Monday, May 7, 2012

Basic criteria for choosing voting technology

Throughout the history of elections, a plethora of technologies have been used to register the will of voters. Pencil and paper, lever machines, punch cards, optical scanners, touch screen voting machines, internet voting, are some of the alternatives electoral authorities have at their disposal to identify the people's chosen representatives and to tally their expressed preferences.

With all these options in hand, and the single most important act of democracy at stake, the process of selecting the appropriate alternative to implement becomes crucial.

Electoral authorities need to consider the following five basic principles in order to make a wise and well-informed decision:

1. Accessibility: The voting process should enfranchise all eligible voters and be operated and maintained without the assistance of any specialist. It must be easy to use, and allow people with special needs or disabilities exercise their right to vote.

A voting system must also comply with the accessibility requirements of authorities and operators. The whole voting procedure should be designed as to allow any citizen, once given a minimal training, to operate it and to guide voters.

2. Security: A reliable voting system cannot allow any vote tampering. The different features comprising it should constitute a bulletproof architecture guaranteeing that the voter’s choice remains unchanged. It has to be resistant to malicious or unintentional errors.

Also, a secure system must guarantee total secrecy. A secret ballot is essential to ensure voter autonomy and also avoid vote buying. 

3. Transparency: A voting technology will be transparent as long as it is understandable, verifiable, and accountable to the electorate. Its openness to audits, before, during and after the election will greatly enhance the perceived transparency of the system. 

If citizens are to abide by election outcomes and the laws created by an elected government, they must believe that the voting system reflects their preferences. 

4. Accuracy: Every vote must be counted equally. That is a universal mandate of any modern constitution. An accurate technology should truthfully capture, record and count the voter’s intent.

5. Cost-efficiency: The financial aspect of the different voting technologies must be carefully reviewed as their nature is quite dissimilar. A thorough cost analysis should include not only the initial investment, but also, other associated expenses such as: labor, transportation, guarding, and storage. In order to grasp an all-encompassing view of the economic implications of using each technology, the analysis must include several elections cycles.

The principles mentioned above constitute the basic criteria to start the challenging process of choosing the most appropriate technology for the cornerstone of any modern democracy, elections.