Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Opinions of World Leaders on E-Voting

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
applauds the electronic voting system used in the nation. 
Electronic voting systems can take on many forms. Some may be completely digital in nature, whereas others may have more paper documentation in place for the purposes of record-keeping and audit trails. Whatever the case, the endorsement of powerful world leaders is positively necessary if e-voting is to be more widely adopted and used around the globe. The question is how current politicians and heads of state currently feel about the types of technology available.

An interesting example of this happened during the 1997 presidential elections in France. The country had a long history of having a traditionally low-tech approach to voting. France also had a long history of great transparency and accountability, with many ballot boxes typically being transparent so that the sealed envelopes containing the votes could be clearly seen by everyone. Every step of the process is observed and supervised.

The party that eventually won the election was UMP (Union pour un Movement Populaire), led by Nicolas Sarkozy. Since he oversaw the Ministry of the Interior for a number of years, the same Ministry responsible for approving the use of e-voting machines, we can extrapolate that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely in favor of e-voting in general.

Support in Venezuela is similarly strong. Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center says that Venezuelans "can be assured that the voting machines really reflect the voter's intention." In like matter, an EU Mission Final Report in 2005 revealed that the system developed in Venezuela "is probably the most advanced system in the world to date." The 2006 report echoes this sentiment: "The electronic voting system established in Venezuela is efficient, secure and auditable, and the competence of the technical experts is in line with its advanced technological level."

United States President Barack Obama is quoted as saying that the 2010 Philippine elections -- which used advanced electronic voting methods -- were "a model of transparency and positive testament to the strength and vitality of democracy." Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo applauds the electronic voting system used by the nation, saying it "was a great leap forward for ensuring a smooth and protected vote. It was a fulfillment of the automation that we push for from the start."

Similarly, Alistair MacDonald, EU Ambassador to the Philippines, was "impressed by the manner in which this first nation-wide automated election was conducted. Voters seemed generally comfortable with this new system, turn-out was high, and the automation process seemed to work well."

"The automation of the 2010 national elections," said Comelec Chairman Jose Melo, "signals the beginning of a massive transformational phase in the electoral system of the Philippines." Eric Alvia, Secretary General of National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections agrees: "We have moved forward. It's a step in the right direction."

Back in the United States, many jurisdictions that have used e-voting have been pleased with the results. One such example is in Chicago in 2006. Langdon D. Neal, Chairman Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and David Orr, Cook County Clerk from Chicago have said that "the feedback from the polling places was that voters liked the new [electronic system]. Unlike punch-card voting of the past few decades, there was no confusion over which numbers to punch, nor were there any infamous hanging chads."

The issue of electronic voting, in all its various forms, is really no different than any other political issue. World leaders have differing opinions on the technology, voicing their concerns on both sides of the debate. Given the continuing advances in computer security and encryption, particularly in the handling of sensitive data like banking and government records, the more widespread adoption of e-voting appears imminent. Moving forward and moving more into the digital age, this issue will become increasingly important.