Friday, December 28, 2012

Assembly Elections in Gujarat are decisive for India’s future

Narendra Modi. Photo: Yahoo! News.

Voters in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh closed the Indian electoral calendar this year with the election of their legislative state assemblies in December. Gujarat’s election was particularly noteworthy, as BJP candidate Narendra Modi was seeking his third consecutive term in office as chief minister. 

More than 71% of Gujarat's 40 million eligible voters cast their ballots, which shows the great interest citizens have taken in deciding the fate of their country. Since 2007, voter turnout has been in the rise in the South Asian nation, as Indians now believe that locally made decisions contribute greatly to the robustness of the country. In a large and diverse country, the idea of nationhood comprising regional parties with their own cultures is “far better than trying to impose everything from the center”, says Yogendra Yadav, election analyst. This idea underlines the importance of this year’s assembly elections, as Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi is forging his way from the Gujarat assembly all the way up to the Prime Minister’s seat. 

With almost 50% of the votes, Modi was denied the landslide victory he was seeking, but he was nonetheless named Gujarat’s chief minister for the third time in a row. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), obtained 115 out of 182 seats in the assembly. Mr. Modi has been ruling the state since 2001, and this renewed appointment at the assembly paves the way for him to run for Prime Minister in 2014. Although not everyone agrees with the progress that has characterized his government —the modernization of infrastructure has been a key point in his mandate—, his repeated victory proves that he could have a great chance to propagate the renovation policies implemented in Gujarat over the rest of India. 

Speaking of modernization, it is worth mentioning that India has been using voting technology since 1999, which makes democracy highly efficient for a country with about one billion people and hundreds of millions of votes to tally. Incidentally, Gujarat was the first state to experiment with Internet voting in 2011.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

E-voting is already taken for granted in schools

Image: ccarlstead
Although some countries are still reticent to implement e-voting in their governmental elections, the modernization of polling methods is already a reality for many educational institutions. Numerous schools and universities use the benefits of technology to choose their student councils, as it has been proven that e-voting is far superior to manual voting methods.

The practice of e-voting is widespread in schools around the world. A simple online search leads to a seemingly endless list of institutions that have been using electoral technology for years. It could even be said that paper balloting is a thing of the past for them, as teachers and members of student councils have discovered that voter turnout increases dramatically when voting is carried out electronically.

A good example of this is Wayne State University, in Detroit. In 2004, it established an online voting system for its internal referendums. Before that year, only 900 people at most could participate in Student Senate elections, out of a possible 31,000 eligible voters. Switching from paper balloting to electronic voting brought a 51% increase in voter turnout, as students became able to cast their ballot at a time and location of their convenience. Moreover, there was a substantial decrease in resource and cost requirements, and human error was significantly reduced as well.

Some schools use electronic voting systems for anti-bullying campaigns. Since e-voting safeguards students’ anonymity, they can feel safe to report who’s a bully and who’s being bullied. Only teachers have access to information on who has voted for whom in each category. Thus, there is also the guarantee that students will definitely be heard, and therefore, their problems will be addressed.

Electronic voting in schools is not limited to internal affairs. Electoral technology is also used to engage students in politics from an early age. Each year, the Youth Leader Initiative (YLI) carries out the largest student-only mock election in the US. Any school can sign up for it, and since it is online-based, it offers flexibility for schools to hold their own mock election when it best accommodates their schedules. The program is supplemented with classroom lesson plans on topics such as primaries, caucuses, the American electoral process, political ideology, and the foundations of American government. Results for the elections become available online as soon as the exercise period ends.

Schools are an example for larger institutions that are still hesitant to implement electoral technology in their elections. The positive aspects of e-voting are clearly reflected on the way it has become prevalent in educational institutes across the US and the world. Modernization is coming little by little, but schools have already taken a giant leap towards it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Popular technologies: The Facebook vs. e-voting race

If there is one uncontroverted truth in this post-modern age of ours, where everything is deemed as relative, is our dependence on technology. We cannot escape it. Staying fit, heating our meals, going to work, communicating with friends, technology has invaded every single aspect of our daily life.

Now, the ubiquity of technology has brought positive and negative effects. One of the many positive impacts of technology in our society is the administration of legitimate elections through technological solutions. Technology offers the means to achieve credible, transparent, and efficient elections. Countries such as the Philippines, Venezuela have had their most legitimate electoral results in their history thanks to election automation. In the light of such remarkable success, the number of countries using it is constantly rising.

As of today, approximately 1.1 billion voters cast their vote electronically. The following chart illustrates the countries in which the vote is tallied electronically.


For clarity's sake, let´s use a reference. Facebook, the social network that took the world by storm in 2004, is still lagging behind e-voting in terms of individuals using it. On October 4, 2012, Facebook announced it had reached the astounding figure of 1 billion users. That is the equivalent of saying that one in seven people on this planet is considered, by Facebook's standards, an active user.

According to the website “Since Facebook launched, the social network’s seen 1.13 trillion “likes” and 140.4 billion friend connections. 219 billion photos are currently being shared, while 17 billion check-ins have been made. Since the music listening app launched in September 2011, 62.6 million songs have been played 22 billion times — that’s around 210,000 years of music.”

Although these figures are impressive, e-voting is still affecting a greater number of people. There are many countries in which Facebook's penetration is low and that represents a potential for growth. Also, by acquisitions and partnerships, the social network could enter the Chinese and Russian markets. However, several countries such as Russia, Honduras, Ecuador, Switzerland, Denmark, among others, are analyzing the best electoral technology in the marketplace to adopt. This race is getting interesting.

Monday, December 17, 2012

E-guvernare: A Case of E-Government Success

Photo: Freedigitalphotos
Our increasingly connected world has evidenced the need for governments to find new ways to come closer to their citizens, reducing red tape and making their lives easier. In this regard, Romania has become an example for the world, as it has implemented successful policies aimed at integrating technology into public life.

In 2001, communications and information technology were declared national priorities for the development of Romanian economy. As a result, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology concentrated its efforts on the creation of Information Society services and conception of laws for the regulation of personal data processing, protection of privacy in telecommunications, protection against cyber crime, regulation of electronic signatures, e-commerce, e-procurement, and e-tax. Thus, in 2003, E-Guvernare was born.

E-Guvernare is an Internet portal where citizens can perform different legal tasks in an easy way. Paying taxes, obtaining an authorization for construction, getting a driver’s license, setting up a new business, registering a vehicle, or even obtaining a new passport are processes that can be simplified with the help of E-Guvernare. All the forms necessary to perform these and many other processes are available.

According to a research paper by Popeanga Vasile and Vatuiu Teodora, E-Guvernare is “the best way of organizing public management in order to increase efficiency, transparency, accessibility and responsiveness to citizens, as well as to reduce bureaucracy and corruption.” E-Guvernare makes overall interaction with the administration “more efficient and comfortable while reducing costs for both public and private entities and increasing the public trust in the administration.”

The success of this new way of connecting governmental institutions with their citizens even led a neighboring country, Moldova, to launch a similar initiative. The website provides access to information and forms from all of the country’s ministries, plus news on the technological development of the Moldovan government. This way, citizens are just one click away from their administrative institutions.

Scholars are already analyzing E-Guvernare’s case in search for the possibility of spreading this example to other nations. Some researchers have even concluded from their observations that the access to online information and knowledge advances democracy. Romania’s experiment has been working well for some years now, so it shall not be long until other countries catch on and become much more accessible to their citizens through the use of technology.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Credible elections to find durable peace

Sri Lanka is looking forward to a more fair and legitimate
voting process (Image Wikipedia)
Although the possibility to register votes by electronic means has been around for a few decades, automated voting is part of a young industry, in which not all providers have proficient technology, and clients (electoral commissions) still have a lot of learning to do in terms of technology adoption. Previous poor implementations in countries such as Germany, Ireland or the United States generated animosity in the eyes of public opinion, and prevented citizens from benefiting from the many advantages e-voting has to offer.

Fortunately, experiences in countries such as India, Venezuela, and Brazil which started automating elections decades ago, and more recent success stories in the Philippines, Mongolia, and Estonia, are shedding some light on this nascent industry.

Sri Lanka, is one of those nations looking at the positive experiences India has had with electronic voting in order to implement it and achieve legitimate results which are trusted by all parties involved. After the debated reelection of President Percy Mahndra Rajapaksa in 2010, election automation became an evident necessity. A Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission questioned the credibility of the election stating ''very clearly, the question as to whether Sri Lanka is any longer capable of conducting a free and fair election has been raised in this election,'' (…) ''It is not only the electoral process that is under challenge. The very process of receiving, preserving and counting the ballot at the commissioner's office itself is an issue that has been prominently raised.''

In spite these recent scandals, this young nation seems to have given a crucial step towards better electoral processes as the government showed the political will to use technology to improve the transparency of the electoral roll. Now, according to the Chief Government Whip Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena, it is ready to further advance in that direction. "New legislation has to be enacted for an open elector registration system to be established. Copies of the computerized register of voters, on compact disks, are already being made available to recognized political parties on the request of secretaries of political parties," he said.
According to Mr. Gunawardena, Sri Lanka is looking closely at India's experience in electronic voting. As the northern Indian neighbors Nepal and Pakistan did, this young nation will seek advice from one of the pioneers in e-voting.

Only three years ago, the armed forces of Sri Lanka were still fighting separatist movements. Throughout time, experience has proven that the most effective means to settle differences are legitimate elections. Hopefully, the legal frame will be arranged within a reasonable time frame so the nation can automate its electoral process and execute credible elections which will lead to everlasting peace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Technical glitches tarnish Ghanaian presidential elections

Biometric authentication has been implemented in Ghanaian elections. Photo: The Iconoclast News

The adoption of electoral technology by itself is no guarantee that an election will be carried out efficiently. After all, the process must be done by a competent entity that can ensure reliable results. Ghana took a great leap towards the modernization of its elections by implementing biometric authentication at the polling centers, but its poor management and other aspects of the electoral process have practically voided the benefits of the new measure.

On February 15th, 2012, Africa’s Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Gwadwo Afari-Gyan, announced that Ghana’s 2012 elections would feature the use of biometric authentication to identify voters at the polling station. The process used was somewhat rudimentary compared to what countries like Venezuela have experienced with the Integrated Authentication System, but it included fingerprint scans of all ten digits, in this case. A digital picture of the voter was also taken and printed on his or her voting card.

Theoretically, this should have ensured a fair exercise of democracy, and even though it did stop some attempts of double registration in different districts, the lack of public order entailed certain difficulties. Two verification machines were stolen in the city of Tamale, and ‘macho men’ —heavy, muscular individuals used by political parties to disrupt elections— set ballot papers, coalition sheets and verification machines on fire in Ablekuma. Besides, the Ghanaian Electoral Commission (EC) was accused of hiring an Israeli company to transmit election results. Dr. Afari-Gyan assured the public that all scrutiny and transmission processes are being carried out exclusively by members of the EC. His intervention inadvertently revealed another faulty aspect of Ghanaian elections: in spite of the implementation of biometric authentication, voting in Ghana is still being done manually, and results from each polling place are transmitted via fax to the central authorities. Unsurprisingly, numerous technical glitches led to long delays and extensions in the electoral event.

As of December 9, no definite winner had been declared yet. This is because technical snags in the biometric data verification equipment were so widespread that they hindered the whole democratic process, proving how improvisation can do more harm than good.

Ghana took a sensible step toward the improvement of its elections, but good intentions are not enough. The African country needs to rethink the way it protects its democracy, as electoral technology needs to be provided by a serious provider that can guarantee that its technological equipment will not become an obstacle to suffrage. The government also needs to double its efforts to warrant security and order at all electoral events.