Tuesday, September 4, 2012

ID at the Polling Station

As the world moves towards greater levels of efficiency and transparency in election administration, electoral authorities have had to work with legislative bodies to accommodate the necessary reforms of legal frameworks to make those improvements possible. Such is the case of countries like the Philippines, Belgium, Mongolia, Estonia, Switzerland, which have introduced important technological solutions to their election systems lately.

Surprisingly, the United States of America, a nation which has been an inspiration to democracies around the world is still tangled in a political debate that is hindering progress on a much needed election administration transparency. The lack of a non-partisan centralized institution managing elections is hurting the nation’s ability to conduct fair and transparent electoral processes.

The voter ID requirement is a clear example of the faulty electoral system the US has and the problem of partisan election bodies represent. For decades, the country has struggled to strike a balance point between voter enfranchisement and election transparency, between access and integrity. The core of the controversy lies behind the tendency among Republicans to consider that requiring ID to citizens at the polling station before voting is a valid measure to prevent voter impersonation and increase voter confidence, while, on the other hand, many Democrats believe the measure is a political strategy to disenfranchise eligible voters and a form of vote suppression of the minorities, which “coincidentally” vote democrat.

For the last couple of decades, many Republican senators, congressmen and governors, have claimed that electoral fraud has occurred persistently in many US counties. However, they have failed to compile irrefutable evidence of such fraud accusations. Democrats believe fraud, although existing, is non-relevant and that the voter identification laws which Republicans favor will do more harm than good as they will not deter significant amounts of fraud.

In this regard, the United States of America, could very well look up to Venezuela, a country which has a central authority assuming the responsibility of granting everyone the right to vote (more than 90% of eligible voters are registered). Moreover, the South American country will become the first nation in the world activating the voting session by means of a biometric identification device. Venezuela will soon be able to guarantee the one voter one vote principle.

As a curious note, Venezuela and the United States will be holding Presidential elections only a month apart (October and November) between an incumbent president and a contesting candidate. However, the state-of-the-art solution (developed by Smartmatic) Venezuela will be using to authenticate voters is radically different from the authentication procedures used in the US.