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.