Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Philippines 2016 general elections: a plan for automation

Preparing for a major general election is a long and complicated process that can involve many moving pieces. This is all in addition to all the campaigning and debates in which the various candidates may participate. A growing number of democracies around the world are utilizing electronic voting technology in some form and another. One of the best examples to emerge from the Asia Pacific (APAC) region is the Philippines, a country that will be holding its national and local elections in May 2016.

The people of the Philippines will be heading to the polls in less than a year and the electoral commission for the country still has a great deal of preparation and planning ahead of it. Most notably, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is currently accepting and reviewing bids for the machines to be used in the vote counting process. Comelec for the Republic of the Philippines is still keeping its options open, choosing whether next year's presidential election will be fully automated, partially automated, or if it will use a more traditional manual method.

The Republic of the Philippines is hardly a stranger to electronic voting technology, having already utilized the technology in 2010 and 2013. Indeed, the country was applauded  for “putting technology to new and better use.”  Given the tremendous success in both elections, it can be safely assumed that the country will continue its development and adoption of e-voting technology for the 2016 general elections.

While a bid put forth by Smartmatic and Total Information Management was initially disqualified due to a failure to submit valid Articles of Incorporation, that ban has since been overturned and the bid to provide some 23,000 new vote-counting machines can and will be suitably considered. As Comelec is still considering a hybrid solution for the 2016 election, the requirement for the new machines is still up to debate and may be changed. The machines in this case will use the aforementioned OMR technology, the same as was used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

The Philippines is a nation with a democratic conviction and the upcoming general elections will once again demonstrate why the country continues to be a shining example of how e-voting can be best implemented in the Asia Pacific region. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hillary Clinton's voting reform calls for automated registration

Leading up to the 2016 Presidential elections in the United States, Americans have many questions that are yet to be answered. Who will be the Republican nominee? Who will be the nominee for the Democrats? What will the voter registration and the actual voting process be like in each of the individual jurisdictions across the country?

Some people are saying that Jeb Bush could gain the nomination to run under the Republican Party banner, while former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will get the nod from the Democratic Party. None of this has been officially decided yet, but that hasn't stopped Clinton from leaping onto the political stage with a few bold statements.

In early June of this year, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech in Texas calling for voting law reform in the United States. While the potential presidential candidate touched on several different points in her talk, the one that is getting the most attention is the call for all Americans to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 years of age.

This would represent a major effort to encourage voter turnout among the American electorate. While it may be true that this represents just a political gambit on the part of Clinton in an effort to get votes, debating the notion of automatic and universal voter registration is a conversation that holds merit. Indeed, this could add as many as 50 million Americans to the voter rolls.

It is practically impossible for this voter reform to take place before the elections in November 2016, but the wheels could be put in motion for the mid-term elections of 2018 or possibly the next Presidential election in 2020.

The point of automatic and universal voter registration – ideally using an online or electronic voter registration system that is faster, more accurate and more efficient than manually completing and submitting a paper form – is inclusion, particularly improving access among the impoverished and the disenfranchised. By making it easier to vote and by addressing issues of voter registration, voter turnout in America would presumably improve too. And improved voter turnout makes for a better and more representative democracy.

Another reform that Hillary Clinton suggests is to extend the voting period to 20 days, providing easier access and better convenience for voters to exercise their right to franchise. This could help to reduce or even eliminate some of the remarkably long lines that have plagued previous election days, but it may or may not be effective in raising voter turnout.

Michael Waldman of Politico.com says that the current “ramshackle voter registration system” in the United States “disenfranchises more people by accident than even the harshest new laws do on purpose.” A new system of automatic and electronic voter registration would practically eliminate the “piles of paper records” that plague the current system, minimizing typos and keeping voter rolls more up to date.

If the nation moves to hold more conversations regarding automatic voter registration and how it can improve voter turnout, then the American democracy could be moving in the right direction.