Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lessons from the EVOTE 2014 International Conference

Issues related to the administration of a local, regional or national election may sound like they would only be the concern of the locality, region or country where the election is being held, but this is never quite the case. No part of the world exists in true isolation and great lessons can be learned through the collaboration of great minds around the globe.

And it is with this kind of philosophy and mission that EVOTE2014 was hosted at Castle Hofen in Lochau / Bregenz, Austria. The sixth international conference was held from October 28 to October 31, 2014 and it was attended by some 100 representatives from 33 countries from five different continents. Several topics related to electronic voting technology were discussed and presented at the conference.

It was noted, for instance, that many of the major advances and expansions in e-voting technology have come from developing countries, particularly in Latin America, rather than from more established democracies where more “traditional” manual elections have a stronger foothold. Estonia is widely viewed as a leader in pushing i-voting technology forward, along with developments in countries like Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador. 

Of particular interest at the EVOTE2014 conference was the submission by Julia Pomares, Director of Political Institutions at the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), in collaboration with Guillermo Lopez Mirau, Teresa Shepherd and California Institute of Technology's R. Michael Alvarez. Winner of the Best Paper Award at the EVOTE 2014 conference, the paper focuses on the experience of Salta district in Argentina where e-voting was rolled out to the entire electorate in 2013.

A big lesson from that election is that it is of critical importance that the electorate has confidence in integrity of the election process and supports e-voting technology. If the public does not support the implementation of e-voting technology or it does not trust how such technology is being used, then further strides in advancing and improving electronic voting technology will stall or be hindered. 

Positive perception of the voting process and the belief that the voting system is easy to use are of great importance. Furthermore, people who have more positive views of technology in daily life are generally more positive about how e-voting is changing how elections are run around the world. 

The final programme for EVOTE2014 followed the overall conference theme of verifying the vote. While electronic voting technology can be used very successfully in quickly and efficiently counting the votes, in addition to voting machines being used for auditable ballot submissions, these votes must also be suitably verified in order to maintain the privacy, confidentiality and integrity of the final tallied results. 

At EVOTE2014, a workshop was held covering 10 pillars of end-to-end online voting verifiability, for example, while another session discussed how verifiable Internet voting works in Estonia. Other sessions included a talk by Vanessa Teague from the University of Melbourne on Trust and Verifiability in Australian E-voting, a session hosted by Rajeev Gore and Thomas Meumann on verified vote-counting, and a panel discussion on public attitudes toward Internet voting in Greece, particularly on the issue of verifiable e-voting. 

While each region, each nation and each service provider will continue to make their own decisions in regards to how e-voting and i-voting are best administered, international conferences like EVOTE2014 provide the perfect platform for these industry leaders to meet, collaborate and discuss the pertinent issues.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The advancing innovations and trends of voting technology

All industries and business sectors should aspire for continuous innovation, ceaselessly moving forward with changes that make for a better product or experience by all. In the case of mobile phones, the rise of the smartphone and mobile apps has completely revolutionized the way that people communicate on the go. Modern cars are packed with an increasing assortment of technology, providing drivers and passengers with more comfort, better safety and improved fuel economy.

In the context of elections, the pace of innovation can sometimes feel slowed by the bureaucracies of government, but this should not thwart the continuing advances in creating a better and more efficient voting process. This should include innovations for the election infrastructure, hardware and software for collecting ballots, and advances in the tabulation and reporting of results.

Traditionally, innovations that impact how the voter casts a ballot tend to create friction as they have direct require legal framework adaptations. As a rule of thumb, the closer the technology is to the voter, the harder it is to implement it. 
That is why, some of the innovations being implemented in the industry address problems either before the voter casts a ballot, or after when the vote is being processed. To better illustrate our point, let’s look at three recent elections that employed technology in different stages. 

Voter authentication
Biometric technology can help to protect against election fraud, giving voters greater confidence in the integrity and legitimacy of results. In Brazil, approximately 21 million voters where authenticated biometrically before casting a ballot, thus eliminating the possibility of voter impersonation. Authorities are expecting to extend the use of the biometric devices to the entire electorate by 2017. 

Electronic poll books 
Among the many recommendations made by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration electronic poll books emerged as one source of possible innovation in the field. The report, handed to the President of the US on January 1st, 2014, sees e-poll books as a way for jurisdictions to make voter processing at polling places more accurate and efficient. The report stated “In the national survey of election of­ficials, e-poll books was one of the most frequently identified innovations that respon­dents desired.”

The Onondaga County Board of Elections recently tried a new electronic poll book during the recent midterm elections in the US. Using an electronic pad similar to what it is used to pay with credit cards at grocery stores, polling management got much easier. 

According to Onondaga County Elections Commissioners, Dustin Czarny, and Helen Kiggins Walsh voters at three polling places were asked to sign their names on the electronic pad. Also, elections inspectors typed voters' names into a database, to pull up information.

Promising to end long lines at polling stations, an election technology provider, everyone counts is also promoting their Electronic Polling Book in their website. 

Results processing

Oonce voters have left the precincts, there are still plenty of instances where administrators can use some help from technology. 

Recently, the West Heath Ward by-election of the Rushmoor Borough Council in the United Kingdom, used a digital pen to streamline the transmission of results. The digital pen, adapted to elections by Smartmatic, was employed in two aspects of the West Heath by-election. It was used by the election officials during the official tabulation and reporting of the election results. More specifically, it was used by officials with the ballot box verification form and the election results verification form. The former aggregates the final tally in each box, while the latter records the results for each electoral candidate. In both cases, the ePen was able to digitally capture the important information, allowing election officials to quickly and easily verify and transmit the results.