Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Manual Voting Absurdities Around the World

Picture: Wagner T. Cassimiro "Aranha" 
The processes supporting democracy are no laughing matter. Elections of all sizes have a great deal of importance for the areas they cover, but this doesn't mean that there are not laughable absurdities when it comes to the world of politics. More specifically, there have been many absurd situations over the years regarding manual voting.

For instance, consider the cost of printing out all those paper ballots. In the 2007 Presidential elections in Argentina, over 27 million voting cards were produced. At a cost of 0.09 Argentine pesos each, that amounted to nearly US $600,000, an expense that could have been greatly reduced using an e-voting system. Furthermore, the paper ballots weighed some 270 tons per each presidential candidate!

In Europe, the referendum on the European Union (EU) Constitution involved printing 1.4 billion ballots, weighing some 2,800 tons of paper. This cost six million Euros, without even considering the huge environmental impact on the deforestation that our planet is suffering.

Environmental and economic impact

The concern here isn't just for the amount of paper used in the printing process, but also about their delivery and storage costs. Let us remember that used ballots are typically stored away in archives for years!

Transporting all this paper involves many trucks, often traveling across long distances. This means more traffic, less mobility and let’s not forget additional costs related with the ever increasing fuel prices. This again is something that could be greatly reduced with e-voting.

Voter cards aren't necessarily small pieces of paper either! In the 2008 elections in Spain, ballots for the Senate measured 61 x 30 cm each. This meant approximately two feet times one foot, or the equivalent of nearly four sheets of standard A4 paper!

In the 2006 elections in India, over 8,000 tons of paper were used to print ballots. When you also consider the various forms and worksheets involved in such an election, an estimated 10,000 tons of paper could have been saved using electronic voting machines instead. That's a lot of paper! Consider that the average tree takes three to five years to grow large enough to be cut and processed into paper.

Besides paper, the amount of ink used in paper ballots is equally daunting. In the 2005 elections in Afghanistan, an unfathomable 7,000 liters of ink from 140,000 bottles were used to print ballot cards in the UK, Austria and Germany, and transported to remote areas in Afghanistan via donkey, horse, and helicopter.

Considering Human Error and Influence

Manual voting can easily lend itself to fraud. The 2006 election in Mexico saw the printing of over 220 million ballots, weighing around 1,352 tons, but those ballots may not have been counted accurately. According to the current law in the Mexican Union, each polling station is operated by randomly selected citizens in the related districts. They were given some training, but considering that Felipe Calderon defeated Lopez Obrador by a margin of just 0.58%, the smallest of errors could have swung the election in any direction. Indeed, there were inconsistencies between the numbers of hand-counted ballots and computer records. This cast reasonable doubt that the outcome of the election may not have been correct.

Counting ballots by hand following the 2004 election in the Philippines raised similar concerns for fraud. Manual counting not only takes a very long time; it can also be prone to human error or lend itself to suspicious human mistakes. Once again, a properly designed e-voting system can significantly reduce uncertainty and make fraudulent behavior much less likely.

More Reasons for E-Voting Systems

Manual voting can waste a lot of paper and have a significant negative impact on the environment, as well as being extremely time and labor-intensive. The ludicrous facts described here are but small samples of the awkwardness and obsolescence of manual voting.