Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why the US electoral system should adopt biometric technology

Image: Freedigitalphotos

It is a known fact that the American electoral system is far from seamless. Its many flaws become evident every time there is an election, but nothing is done to address these problems in spite of their recurrence. One of the most controversial issues is the one related to identification at the polling stations and its role in fraud prevention.

According to David Frum, commentator for CNN, “Americans worry more about voter fraud than do voters in other countries, because they are the only country without a reliable system of national identification. In no other country, including federal systems such as Germany, Canada and Australia, does the citizen’s opportunity to vote depend on the affluence and competence of his or her local government.” Frum calls the American electoral system a “disgrace.”

Currently, most of the states of the Union do not require photo identification in order to grant access to everyone to the polling stations. On paper this sounds like a good anti-discrimination policy, but in reality it poses a high risk of electoral fraud. 

Meanwhile, states that implemented have been criticized as championing a tool of disenfranchisement against the poor. As a result, only 55% of Americans are able to vote nowadays. At first glance, the situation looks like a double-edge sword, but in fact the solution is as simple as effective: biometric authentication.

Biometric authentication systems are not a thing of the future: they have already been implemented in countries like Venezuela, Ghana, and Brazil. Even Mexico, one of America’s closest neighbors, has been able to register 95% of its population (77 million people) with the use of biometric identity cards. 

Recently, professor Robert A. Pastor wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times where he stated that implementing a biometric card not only could solve voter fraud but also it could help to tackle the delicate issue of illegal immigration. America faces a true challenge in its crusade to improve its voting process, and biometric authentication could be the first step to correct one of the many flaws that have hindered the Nation from becoming an example of efficiency in electoral administration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How rational are voters when it comes to confidence in electoral results?

It is nowadays commonplace to say that "Elections are the cornerstone of any democracy". However, in order for elections to be conducive to legitimate results and to help preserving democratic institutions, voters need to be confident that they are fairly conducted processes.

Now, confidence is tricky element of election administration as not all variables that condition it are under the control of the electoral commissions.

A Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), carried out between the late 1990s and early 2000s in 31 countries around the world measured confidence in their elections. Denmark lead the chart scoring 89%. The US ranked in the middle with 49% while South Korea was at the bottom. This study serves as a great benchmark for election administrators trying to improve transparency, efficiency and accuracy in the eyes of their constituents.

More recently, a study by the PEW Charitable Trust, published in February 2012, and called
Election Administration By The Numbers reveals an interesting fact regarding the confidence of US voters on their electoral systems: when it comes to evaluating election administration, people are far less rational than one would imagine.

Three conclusions drawn from the research project are the basis for such assertion. They are:

1. A considerable amount of Americans do not think the election system reflects the will of the voters.
2. Americans tend to believe results in their community better reflect the will of voter than national results.
3. Voters tend to judge accuracy of results using a partisan lens.

This third point is particularly interesting as it might explain a worldwide tendency of fraud claiming by losing candidates. Data shows that many American voters trust the election system’s integrity when their candidate has won. The following table illustrates this point. In 2004, Bush, a Republican, was re-elected, but in 2008 President Obama, a democrat won the presidency. 2010 was an election favorable for the Republicans.

The bottom line in all of this is that voters seem to be less objective than many of us had previously thought. Election administrators need to not only improve the actual state of the election administration, but also, they need to work on the perception of the processes. As the old adagio says, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion".