Monday, August 31, 2015

Perception of Electoral Integrity Index

The move toward Nigerian e-voting in 2019

There is a rising movement to modernize and improve Nigeria, working to overcome its history of societal and governmental challenges. A challenge for the nation in transition is to open up the democracy to its citizens with a safe, secure and reliable electoral system.

The road has been long, hard and arduous as Nigeria tries to establish a robust electronic voting infrastructure for its elections. This dates back to at least 1999 when the nation ended a 30-year dictatorial regime and replaced it with what it hoped to be a functional democracy. The nation has struggled to offer fair, free and transparent elections since 2012 and the move to electronic voting could help to achieve this mission.

National elections involve a lot of planning and they can exert widespread impact both in Nigeria itself and abroad. Interestingly enough, some schools in Nigeria may present a viable example for the country at large to follow. The Adeyemi University of Education recently held elections to choose its student government. The process was deemed a success and it is now being seen as “a template for students' elections across the country and even a model for national elections in the country.”

Particular attention is being paid to how Adeyemi implemented and ran its student election using electronic voting technology. Students could vote just about anywhere using the Internet, using their mobile phones. For students without Internet access, four ICT centres and polling units were provided, including Uninterrupted Power Supply units for better and more reliable performance. In a country where access to electricity and Internet may be difficult, these are a must.

Student body governments and elections cannot be immediately equated to the processes and procedures of a full and functional government, but they can serve as an example of what is possible and within reach today. As Nigeria moves forward toward using e-voting on a national scale, including its experimentation with biometric authentication of voter identities, support is growing for the adoption of this technology.

Indeed, both the National Association of Peaceful Elections in Nigeria (NAPEN) and the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) are strongly encouraging the introduction of early voting and full electronic voting in time for the 2019 general elections. They are looking at the introduction of the card readers as a first-step toward e-voting, for instance, as well as improving peace education to limit the violence observed in past Nigerian elections.

By the time of the 2019 general elections, Nigeria would have already had 20 uninterrupted years of democratic rule. To this end, it has been argued that now is the time “to consolidate on the baby steps taken over the last 5 elections.” Many logistical issues plagued the 2015 elections, including the millions of disenfranchised Nigerians who could not vote or chose not to vote for fear of violence.

Electoral reform is clearly needed and it should not be left to the last minute. The time to prepare for the 2019 e-voting future of Nigeria starts now. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Providing the right to vote for non-residents Indians

An issue that has been discussed a few times before on this site is the problem with allowing non-resident Indians to vote in elections. Just earlier this year, it was mandated that remote e-voting be provided to non-resident Indians so that they could exercise their right to vote. Even though the promise has been made, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before a proper system is in place to accommodate remote e-voting for Indians who are living and working abroad.

While concerns like these can be just as applicable for so many other countries around the world, it is particularly profound for the world's largest democracy. A great number of India's citizens are indeed living and working abroad, but they still deserve the right to have their voice heard in terms of India's political affairs. The political happenings in India still have a direct impact on their daily lives for a myriad of different reasons.

For the southwestern state of Kerala, discussions are ongoing as to how e-voting can be enabled in a fair, just and secure manner for non-resident Keralites (NRKs). This could apply not only to the people of Kerala who are living and working in other countries around the world, but also those who are simply living and working in another area in India.

The local government in Kerala has begun working with Technology Based Incubators (TBI) to design and configure an online voting system that is fool-proof and secure. One of the largest challenges that they face is how they can reliably verify the identity of Keralites who have settled overseas. This is a common concern for online voting and the IT experts are saying that the creation of a verifiable database is the major first step. This database could include biometric data like iris scans. The goal is to avoid “possible voting irregularities” as much as possible.

The IT firm has also recommended that the government of Kerala can work closely with Indian embassies, non-governmental organizations or international airports in order to facilitate the remote e-voting for non-resident Keralites.

As with any other political issue, e-voting for non-resident Keralites has its opposition too. The State Election Commission has indicated that introducing an e-ballot or any other form of e-voting within the limited timeframe ahead of the upcoming local elections “was not feasible.” Instead, NRKs would be provided with the ability to vote through their respective local body constituencies. Officials have stated that converting the candidate listing to a digital format in the next two months “was not practical.”

However, even if the introduction of e-voting is “not feasible” for the next elections, steps should be taken so that it is feasible for the elections to follow. Systems can be developed, tested and audited well ahead of the elections following this next one. It is oftentimes not feasible or viable for NRKs to vote in person, as currently must be the case for this upcoming election.

There are technical, non-technical and administrative issues involved in the creation, distribution, collection and tabulation of electronic ballots. But these challenges and issues must be addressed and overcome to provide non-resident Keralites with adequate access to their right to vote.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Should America allow voting by smartphone?

As ironic and as counterintuitive as it may sound, the “phone” part of a “smartphone” is likely one of the device's less important and least used actual function. People are using their smartphones as their primary digital cameras these days. The smartphone is also commonly used as a primary timepiece, rather than a traditional wristwatch. The standalone MP3 player has largely been replaced by the smartphone too and the same thing is happening with GPS navigation and mobile gaming. And then there is everything to do with Internet access, including web browsing, email, social media, news reading, blogging, vlogging and more.

With smartphone ownership and use at an all-time high, one technologist is positing a very compelling question: why can't we vote by smartphone too? The convenience factor is undeniable, because it means that voters can simply cast their ballot over the Internet is a truly digital and remote fashion. It doesn't matter if they are at home, at the office, on the commuter train or enjoying a cold beverage at the local cafe. As long as they can get online, access the voting portal and get verified, they can cast their ballot and they can do so weeks before the official voting day.

In many ways, this is an extension of the argument for more widespread Internet voting. There are inherently many advantages and disadvantages to online-based voting systems, like the importance of being able to properly authenticate the identity of voters and to ensure the secure and confidential transmission of the voting data over the network. These are all valid and they are just as applicable to smartphone voting as they would be to voting on an Internet-connected PC.

Interestingly enough, however, voting on a smartphone may arguably offer even more security features than a desktop computer. It has been observed that even among people who do not own a personal computer of their own, they may be more likely to own a smartphone. This allows for greater accessibility. What's more, a growing number of modern smartphones already integrate biometric verification technology. The Apple iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6, for instance, both feature a fingerprint reader for user identification. Facial recognition technology is also available. But are these security features enough to guarantee the integrity of the authentication process?

The argument made by Alissa Walker does not call for biometric authentication specifically, but this is an area that is being explored in many areas across the United States. New Mexico is one example.

There are barriers to widespread adoption of smartphone voting, such as the fact that every state has different election rules. Assuming that all security and integrity guarantees are met, voting by smartphone could become a fit option to replace postal voting, offering people the opportunity not only to order their absentee ballot online and through a smartphone, but also the ability to submit that ballot through a smartphone. The goal here is to completely digitize the absentee ballot.

An initiative named Vote by Smartphone from the group Long Distance Voter is going to offer a prototype pilot test as part of the upcoming 2016 Presidential elections in the United States. The test will be limited to just two states, but it could serve as a real-world demonstration of how this could work. Voter identity could be verified using an e-signature, like the DocuSign electronic signature technology for authentication.

Further exploration and testing is needed, but Vote By Smartphone sounds like a compelling idea and could represent a part of the democratic future in America.