Friday, March 27, 2015

New Mexico may introduce biometric voter authentication

It doesn't matter how well an election appears to be run or how smoothly the voting process goes for each constituent if the voting public cannot have a great deal of confidence that the integrity of the election and its results are suitably upheld. This includes the security and confidentiality of each individual ballot, to be sure, and it also includes the importance of eliminating voter fraud and ensuring that each person voting is adequately authenticated and verified.

There are many people who have spoken about the perceived voter fraud throughout the United States and various measures have been taken by the individual states to overcome this concern. However, some of these efforts have been perceived as unilaterally impacting disenfranchised citizens or individuals of a particular demographic that may be more inclined to vote for one political party than another.

The voter registration and proof of citizenship requirements in Arizona are one such example of this and it has become an incredibly contentious issue for everyone involved. Such laws, according to many Democrats, make voting more difficult for demographics that are more likely to support Democrats, including the Hispanic and Latino community.

To counteract this, a Republican Senator William Payne is proposing that biometric voter identification technology be implemented in the state of New Mexico. In his proposal, Payne says that he hopes to “put to rest the criticism that voters cannot afford to produce reliable photo identification when they vote.”

While the proposal is certainly still in its early stages and is decidedly up for debate, Payne offered the example of using everyday devices like a regular consumer smartphone as a method of identifying a voter using biometric data. “This is already commercially available,” he stated, “and it has nothing to do with the technical literacy of the person.”

That statement may be questionable and securing the legitimacy and security of a smartphone may be an incredible challenge, but the concept of utilizing existing technology for the purposes of voter authentication need to be explored. Smartphones like the Galaxy S5 from Samsung and the iPhone 6 from Apple have fingerprint readers on them. Using an off-the-shelf solution like these biometric fingerprint readers is far more cost-effective and far more of a proven system than if governments were to develop a brand new solution from the ground up.

The appeal of a biometric system for voter identification and verification is undeniable. Biometric technology has already been used in other elections around the world as an effective means of protecting against election fraud. If developing countries like Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya can explore and implement biometrics, the state of New Mexico should not ignore this possibility. It has been very successful in elections in Venezuela, for instance.

While some of the existing systems and infrastructure can make it difficult for the poor and disenfranchised to register to vote, biometric systems can be far more effective. Indeed, the US electoral system should adopt biometrics for this very reason. Mexico was able to register 95% of its population with biometric identity cards. There's no reason why New Mexico can't do the same.

To simultaneously reduce voter fraud and to encourage greater voter turnout among disenfranchised and marginalized demographics, biometrics can represent the future of security in increasingly electronically-geared elections. Anyone can swipe a fingerprint or have their iris scanned and it is far more difficult for fraudsters to spoof these identifying features. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Poorly implemented e-voting systems should not deter advancement

A couple is walking down the street, looking for a place to have dinner. They spot a rather dodgy-looking Japanese restaurant that happens to have a terrific special on sushi. Despite some hesitation, the couple decides to eat there. The food isn't good. The service isn't good. And one of them gets horribly sick afterwards. Given this experience, would it be fair for this couple to swear off of sushi entirely for the rest of their lives? Or was this experience only indicative of the poor quality of fish and food handling at this specific restaurant?

You might be wondering why a hypothetical story about a man and a woman eating dinner at a Japanese restaurant is appearing on a blog that discusses electronic voting technologies and innovations around the world. It is because many “experts” and “analysts” are just as quick to jump to these sorts of conclusions in regards to e-voting and i-voting technology based on isolated incidents. A negative e-voting experience in one jurisdiction should not lead to the absolute dismissal of e-voting in its entirety.

As with any developing or even established technologies, e-voting is certainly not without its challenges. Issues have arisen in Ireland and Canada, for instance. In the instance of Brockton, Ontario in Canada, there have been reports of voter fraud. However, many of these problems could have been prevented and mitigated if the proper precautionary steps were taken beforehand. And even if they were not, these incidents can serve as lessons for the future implementation of e-voting and i-voting technology in other elections around the globe.

There are many factors that come into play when implementing an e-voting system and governments are advised to follow the E-Voting Readiness Index proposed by Robert Krimmer and Ronald Schuster of the Competence Center for E-voting and Participation in Vienna, Austria. There need to be systems and infrastructure in place to best handle a suitable and reliable e-voting dynamic as part of a major election.

Indeed, a robust and properly supported e-voting infrastructure is ultimately more reliable and more secure than its analog counterparts. However, an e-voting system that has not been properly audited throughout the process and one where vendors have not been suitably vetted and tested can lead to many problems. Governments should only work with reputable vendors with proven track records, ones that have clearly demonstrated their ability to run secure, reliable, accurate and transparent elections elsewhere.

To uphold the integrity of the democratic process, several criteria for choosing e-voting technology and e-voting vendors must be followed. A wise and informed decision must be made based on accessibility and transparency, for instance, in addition to cost-efficiency and accuracy. In an effort to stay within budget, some jurisdictions may opt for less-tested vendors and solutions, but this can prove to be more costly in the long run and it can result in errors and issues. A proven vendor with a proven solution can help to instil greater confidence in e-voting among the voting population and this can help to encourage further development in improving the system.

It begins with the administration and ensuring that the electoral process itself is a debate that is suitably addressed among government officials. The decision cannot and should not be taken lightly. And this is why conferences like EVOTE 2014 in Austria are so valuable, as it facilitates the open discussion among international governments regarding how best to implement what electronic voting technology in their own elections. By leveraging their combined expertise, fewer problems will be experienced by all and the number of poorly implemented e-voting systems will fall to the wayside in favor of more robust, reliable and secure technologies.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Online voting possibly coming to 2016 Lithuanian elections

The topic of voting over the Internet has been discussed at length on this site. It is absolutely true that more and more people are turning to the Internet for so many more of their daily activities. It is over the Internet that we are able to communicate with one another, just as we are able to complete our online banking, submit our taxes and conduct our business. Why is it that choosing our government officials and allowing our voices to be heard on public matters cannot be accomplished in the same way?

Indeed, the people of Lithuania have cried out for this natural evolution of the democratic process and now their demands are finally being heard. The Lithuanian government has officially approved an initiative wherein online voting could be implemented in time for the country's 2016 parliamentary elections. The proposal was put forth by two ministers from the social-democratic cabinet.

And while this represents a major step forward in modernizing and updating the democratic process in Lithuania to bring it up to speed with the increasingly digital and interconnected age of the Internet, the establishment and deployment of e-voting protocols still has a long way to go. The initiative simply provides for further discussion in parliament about the institution of online voting for Lithuanian citizens in general elections. The actual institution of such a system has not yet been approved.

The people of Lithuania have been urging the government to move forward with Internet-based voting systems for quite some time. Indeed, the World Lithuanian Community and the commission of the Lithuanian parliament passed a resolution back in 2010 to suggest such a move, but discussions continue to this day with no firm decision to include e-voting and i-voting paradigms to the country's democratic process.

The Lithuanian government should take to heart at least two key sources of experience and expertise on the matter.

First, the Internet-based voting system of Estonia has long since been viewed as one of the best in the world. Lithuania would be advised to look to Estonia as a model for how i-voting can be well implemented with a high degree of security, great voter verification, and improved voter turnout numbers. No credible hacking or fraud accusations have been made to date and the advanced identification systems used in Estonia work to prevent voter fraud or vote tampering.

Second, one of the significant motivating factors for implementing Internet-based voting for Lithuania is to better accommodate Lithuanian citizens living and working abroad who would still like to exercise their suffrage right. It places a significant burden on such individuals, particularly from a financial standpoint, to have to return to Lithuania in order to vote. In India, remote e-voting has been mandated for non-resident Indians for this exact reason.

Internet voting should never replace traditional voting in a physical polling place supervised by election officials and vetted volunteers. Citizens should always have the right to cast their ballot in person, ideally through a direct-recording electronic voting machine with a voter-verifiable paper trail and a robust audit system throughout the democratic process. Instead, Internet voter should be offered as an option for citizens wishing to utilize it and it can serve as a very suitable alternative to postal voting, particularly for absentee ballots.

Some sixty-five percent of those polled in Lithuania support the implementation of online voting. As Lithuania moves toward its elections in October 2016, the hope is the parliamentary discussions can move quickly enough to have such a system in place in time.

Monday, March 2, 2015

E-voting mandated for listing companies in Taiwan

Democracy takes on many forms and is exercised in a variety of situations. The most common and best-known mechanism where individuals cast their vote is in the context of a governmental election, as would be the case when citizens elect a new mayor of the city or president of the country. E-voting has been demonstrated in a number of democracies around the world, including Estonia and Brazil, but the context of voting—and the use of electronic voting technology—is not limited to the context of electing government officials.  

Students at a school vote for a class president, for example, and board members vote on a variety of issues in corporations and companies of all sizes. And just as innovation, security and integrity are cornerstones of a solid government election, these same principles apply in the context of business and corporate voting too. To this end, the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TWSE) has just made the unprecedented move of facilitating e-voting among listed companies. Indeed, the TWSE expects that more than half of the listed companies will opt for e-voting mechanisms by next year.

That is over 400 companies in a country that is becoming increasingly well known for technology innovation. Global brands like Asus, Gigabyte and Acer are all based in Taiwan.

One of the major goals of this initiative is that the TWSE wants to enhance “the corporate governance of the Taiwanese capital market and [facilitate] the adoption of e-voting for the benefit of foreign and domestic investors.”

Key stakeholders in a number of Taiwanese companies have the right to have their voices heard in the context of corporate decision making and the adoption of e-voting allows them to exercise this right more easily and more freely. The move toward more widespread use of e-voting allows for greater transparency among corporate decision-making and corporate governance, forcing executives to be held more accountable for the directions that their companies take.

The ruling comes by way of Taiwan's Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC), which will now require all listed companies in the TWSE to adopt e-voting if they have over $2 billion of paid-in-capital and over 10,000 shareholders. For any shareholder meetings that take place after January 1, 2016, an electronic voting option must be in place. As it stands, over 200 companies have already adopted e-voting as part of their governance process and this initiative should lead to some hundreds more.

Major corporate decisions, like the election of directors and supervisors, will now be more transparent with greater accountability than ever before. This is a model that can and should be followed in many other corporate environments around the world. E-voting facilitates better representation of shareholders because of greater accessibility both to the voting mechanism and to the reports of results.

Taiwan is a country that has long since aimed to balance its traditional values and heritage with the fast-moving advances of modern technology. It comes with a great culture and a storied history, but Taiwan is also home to some of the biggest names in the technology industry. In this way, it only follows reason that it would be among the first to mandate the implementation of e-voting technologies in corporate governance processes. 

And this once again demonstrates that discussion of e-voting need not be restricted to the context of public government elections; it can be applied to nearly every segment of the modern world.