Monday, March 17, 2014

Students vote via cellphone and laptop in Namibia school elections

Source: Googel Images
The traditional paper and pencil elections, which has been used all over the world to elect presidents, parliaments, or student councils are slowly changing.

One of the more notable examples of late has to do with the Polytechnic of Namibia. At that tertiary educational institution, students have been given the opportunity to utilize a cell phone and laptop-based voting system. More specifically, the tests were conducted with a mobile election system developed by AdaptIT. This provides a far superior level of flexibility for the students, because they are not bound to specific voting locations at specific times of the day.

Instead, according to Polytechnic of Namibia computer services department manager Juanita Frans, students were “afforded the luxury of casting their votes via cell phones or laptops, from wherever they were and at any time during the stated election period.”

When a traditional paper ballot-based election is held at any other school, students would normally need to take time away from class and other educational activities in order to cast their ballots. This takes away from valuable school time that could otherwise be spent. With the mobile election system, students can easily cast their ballots from home, during a meal break, or just about anywhere else. Unsurprisingly, the young people are very much embracing technology in elections as technology is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life for youth all around the world.

Perhaps even more notably, because an e-voting system was used where ballots were cast electronically, the tabulation of the votes was far more expedient. We should mention Accuracy. People make mistakes, computers don´t.

Also, manual counting implies somebody interpreting what the voter marked. It is not always obvious. When elections are electronic, no interpretation is needed. The intent of the voter is recorded directly. In fact, the results were available immediately after the election period officially closed. By contrast, the physical counting of paper ballots in the same election the previous year took several days to complete and this was with the electoral committee and the various staff members working through the night to complete the process. Instant results are naturally far preferable to waiting for days to get the results, not to mention the added expense and use of time by staff to tabulate the votes with paper ballots.

During the three and a half-day voting period, a total of 2,600 students at the Polytechnic of Namibia were able to cast their votes via the mobile system. This system can be similarly used at other institutions for any kind of election. Adapt IT's Amanda Lubbe says that the results “are updated immediately and displayed in a dashboard format” too.

Some have said that online voting may not necessarily increase voter turnout in general elections, but the overall use of electronic voting technology is continuing to grow through 2014 and beyond.  The youth of today embrace technology, particularly mobile and online technology, and this “beta test” in Namibia clearly illustrates the many benefits of using such a system. As schools move toward having more online resources, as well as the use of technology like sending exam results to students directly via SMS or through an online portal (as the Polytechnic of Namibia has been doing since 2006), the same evolution and transition should be made with student elections as well.