Monday, August 26, 2013

E-voting saves elections thousands of dollars

Any sort of government or public expenditure is going to be met with a significant challenge. On the one hand, the expenditure has to adequately address a public need of some sort. This could be the construction of a new bridge, providing commuters with a faster and more direct way to get across the city. On the other hand, government funds are anything but unlimited and, thus, the cost of any project must be kept under control. This kind of balance must also be considered when it comes to any referendum or election, in addition to concerns about accessibility, fairness, participation and security.

One of the many potential benefits of changing from a more traditional paper-based ballot to an election that uses e-voting technology is that the latter can save the government a significant amount of money. There are some initial costs involved in purchasing the e-voting equipment and there are costs in maintaining them, but taken as a whole, e-voting is more cost-effective than its pure paper-based counterpart. This cost savings has been demonstrated in many places around the world.

For example, an election was recently conducted by the Irish Medical Council (IMC) and it was outsourced to Electoral Reform Services of the United Kingdom. The final figures are still being calculated, but a spokesperson for the IMC has stated that this election saved the Council approximately €10,000 (over $13,000 US). This savings was secured in the costs that would have otherwise been involved with the printing of paper ballots and the associated postage for mailing them out.

In addition to the cost savings involved in printing and postage, the IMC spokesperson said that the Council also saved money compared to its previous election in 2008 because that election involved "significant staff resourcing" to count all the ballots. With the e-voting technology in place, the counting of the ballots was far more efficient, expedient and cost-effective. There are staffing costs that must be considered for sorting ballots, counting ballots, and other administrative duties. If the paper ballots had to be mailed out, that would be another area in terms of cost for staffing that is saved because of e-voting technology. There are many hidden costs to manual elections.

Even in the relatively small town of Cobourg, located a little over one hour away from Toronto in Canada, significant cost savings were enjoyed in its 2010 municipal election. This election was completely paperless, allowing voters to cast their ballots either online or via telephone. For voters who did not have access to a phone or the Internet, e-voting booths were set up at two polling places in the town.

The total cost of holding the 2010 election was $52,460. By contrast, the election in 2006, which used paper ballots, cost the town almost $90,000. What this means is that by switching to e-voting, the town of Cobourg saved well over $35,000. A similar calculation was done for the town of Meaford--also in Ontario, Canada--and the projected savings were $25,000. These are two relatively small towns in Canada, so it is possible to see how these savings could be further amplified in large cities.

E-voting is certainly not without its share of challenges, but examples like those seen in Ireland and Canada clearly illustrate that e-voting can provide significant cost savings for jurisdictions that are willing to switch to automated elections.