Friday, October 21, 2011

What guarantees should a next-generation automated voting system provide?

For all democratic societies, voting is the perfect vehicle for the expression of individual will and respect for freedom. From raising a hand showing approval or rejection, to writing on a piece of paper or marking preferences on a touch screen, the goal is always the same: to give human beings the opportunity to choose with free will.

It is of utmost importance to encourage massive participation in electoral processes for modern and pluralistic societies to evolve. One way to achieve participation is through the improvement and automation of electoral systems. Systems that provide guarantees to the civil society as well as security and reliability and at the same time represent a sign of positive development and investment for the states and their authorities.

According to Eduardo Correia, Smartmatic Vice President of Electoral Unit Solutions, there are nine key criteria that must be met in a next-generation automated voting system: accuracy, transparency, accountability, speed, flexibility, strength, equality, anonymity and scope.

The system's ability to faithfully reflect the voters will. This implies that no vote can be altered, that valid votes will not be eliminated or that no invalid votes are accounted as valid, and that the sum of the votes matches the number of voters. Accurate systems do not admit any faults, and in the case there are any, the system must ensure they are immediately detected and corrected. Accuracy is essential in a voting system, especially during the act of voting, vote tallying, transmission and proclamation of results, so each voter’s intention is respected and counted.

The system ability to generate a persistent and unchanging trace for all actions executed by both the voting machine and the central system. In order to avoid any discrepancy in the results and provide better security, automated voting systems should record the vote in at least seven instances: the physical ballot printed on special paper with watermarks and security ink, the fixed memory (internal) in each machine, the removable memory, the tally record from the polling station, the vote transmitted to the tallying centers, the electronic count transmitted to the tallying centers, and finally the printed precinct count.


The system ability to ensure that each actor in the electoral process (including intangibles such as software programs and operating systems) perform their duties and that no one can replace or usurp their roles.

The system ability of execute all actions in the shortest time possible, avoiding delays. An automated voting system favors a faster installation of polling stations, - requires less physical material handling and less personnel per polling center-, unlike manual elections where many people must monitor each stage, guard the electoral materials, help voters, and ensure that the electoral kits remains in their assigned spaces. Furthermore, an automated vote powered with an optimal design of the electoral process leads to less time waiting and faster speed during the act of voting, faster preliminary tallies, faster tabulation of results, as well as in the transmission and proclamation of results.


The system ability to adapt and allow changes during advanced stages of the process, while ensuring its full integrity. An automated voting system should be able to detect accidental errors in installed programs (access to unauthorized users, tampering of files, etc.). This can be achieved by appropriate programming methodologies, strict testing methodologies, installation of physical security devices, and periodical revision of programs. A well-designed automated voting system can detect the misuse of programs by authorized officials - for example, influenced by political interests-, which can be detected through a combination of physical access cards and passwords, and logging any changes performed by each user. A high-security election system can prevent any interception, modification or tampering of confidential electronic transmissions. This is achieved through the use of advanced cryptographic algorithms, firewalls and other security technological procedures during data storage and transmission.


The ability of the system to guarantee its own integrity and operability, as well as providing simple backup and recovery mechanisms. An automated voting system has several applications for managing the election; from tools to automatically generate all instruments that will be required on Election Day (ballots, for example) to a real-time monitoring platform, to oversee all the incidents that occur during Election Day. In the unlikely event of a machine malfunction, voting can be resumed quickly and securely using a certified replacement unit.


The system ability to allow the electoral actors to perform their actions without discrimination. Automated voting systems ease up the voting process for people with disabilities, and make more accessible elections without impacting costs, from the use of devices for people with disabilities, programming options for multiple languages ​​or dialects, to special functions that alert the voter of an error or problem with his/her vote.


The system ability to guarantee the secrecy of the vote. Votes are placed in random order into the voting machine's storage, protecting the secrecy of the vote and guaranteeing the anonymity of the voter, as there is no way to correlate the order of arrival of the voters to the arrangement of the resulting vote records.


The system ability to be mobilized to any location regardless of geographical or physical limitations while preserving its integrity and operability. The use of technology during electoral processes will allow not only taking a step towards more safety and reliability, but also will involve a significant technological advance for societies and a role model to follow in the global context. Regardless of the heterogeneity of its population, population density, geographic dispersion, and the level of development of a country, an automated voting system has the virtue and ability to reach everyone, encouraging inclusion and participation.