Monday, March 11, 2013

The implementation of e-voting in Israel: the need for openness in the process of election automation

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Israel, a country known for its fast and continuous development of technology, had the chance to implement e-voting as early as 2008. However, in spite of general approval from the political class, this did not happen, and today the country is still stuck with an outdated voting model. Why? Israel is an example of the risks a country runs when its electoral modernization process is not transparent and open to the people.

In 2008, the Israeli Ministry of Interior published a law proposal for the implementation of electronic voting in upcoming electoral events after a successful trial in parallel to a 2007 local election. Nevertheless, this proposal posed two problems: first, there was no public discussion on the matter, and everything was done behind closed doors; second, the voting machines the country wanted to use did not emit vote receipts, which made the electorate suspicious of its inauditability. 

It is worth noting that people in Israel were open to the possibility of modernizing their electoral exercises. After the positive outcome of the 2007 pilot test, the government assigned TEHILA (a subdivision of Israel’s Ministry of Finance) the task of developing the country’s new electronic voting platform. However, aside from not giving the citizens a proper chance to follow the system’s development process and keeping it in the shadows, the organism completely disregarded the experts’ recommendations to include printed vote receipts to increase the auditability of the electoral exercise under the new method.

Furthermore, TEHILA’s technology was proved to be vulnerable to attacks, and the lack of means for physical auditability only underscored its unreliability. In the end, after protests from the citizens straining the importance of openness in the implementation process, and most importantly, of adopting e-voting only with a highly auditable platform, the e-voting initiative was called off. All the effort was squandered thanks to TEHILA’s stubbornness, and Israel had to go back to manual voting.

Still, hope is not lost yet. On occasion of this year’s presidential election, the Green Party of Israel made a new call for the abolition of paper ballots and the automation of the Israeli electoral system. The party proposes the use of DRE machines, with touchscreens and verifiable vote receipts printed on paper. If Israel learns the lesson from its past blunder, a truly reliable electoral modernization process could be on its way.