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.