Tuesday, January 15, 2013

E-voting will attest its value again in 2013

Image: Everystockphoto

Guiding the world through the path of automation is no easy task. Some countries have yet to learn some hard lessons with the use of archaic manual methods. In order for the nations to finally modernize their electoral systems, they need proof that e-voting is really the way to go. Last year we saw some impressive models of the effectiveness of voting technology —and the ineptitude of manual voting—, which should be enough to convince anybody of the need for electoral automation. However, it doesn’t stop there. Here are some of the aspects where e-voting will confirm its worth once again in 2013.

Elections like the ones we saw last year in Russia, Ghana and Zimbabwe exposed the frailty of manual voting methods. With paper ballots, voters cannot be sure that their preference will be reflected in the results of the polls. Zimbabwe has a second chance to carry out a transparent electoral event now that it will be holding presidential elections this year, but since these will be carried out with manual methods, we might as well be expecting the same dreaded results that came out from last year’s internal referendum, if not worse. The recurrence of crimes such as ballot stuffing and identity theft breaks people’s trust in their electoral institutions. E-voting eliminates these problems easily. 

Elections need their results to be released to the public immediately after the closure of polling stations. The longer the announcement of final outcomes is delayed, the more the voters are prone to suspect their fairness. The chaos that took over the elections in Honduras should serve as a cautionary tale for other countries, as the final numbers for their November 18 primary elections were not known yet by the end of that month. This failure to deliver results on time could be immediately linked with corruption, which is unacceptable. Electoral technology does not allow for these inexplicable lags, as final results can be made public a few hours after closing the election. 

Bringing back the Russian example, it is incredibly easy to breach security in manual elections. The implementation of transparent ballot boxes and more than 180,000 security web cameras did nothing to prevent the blatant occurrence of carousel voting and ballot stuffing during the March 2012 presidential elections. It becomes obvious then that any effort to eradicate electoral corruption paired with the use of manual methods is destined to fail.

When it comes to set an example about how audits can guarantee transparency to an electoral process, no country comes better than Venezuela. During last year’s Presidential election more than 16 audits certified the correct performance of the system before and after the election: from the voting machines, electronic ballots, and the biometric voter authentication system, to the transmission and totalization of the results. 

For a voting system, accuracy is essential during the phases of voting, counting and transmission of results, so that the intention of every voter is respected and taken into account. Last year, Mongolians had the chance to employ an e-voting system that promised to be fast and reliable. However, the use of the Precinct-Count Optical Scanners (PCOS) developed by Dominion registered major inconsistencies between the electronic results in some precincts and the audits carried throughout, casting doubts about the credibility of the results.

2013 brings a new set of chances for electronic voting to attest its superiority over the dated and even dangerous manual voting methods. We hope to see more nations choose to successfully automate their elections in order to preserve the reliability, speed, accuracy, auditability and security of their electoral events.