Thursday, December 26, 2013

Remote voting growing in the Philippines and Australia

Source: Google images
Voting technology can offer a number of potential benefits over a traditional, paper-based election: it can be used by voters to cast their ballots, and can also to expedite the vote counting process so the results of the election can be reported faster and with a greater level of accuracy. Remote voting is another area where e-voting shows a great advantage since it allows the inclusion of the electorate that has migrated from its nation or is located in hard to reach zones.

When a citizen lives in a major city, he or she is usually in relatively close proximity to the voting place for municipal, district or national elections, but this may not be the case for residents who live in rural areas. Absentee ballots are one way to handle this, but when it comes to overseas citizens, there are other challenges to overcome. E-voting technology can help to address some of these issues surrounding remote voting.

A great demonstration of the technology was recently witnessed in the 2013 midterm elections in the Philippines. In a mere ten hours, over 766 million votes were cast in the Philippines to elect over 18,000 local and national officials. Of these, several thousand citizens were able to participate in the May elections remotely from the different precincts, facilitated by the use of electronic voting technology.

The Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) recently won the Accessibility Award at the International Electoral Awards in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The International Centre for Parliamentary Studies (ICPS) recognized Comelec's efforts in making the election as accessible as possible to a range of voters, including those with disabilities. They were particularly impressed with how the election handled overseas absentee voters with the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines deployed in major international locations, like Hong Kong and Singapore, where there are large concentrations of Filipino workers.

With the aid of electronic voting technology, remote ballots can be more easily cast and counted more quickly than ever before.

Elections in Australia, where there can be substantial segments of the population that live in more remote and rural areas, are moving in a similar direction. The government of New South Wales (NSW) is investing $3.6 million on iVote, the voting system it will be using for the 2015 state general election. This is an expansion on the system that was already used in the 2011 general election, utilized by over 46,800 voters representing approximately one percent of all ballots cast. This number is expected to increase to 100,000 in 2015.

One of the advantages to the growth of iVote relates to accessibility for remote votes to be cast by citizens who live more than 20 kilometres away from a polling booth, including those away from the state on the day of the election. “Postal voting is becoming increasingly problematic as an effective channel for remote voters,” said the NSW Electoral Commission in an official statement. “It can be expected that in the not too distant future, reduced postal service delivery schedules will challenge the feasibility of completing postal vote application, ballot distribution and return within election timetables to the point where, for many electors, postal voting ceases to be a viable voting channel.”

The iVote system will also allow citizens with vision or physical impairments to more easily cast their votes over the phone or via a computer, rather than having to make the physical journey to a voting place or completing an absentee ballot through the mail.