Saturday, May 13, 2023

Georgia modernizes polls, inches closer to EU membership

Georgia’s recent efforts to modernize its elections have the effect of nudging it closer to its goal of becoming a member of the European Union.

The EU has laid down 12 conditions that Georgia must meet before it can join the union, including the establishment of an independent judiciary, protection of human rights, and an intensified fight against corruption. In complying with such, Georgia must first ensure the proper functioning of democratic institutions, including free and fair elections.

In the last few years, the country has implemented several measures to boost the transparency and fairness of its electoral process, including the use of vote counting machines and voter authentication systems.

Irakli Kobakhidze, who heads the ruling Georgian Dream party, had announced a widespread use of electronic voter registration and voting system starting with the 2024 Parliamentary elections.

“The successful experience of voter registration and voting with modern technologies allows us to implement this initiative on a large scale from 2024”, Kobakhidze said, adding that “electronic voting will ultimately strengthen public confidence in the vote-counting process, ensure that more than 70 percent of votes are counted and results published within minutes after the closing of the voting process, and eliminate problems related to rigging exit polls and parallel vote tabulation.”

Over the past two years, the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia has successfully used electronic vote counting technology and identity solutions in three different pilots in the cities of Batumi, Adjara, and Senaki.

Politicians have crossed party lines on the matter, with Aleksandre Rakviashvili, an MP from the Girchi opposition party calling the move a “step forward” for ensuring a fairer electoral environment. This is reflective of the overwhelming support for the movement – as much as 83% of Georgians want to be in the EU.

The use of vote counting machines has dramatically significantly reduced human error and manipulation in the vote counting process. With the machines being designed to count votes quickly and accurately, the need for manual vote counting, which can be prone to errors and disputes, is eliminated.

In addition to the use of technology, Georgia has also made significant efforts to increase the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in the electoral process. In 2020, the CEC established quotas for female candidates in local elections and introduced a range of measures to encourage women to stand for office.

As a result, the number of Georgian women in parliament jumped from 14 to almost 20 percent. In 2021, women representatives in local councils increased from 13.8 to 24 percent. Likewise, women received 31.4 percent of mandates in proportional lists (441 mandates in total) compared to 19.8 percent of mandates received in 2017.

Georgians still need to buckle down to work – there is still much to be done in ensuring the transparency and fairness of Georgia's electoral process. The CEC needs to act on reports of irregularities and voter intimidation during recent elections, and the developing democracy needs to adopt a whole-of-nation approach to fortify its institutions and legal framework if it is to attain its European aspirations.