Thursday, June 20, 2013

Canada abandons Internet voting and goes back to manual elections

Toronto. Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Canada has halted its plans to carry out an Internet voting pilot in 2015, in spite of earlier signs of approval of this electoral method. The decision is allegedly due to budget cuts, as Elections Canada has been subjected to a loss of $7.5 million per year. 

Security was another reason Canada’s electoral body refrained from moving forward. Although they had had some success in previous experiences with Internet voting, the risk of massive tampering and identity theft are still an issue. 

Unfortunately, turning back to manual voting is far from an ideal solution as irregularities have been documented in previous elections.

The electoral body of the North American country has acknowledged that irregularities have actually been found in manual voting. After the 2011 federal poll, it was discovered that election officers had made more than 500 serious procedural errors, and paperwork was deficient in more than 165,000 cases. Having weighed between two unreliable options, wouldn’t it be time to think of one that really works? With voting machines, Canada would have a real chance of holding fully auditable elections, devoid of human error, instead of switching back to a system that has been admittedly faulty.

Implementing voting machines would actually be the way to reduce the organization costs of upcoming polls, now that the electoral body cites budget constraints as grounds for returning to manual voting. Even though the initial implementation of an e-voting platform is a high investment, it represents savings in the long run. For example: voting machines do not require paper ballots, which cost millions of dollars to produce each time. If there is a sudden change in the electoral event, touchscreen devices make it easier to make the necessary adjustments without further investment.

Canada shut the door to automation for no other reason than not having exhausted all possibilities. Safe, reliable electoral technology is still out there, waiting to be implemented and to radically improve people’s participation in Democracy.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Vote or be fined: Should voting be compulsory?

If you’re like most people, you’d likely laugh off the idea of compulsory voting as completely strange if not downright preposterous. But you would be surprised to find out that many countries around the world are already penalizing citizens for not exercising their right to vote. Australia, in fact, has had compulsory voting for 101 years!

In an effort to curb voter apathy and increase turnout, the Australian Election Commission under has resorted to slapping election boycotters with fines. Although the 20AUD penalty probably won’t bankrupt anyone, it does goes against the common belief that exercising or not one’s right of suffrage is a choice which the voter makes all by himself. 

But why did high voter turnout become such a Holy Grail that Election Commissions are bending over backwards to achieve it? Why is it terribly important that a large numbers of voters cast their ballots

Low turnout equals a smaller mandate for the elected officials. With no overwhelming majority of the electorate casting their ballots, doubts could be raised about the elections not reflecting the actual will of the people. Needless to say, this is a situation that any Election Commission would rather not find itself in.

Aside from achieving high turnout, proponents of compulsory voting argue that is a civic duty very much like paying taxes, jury duty, or military conscription. Moreover, they aver that compulsory voting guarantees that the entire electorate is involved in policy formulation. Another important consideration is the way compulsory voting frees the candidates to focus on issues rather than encouraging voter participation.

Proponents also claim that since voting is by secret ballot, the voter isn't actually forced to vote for anyone and that no liberties are violated.

Opponents, on the other hand, argue that compulsory voting is undemocratic as it impinges on one’s liberty to decide on his own whether or not to exercise the right to suffrage. More insidiously, forcing everyone to vote means the ill-informed and those with terribly low interest in governance are also forced to participate which could lead to increased number of “donkey votes” and informal votes. Ironically, this could also result in an election that does not truly reflect the will of the electorate.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

E-voting Redux: The Philippines and its second automated polls

A voter in Catarman scans her ballot on the voting machine.
The Philippines continues to leapfrog into the future of democracy as it successfully held its second nationwide automated elections. The country also appears headed to become the leading reference country for e-voting, with international observers flocking to the island nation to benchmark the elections. 

The success and the popular acclaim for the recent elections strongly indicate that e-voting is the wave of the future in the Asian nation. The Filipino public, after getting a taste of automation’s many benefits in 2010, have gotten used to the speed, accuracy and transparency that e-voting brings and cannot be reasonably expected to relinquish it.  

As a matter of fact, a few hours after the polls opened, netizens poured their sentiments on Twitter, gushing about the painless voting experience. Some users reported taking less than five minutes to shade ballots and cast their votes.

Even more impressive to the public was the fact that exactly a week after the polls closed, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has already proclaimed 99.99% of the 18,000 elective positions including 12 senators, 229 district members of the House of Representatives, 80 provincial governors, 80 provincial vice governors, 766 members of the provincial  legislature, 138 city mayors, 138 city vice mayors, 1,532 members of the city council, 1,496 municipal mayors, 1,496 municipal vice mayors, and 11,972 members of the municipal council.

Anyone who has a passing interest in Philippines’ election history, -where proclamations have been known to take as long as several months- would instantly know this to be quite an astounding feat.

As in 2010, the backbone of the recent elections was the Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS), a machine that has gained great popularity among Filipinos. The introduction of this machine has drastically cut voting time -voters no longer write out candidate names but merely shade them-.  Equally important, Filipinos seems very reassured that their votes are still committed to paper -the ballot being an incontrovertible evidence of their choice-.

Automated elections have also made life easier for the teachers who serve as Board of Elections Inspectors (BEI). Before automation, BEI's were known to stay in the precincts well into the following morning manually counting the votes. Aside from the long hours, the BEI's were also often put in harm’s way since the longer they stayed in the precinct, the more exposed they were to election-related violence that threatened to break out any time.

Automation changed all that. BEI's were done with their work much sooner than in previous elections -some even packing for home an hour after polls closed-.

But to be sure, automation is not without its detractors, those that bible-thump a gospel of gloom and doom. Yet despite all the noise they have created, Filipinos have wised up and realized that e-voting was that one thing that brought political stability to the country and the resultant economic boom.