Monday, February 10, 2014

The role of technology in 2014 elections

Source: Google Images
Democracy will once again be a very powerful force in 2014 with elections directly impacting forty-two percent of the world's population. Citizens in some forty countries around the globe will be heading to the polls to vote in 16 presidential elections, 26 legislative elections and four referendums, exercising their right to choose who governs them. This includes elections in such countries as Costa Rica, Slovakia, Afghanistan, Panama, Colombia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand, as well as the legislative election for the European Union.

While many of these elections will involve traditional pen-and-paper ballots, technology will also continue to play an increasingly important role in the world's democracies.

Indeed, technology can be leveraged to help combat political apathy. One such example is Brazil, a country that has had a long history with e-voting technology and should be continuing with that tradition in its presidential and legislative election in October. Further to this end, government-sanctioned “hackathons” are being organized wherein computer programmers and software developers can get together to collaborate on how to improve public services and communities. The use of openly available public data facilitates greater transparency and better voter engagement, above and beyond the ease of access that e-voting can provide.

Switzerland has several “popular initiatives” in February, including ones related a rail network, health coverage and mass immigration. To best capture the will of the people in the most efficient manner possible, Switzerland is set to use Internet voting as its primary vehicle. Indeed, 90% of Swiss voters cast their ballot online. This has been very effective in increasing accessibility.

Indonesia's third direct presidential election is scheduled for July 9 and it will elect a new president for a five-year term. Incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is barred from seeking a third term. Indonesia has been working on increasing automation in its elections and a new e-voting system should be implemented in this year's elections. The system will be based on electronic identity cards (e-KTP) issued to eligible voters. They have already been distributed in the districts of Padang, Denpasar, Jembrana, Yogyakarta, Cilegon and Makassar. This includes the populous areas of Bali, Java and West Sumatra.

If the 2012 provincial and municipal elections are any indication, the May 2014 Belgian federal election could also involve e-voting technology. Over 17,000 voting machines were used by three million voters in 155 cities in 2012. Belgium has committed to a contract with Smartmatic to automate its elections until at least 2026.

Leading up to the European Parliamentary election in May, a website was erected that allows Europeans to “decide who YOU want to vote for.” Dubbed Debating Europe, the website focuses on Vote 2014, the “first ever pan-European online e-vote.” The voting here is based on political ideologies and the result can “act as a high-profile barometer of voting intentions.” Some of the 28 member states of the EU may also implement varying forms of automation and e-voting technology.

The United States will be holding its midterm elections in the early part of November. As has been the case in the past, the American elections will be incredibly complex. Many different mechanisms can and will be used, as the decisions are made by the local authorities in each state. Some will use traditional paper ballots marked by each voter, but these ballots may be tabulated by a machine rather than by a human volunteer. Other states may use direct-recording electronic voting machines (DRE), some with a voter verifiable paper trail and others without.  

This year will be a busy one for voters and governments all around the world, from Central America to the European Union, the nations of Africa to elections in Southeast Asia. Following the examples set in countries like Belgium, Estonia and the Philippines, electronic voting technology will continue to gain in popularity and adoption for all the world's elections.