Thursday, November 1, 2012

Electronic voting makes a grand return to Europe

Two men walk by election campaign posters in Antwerp, Belgium
Photo AP
During the 90's, the first wave of electronic voting spread around the world with Belgium as one of the nations in the forefront of a nascent industry. Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Netherlands, are some of the countries that, along with Belgium, adopted the technological solutions available to automatically capture the vote and total the results in elections during those years.

As in the case of many immature industries, unfit providers with faulty technology inundated the market offering poor results. In consequence, a strong animosity towards e-voting grew, and small yet vociferous “electoral transparency” advocates veered the public opinion towards manual voting. Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands went back to caves.

Fortunately, Belgium persisted, and despite the obstacles and challenges, succeeded nurturing a relationship with a reliable provider that developed and deployed a tailored solution to effectively automate most steps in the electoral cycle. According to the results of the most recent electoral process carried on October 14, technology provider and operator Smartmatic, managed to deploy an electronic voting system in 151 communes in the Flanders and Brussels-Capital regions. This comprises approximately 51% of the electorate.

Even though lanes formed in some precincts, a rarity in this highly developed nation, most of the inconveniences found had to do with lack of preparation of poll workers and personnel directly controlling and supervising the technology. According to the Minister of Administrative Affairs Geert Bourgeois, most of the errors resulted from the incorrect use of the machines.

The voting platform included technological solutions spanning across several phases of the election cycle. Election management, which expands beyond Election Day and includes activities such as nomination documents of the candidates and the publication of results, was automated. Through the use of different software solutions, publication of the results to the media and on the election website  was possible.

In 2006, 143 municipalities voted digitally in the regions of Flanders and Brussels-Capital. This time around, those same communities, plus Aalst, Bruges, Grimbergen, Halle, Knokke-Heist, Kortrijk, Ostend and Roeselare did so with the new voting system.

In the near future, we will probably see a broader use of the acquired technology across the regions comprising this European nation. If this expansion is followed by proper training of poll worker officials, Belgium will probably retake a leading role in the automation of voting and e-voting will have managed to make a grand return to Europe.