Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Philippines 2016 general elections: a plan for automation

Preparing for a major general election is a long and complicated process that can involve many moving pieces. This is all in addition to all the campaigning and debates in which the various candidates may participate. A growing number of democracies around the world are utilizing electronic voting technology in some form and another. One of the best examples to emerge from the Asia Pacific (APAC) region is the Philippines, a country that will be holding its national and local elections in May 2016.

The people of the Philippines will be heading to the polls in less than a year and the electoral commission for the country still has a great deal of preparation and planning ahead of it. Most notably, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is currently accepting and reviewing bids for the machines to be used in the vote counting process. Comelec for the Republic of the Philippines is still keeping its options open, choosing whether next year's presidential election will be fully automated, partially automated, or if it will use a more traditional manual method.

The Republic of the Philippines is hardly a stranger to electronic voting technology, having already utilized the technology in 2010 and 2013. Indeed, the country was applauded  for “putting technology to new and better use.”  Given the tremendous success in both elections, it can be safely assumed that the country will continue its development and adoption of e-voting technology for the 2016 general elections.

While a bid put forth by Smartmatic and Total Information Management was initially disqualified due to a failure to submit valid Articles of Incorporation, that ban has since been overturned and the bid to provide some 23,000 new vote-counting machines can and will be suitably considered. As Comelec is still considering a hybrid solution for the 2016 election, the requirement for the new machines is still up to debate and may be changed. The machines in this case will use the aforementioned OMR technology, the same as was used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

The Philippines is a nation with a democratic conviction and the upcoming general elections will once again demonstrate why the country continues to be a shining example of how e-voting can be best implemented in the Asia Pacific region. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hillary Clinton's voting reform calls for automated registration

Leading up to the 2016 Presidential elections in the United States, Americans have many questions that are yet to be answered. Who will be the Republican nominee? Who will be the nominee for the Democrats? What will the voter registration and the actual voting process be like in each of the individual jurisdictions across the country?

Some people are saying that Jeb Bush could gain the nomination to run under the Republican Party banner, while former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will get the nod from the Democratic Party. None of this has been officially decided yet, but that hasn't stopped Clinton from leaping onto the political stage with a few bold statements.

In early June of this year, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech in Texas calling for voting law reform in the United States. While the potential presidential candidate touched on several different points in her talk, the one that is getting the most attention is the call for all Americans to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 years of age.

This would represent a major effort to encourage voter turnout among the American electorate. While it may be true that this represents just a political gambit on the part of Clinton in an effort to get votes, debating the notion of automatic and universal voter registration is a conversation that holds merit. Indeed, this could add as many as 50 million Americans to the voter rolls.

It is practically impossible for this voter reform to take place before the elections in November 2016, but the wheels could be put in motion for the mid-term elections of 2018 or possibly the next Presidential election in 2020.

The point of automatic and universal voter registration – ideally using an online or electronic voter registration system that is faster, more accurate and more efficient than manually completing and submitting a paper form – is inclusion, particularly improving access among the impoverished and the disenfranchised. By making it easier to vote and by addressing issues of voter registration, voter turnout in America would presumably improve too. And improved voter turnout makes for a better and more representative democracy.

Another reform that Hillary Clinton suggests is to extend the voting period to 20 days, providing easier access and better convenience for voters to exercise their right to franchise. This could help to reduce or even eliminate some of the remarkably long lines that have plagued previous election days, but it may or may not be effective in raising voter turnout.

Michael Waldman of Politico.com says that the current “ramshackle voter registration system” in the United States “disenfranchises more people by accident than even the harshest new laws do on purpose.” A new system of automatic and electronic voter registration would practically eliminate the “piles of paper records” that plague the current system, minimizing typos and keeping voter rolls more up to date.

If the nation moves to hold more conversations regarding automatic voter registration and how it can improve voter turnout, then the American democracy could be moving in the right direction.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The burgeoning growth of online voter registration in the United States

Electronic voting technology can be implemented along nearly every step along the democratic process, empowering citizens to exercise their right to vote in the most convenient, most secure and most efficient manner possible. There are direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, for instance, that offer many profound benefits over traditional paper ballots. There are machines for recording, counting and tabulating the ballots to provide the results as quickly and as accurately as possible.

But even before a voter can make his mark on the ballot, digital or otherwise, he must first be properly identified, authenticated and registered to vote. In the United States, online voter registration is quickly rising in popularity across many of the states, making the democratic process more relevant and more approachable particularly for younger demographics. The growth has been pronounced and it has been rapid.

As recently as 2008, online voter registration was only available in Arizona and Washington State, providing this access to just 4 percent of all eligible voters across the country. Just six years later in 2014, these figures skyrocketed to the point where a total of 20 states were offering online voter registration to its residents, accounting for nearly half of all eligible voters in the United States. These include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon and more. It is also being used in the District of Columbia.

The growth is continuing in more states too as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska and West Virginia are all already working on implementing online systems of their own for the purposes of voter registration. More recently, just last month, Florida Governor Rick Scott approved the use of online voter registration in the Sunshine State. The motion received “overwhelming bipartisan support.” Six other states have also approved similar legislation for the development of online voter registration systems. In Florida's case, the mandate calls for its implementation by October 2017.

In its review of online voter registration systems in the United States, the Pew Charitable Trusts found that online registration was more cost-effective than traditional paper registration, it provided for more accurate voter rolls, it was more secure, and it was more convenient for voters to register too. The United States Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration similarly supports the use of online voter registration. It's no wonder that it has strong support in many of the remaining states without such a system, like New Jersey. Other states, like South Dakota, have less enthusiastic.

The bigger push toward online voter registration in the United States is both mirrored and further demonstrated in other countries around the world as well. A prime example of this is the recent general election in the United Kingdom. The overwhelming majority of voters in this election chose to register via digital means rather than through paper forms. 

This was more clearly demonstrated on the biggest registration day, April 19, when nearly 470,000 people registered to vote electronically compared to just under 16,000 chose to do so with paper forms. All said, 7.1 million people in the United Kingdom used the online voter registration system since its original introduction last summer. Just 2.1 million people used postal registration over the same period of time.

Even as the popularity and deployment of electronic voting machines continue to expand throughout the world, it is important to recognize the need to update the entirety of the democratic process. The ongoing rise of online voter registration in the United States demonstrates promise and gives hope.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Learning about the Du-Vote internet voting system

Proponents of Internet-based voting systems for official government elections continue to gain support in countries all around the world. Considering that so much of our daily lives is conducted online, including online banking and secure business transactions, it only makes sense that many voters would want to have the same level of convenience and security when exercising their democratic right to vote.

When voting in person at an official polling station, voters are typically asked to authenticate their identity in some form. They are also checked against the official electoral roll of registered voters. Since this involves some necessary interaction with an election official, the public perception is that this kind of voter identification is more safe and secure. By contrast, a person who uses Internet voting can cast his or her ballot from the privacy and convenience of the home, workplace, or even from a mobile device. Who is there to verify the identity of the voter?

While the I-voting system of Estonia continues to lead the way with its infrastructure of validated citizen identification cards, a different system is being developed by researchers from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. This system, dubbed Du-Vote, borrows much of its inspiration from the secure infrastructure and controls used by online banking.

One of the major concerns cited by critics and detractors of Internet voting is that election officials have no real way of validating the hardware on which the voter casts his or her ballot. This is stark contrast to the level of control an electoral commission would have over the development, deployment and use of electronic voting machines at traditional polling places. The machines belong to (or are being rented by) the electoral officials. With Internet voting, the citizen casts his or her ballot from a personal device, like a computer, tablet or possibly even a smartphone.

The Du-Vote system overcomes this concern by using independent hardware devices that are then connected to the end user's computer. Lead researcher Professor Mark Ryan explains that the system uses a “credit card-sized device similar to those used in online banking... you receive a code on the device and type it back into the computer.”

How is this advantageous? The credit card-sized device is fully controlled and vetted by election officials. It is made to be as secure, private and confidential as possible, just like with online banking. The security device is independent, so even if the home or work computer of the voter has been compromised with viruses and other security threats, the legitimacy and integrity of the security device is maintained. And because the security device is so much more specific in its purpose, it is far less susceptible to being compromised.

Many people may be concerned about the security of Internet-based voting and these issues are clearly worthy of debate. Even so, online voting could have the somewhat paradoxical effect of better securing elections than their more traditional paradigms and, at the same time, it could help to encourage greater voter turnout too.

The Du-Vote system has only been under development for two-and-a-half years and the researchers say they need further testing before the system can be suitably deployed. Current estimates are that it may be ready in time for the 2025 general election in the United Kingdom. That's in line with the more optimistic view of SRI International senior computer scientist Jeremy Epstein. He states that secure e-voting is at least 10 years away, but his more conservative estimate is more like 20 to 30 years. He calls for two-factor authentication, for instance, among other concerns.

More on the Du-Vote system will be presented next month at the 28th IEEE Computer Security Foundations Symposium in Verona, Italy.