Monday, August 26, 2013

E-voting saves elections thousands of dollars

Any sort of government or public expenditure is going to be met with a significant challenge. On the one hand, the expenditure has to adequately address a public need of some sort. This could be the construction of a new bridge, providing commuters with a faster and more direct way to get across the city. On the other hand, government funds are anything but unlimited and, thus, the cost of any project must be kept under control. This kind of balance must also be considered when it comes to any referendum or election, in addition to concerns about accessibility, fairness, participation and security.

One of the many potential benefits of changing from a more traditional paper-based ballot to an election that uses e-voting technology is that the latter can save the government a significant amount of money. There are some initial costs involved in purchasing the e-voting equipment and there are costs in maintaining them, but taken as a whole, e-voting is more cost-effective than its pure paper-based counterpart. This cost savings has been demonstrated in many places around the world.

For example, an election was recently conducted by the Irish Medical Council (IMC) and it was outsourced to Electoral Reform Services of the United Kingdom. The final figures are still being calculated, but a spokesperson for the IMC has stated that this election saved the Council approximately €10,000 (over $13,000 US). This savings was secured in the costs that would have otherwise been involved with the printing of paper ballots and the associated postage for mailing them out.

In addition to the cost savings involved in printing and postage, the IMC spokesperson said that the Council also saved money compared to its previous election in 2008 because that election involved "significant staff resourcing" to count all the ballots. With the e-voting technology in place, the counting of the ballots was far more efficient, expedient and cost-effective. There are staffing costs that must be considered for sorting ballots, counting ballots, and other administrative duties. If the paper ballots had to be mailed out, that would be another area in terms of cost for staffing that is saved because of e-voting technology. There are many hidden costs to manual elections.

Even in the relatively small town of Cobourg, located a little over one hour away from Toronto in Canada, significant cost savings were enjoyed in its 2010 municipal election. This election was completely paperless, allowing voters to cast their ballots either online or via telephone. For voters who did not have access to a phone or the Internet, e-voting booths were set up at two polling places in the town.

The total cost of holding the 2010 election was $52,460. By contrast, the election in 2006, which used paper ballots, cost the town almost $90,000. What this means is that by switching to e-voting, the town of Cobourg saved well over $35,000. A similar calculation was done for the town of Meaford--also in Ontario, Canada--and the projected savings were $25,000. These are two relatively small towns in Canada, so it is possible to see how these savings could be further amplified in large cities.

E-voting is certainly not without its share of challenges, but examples like those seen in Ireland and Canada clearly illustrate that e-voting can provide significant cost savings for jurisdictions that are willing to switch to automated elections. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Better representation and improved efficiency with e-voting

Source: The Daily Caller

In the United States, they talk about having a government that is of the people, by the people and for the people. That is why elections are held.

One of the challenges with this kind of system is that the elected officials may not necessarily or accurately reflect the views of their constituents. The United States of America is largely a two-party system: Democrats and Republicans. However, even those who vote one way or the other may not agree with all the opinions of their chosen candidate.

How can elected governments offer better representation?

While it certainly would address the problem completely on its own, e-voting can play a critical role in facilitating a process that could allow for better and more diverse representation of the population. With paper ballots, there is inherently limited space on the ballot and only a limited number of candidates can be listed. Furthermore, if there are any last minute additions, it can be nearly impossible to add them to a paper ballot. However, using a direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine, this change can be made from a centralized location and easily distributed among all the machines in time for an election.

What happens when a larger number of parties or candidates want to make it onto a paper ballot? An extreme example of this can be illustrated by the Senate ballot paper by the Australian Electoral Commission. There are 46 parties registered for that election with 11 more still up for consideration as of early July. The net result is a piece of paper that is 1.02 meters wide.

That's somewhat comical, to say the least, but it is also unwieldy and could cause logistical issues when it comes time to counting the ballots. Even if voting machines are not used, e-voting technology to scan and tabulate the ballots would significantly improve this process. The extra wide ballot could be fed into an appropriate optical scanning machine and the vote counted in an electronic fashion. This is far more efficient and expedient than a worker or volunteer unravelling the giant paper and looking for the votes manually.

Voting machines have evolved a great deal since the days of the original "ballot" boxes with the depositing of balls into clay pots. An automated voting system can improve the democratic process and allow for better representation of constituents, because the technology is far more flexible and can allow for a near infinite number of candidates and parties.

This way, a government of the people and by the people can really be of the people and by the people, rather than having to choose a candidate that you prefer only slightly more than his opponent. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nigeria on its way to e-voting

Source: Flickr - Ford Fundation

Nigeria has a lengthy history of flawed elections and has often been at the brunt of jokes about the voting process. In fact, the 2011 national elections in Nigeria were marked by accusations of fraud, court challenges and violence that resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of people being displaced from their homes before military intervention put an end to the looting, burning and bombings. No doubt, it is well past time to put an accurate system in place to curb the violence and count all of the people's votes!  

This most recent election seemed clearly decisive as the winner, Goodluck Jonathan, received 58% of the vote. However, irregularities like stolen ballot boxes and fake ballots were widespread; this drove further wedges into the country, separating sectional interests like the Muslim north and the Christian south, as each group suspected the other of tampering with the votes. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has said that electronic voting needs to be in place for the 2015 national elections, as it offers a more accurate and transparent method for counting the votes of the people.

In an attempt to move toward more accurate and peaceful elections that the people will have confidence in, on July 23rd the House of Representatives attempted to vote via electronic device about some constitutional changes that were being considered.

Each member received an iPad to be used as an electronic voting device intended to register the votes of each individual lawmaker. Because this system allowed each vote to become public knowledge, it was expected that legislators would strictly follow their constituent's wishes that were made known during the Peoples Public Sessions around the country--when all of the glitches were worked out of the computerized program.Vanguard reported that if the voting process did not seem transparent, it would ruin the efforts of this seventh assembly.

Problems arose with the new electronic voting system that was installed by Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NigComSat) as it appeared many of the lawmakers had difficulties with the voting devices, causing the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal to make a public plea for patience, saying “what is worth doing is worth doing well.” and promising that “they would do everything transparently.”

In the end, the legislators resorted to the old method of manual voting. There were challenges because the voting procedures were lengthy and some of the lawmakers had not fully charged their devices, or familiarized themselves with their use. However, this exercise does show that Nigeria is serious about moving forward with new technologies that promise maximum accuracy and transparency in the voting process, and there is time before the 2015 national elections to get all the bugs worked out. After all, automation will only improve election administration, transparency and avoid violence if, and only if, the execution is flawless and results are deemed legitimate. Maybe Nigeria should find an experienced provider with advanced, verifiable technology to accomplish this.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How the use of technology enhances transparency

“Why do we want transparent elections? To build a basis of trust.” 

That was one of the main statements given by Smartmatic´s Fernando Hernandez during his conference at the 6th International Electoral Affairs Symposium held on Mauritius on May 29.

The event, organized by the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies, addressed topics such as the management and logistics of elections, best practice procedures, voter registration, voting methods, the use of new and innovative technologies in elections and examine current trends, in terms of usage throughout the electoral process.

During his presentation Hernandez emphasized the need to develop and reinforce relationships with key stakeholders such as: voters, political parties, state institutions, NGO and international organizations, other countries and business groups.  

Technology can become a useful tool when it comes to increasing electoral transparency. It allows for a wider coverage of all the processes involved, collecting large amounts of data, real-time monitoring and analysis of events and processes, and in consequence, faster results. 

Hernandez cited the Filipino elections held earlier this year on May 13th as an example of how technology enhances transparency. In a territory comprised of more than 7,000 islands, some 82,000 optical scanners were used to cast 766,672,141 and to elect 18,022 officials. Thanks to a technological platform that included e-counting, and the secure transmission of data to tallying centers, results were made available to the public via internet in record time.

Voting technology also minimizes human interaction, thus providing an appropriate environment to perform non-biased operations while supporting voters. Last October, Belgium tried out a new e-voting system that lets voters certify by themselves, via a printed record of the vote, that their ballots were counted correctly. Also, thanks to a 17" touch screen, the voting process was considerably simplified. In some cases, the selection process involved 182 candidates, manual voting in Belgium is just inconvenient.

If used correctly, with a proper legal framework, technology can indeed help improve transparency. Transparency is ensuring that during an election, all stakeholders are able to measure its success based on precise and real information, and technology is the perfect ally to achieve this.