditional values and heritage with the fast-moving advances of modern technology. It comes with a great culture and a storied history, but Taiwan is also home to some of the biggest names in the technology industry. In this way, it only follows reason that it would be among the first to mandate the implementation of e-voting technologies in corporate governance processes. 

And this once again demonstrates that discussion of e-voting need not be restricted to the context of public government elections; it can be applied to nearly every segment of the modern world.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Parliamentary elections in Estonia are under way

Source: Baltic News Network
Estonia is about to elect 101 new members of the Rigiikogu (Parliament) on March 1st. Yet, early voting has already started.

According to the Estonian National Electoral Committee’s timetable, advance voting at county centers were open from February 19 to 22. Internet voting also opened on the 19th, and will close on the 25th. In Estonia, the time window to cast a vote online usually lasts 7 days. Advance voting at all polling places will be open from February 23 to 25. And Election Day occurs on March 1.

Preliminary results will be available on Election Day, and the final official tabulation will be published on March 2 after a verification of results. 

Estonia’s internet voting system has been lauded as a success story. However, it is not exempt from criticism. Last year, a group of scientist highlighted what they believe to be gaps in procedural and operational security. According to Cybernetica, the Estonian lab that built this voting system, the platform is safe and contains robust cryptography protocols and auditable organizational procedures.

Public-key encryption and digital signatures are used for the protection of ballot secrecy and integrity. One key element for its alleged transparency is the fact that, after casting their ballots, voters can verify that their choice was registered as intended. 

Estonian authorities and prominent public figures have given little credibility to the criticism. In a recent video, Estonia’s Prime Minister, 35-year old Taavi Rõivas, promotes online voting and calls his own country the most digital in the world -a title not many will dispute given Estonia’s impressive internet penetration rate and the level of e-services offered by the government and other public institutions.

Estonia has conducted 7 national elections in which online participation has steadily grown.  Last elections -in May 2014- 30% of voters used the platform. Authorities are confident this number is likely to keep growing.

The 2015 Rigiikogu elections will be the first since the resignation of former Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. It was then - March of 2014 - that the coalition of the Estonian Reform Party and the Estonian Social Democrats, headed by Taavi Rõivas, took power. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tanzania weighing its e-voting options for October election

Many of the most exciting advances in electronic voting technology aren't necessarily being witnessed in first-world countries with high-end modern technology is a part of everyday life. Instead, it is in several developing nations around the world that e-voting, e-counting, and i-voting are receiving grassroots level support in part of a concerted effort to modernize these countries. 

Several countries in Africa have either already launched pilot projects in this field or are currently exploring the possibilities of doing so in upcoming elections. One example of particular note is Tanzania, where the country's general election is currently scheduled to take place this October. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Tanzania is being urged to not allow the country to be “left behind” in this “digital era,” being encouraged to implement electronic voting machines (EVMs), biometric voter registration (BVM), or a combination thereof. 

This follows in the example of other African countries that have already utilized some form of electronic-based technology as part of their democratic elections. As voter identification and voter verification are of critical importance, regular photo ID cards may not be sufficient to prevent voter fraud. To this end, the Tanzanian government has already decreed that a new biometric voting registration technology will be replacing the old voting system.

Indeed, the registration of voters using BVR is slated to start in February, well in advance of the October polls. Permanent Secretary Dr. Florens Turuka has indicated that the old voter identity cards will no longer be valid and all voters will need to register themselves through the new biometric system in order to qualify for voting in the upcoming general election. The system and technology have already been tested in three constituencies and every registered voter will receive new identification cards from the National Electoral Commission. 

Biometric voter registration and identification have already been used elsewhere in Africa, but some recent examples have been met with technical glitches and limited success. The system used in Kenya, which was co-developed by the Government of Canada and a sub-contractor called Morpho Canada, experienced numerous failures and some say this may have been caused by “massive fraud.” The elections in Ghana were marred with attempts at double registration and the theft of verification machines.

With both of these instances, the problems can likely be linked back to two culprits. First, human error and tampering can be problematic. Second, the systems may not have been properly secured and audited to ensure they would perform as needed for the elections in question. Tanzania needs to learn from the attempts in Kenya and Ghana, ensuring that they only contract respectable vendors with strong track records and that they ensure the proper security measures are in place to protect against those seeking to maliciously influence election results. 

As with Nigeria, Tanzania is still a transitioning nation and it will take time to move the country forward into the digital age for modernizing its democratic process. While it had its share of challenges, the recent elections in Namibia can also serve as a lesson and an example for modernizing elections on the African continent. Namibia was the first country in Africa to use direct-recording electronic voting machines. That is a major milestone. 

The Tanzanian election is only a few short months away. It will likely face many difficulties along the way, but a commitment to biometric voter authentication and the possible exploration into electronic voting machines or electronic counting of ballots represent positive strides in the right direction.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The ongoing push for e-voting in the UK by 2020

The United Kingdom has a long and storied history that is steeped in tradition, but hanging on to the past for tradition and nostalgia's sake alone could potentially be quite harmful for maintaining a modern democracy in the generations to follow. The case has been made again and again that e-voting, Internet voting or some combination thereof should be introduced in the United Kingdom for its elections moving forward. 

This isn't only coming from analysts, pundits and journalists either. A recent report by the House of Commons on the state of UK voter engagement has made the recommendation that pilot projects for electronic voting and online voting should be launched in parliament and that the option for Britons to vote online should be widely available by 2020. That gives legislators and government officials five years to put the system in place and have it ready for the mass public. 

As has been cited before, Internet voting could provide several benefits, one of the most notable of which is to encourage more engagement by young people in politics. Nearly everyone is already on the Internet on a daily or a near-daily basis, but they may not necessarily be as motivated to vote. By offering an online option, they may be more inclined and this will help to improve overall voter turnout while still offering in-person options on Election Day using paper ballots or, better still, direct-recording electronic voting machines (DRE). 

E-voting and i-voting could encourage higher voter turnout particularly among youth voters, many of whom are increasingly disinterested and discouraged by the political world. The simple act of digitizing elections and allow for online voting could make politics relevant for this important demographic once again. Columnist Richard Wood of Here Is The City Politics also cites the cost savings in the reduction of printing paper ballots, as well as well as the reduction of the impact on the environment as a result. 

There are challenges to overcome, to be sure, including maintaining the security and integrity of the vote, but the benefits are numerous as well. Edie Lush of British publication The Week is also a supporter of e-voting and i-voting in the UK. In particular, she outlines how an electronic-based voting system—whether that involves online voting, electronic voting machines, or electronic ballot counting machines—could expedite the election process significantly. 

She uses the recent election in the Philippines as a prime example of this. It once took 40 days before the election results could be reported, but after e-voting was implemented, the full tabulation was completed in a mere 48 hours. She asks why the UK cannot be “as smart as the Philippines” in this regard. Like many others, Lush also cites the glowing example of Estonia with its innovative and trend-setting system of electronic voter verification and online voting. 

It was once said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. The United Kingdom is a great world leader, but if it does not modernize its elections with electronic and online technologies, it could become a relic of the past rather than a glowing prospect of the future.