Thursday, December 31, 2015

E-voting in South Korea expanded to corporate world

The adoption and widespread implementation of electronic voting technology in the election of government officials, presidents and other elected officials can oftentimes be hampered by the bureaucracy and party politics of public office. The technology is already here and it's ready, but some politicians are hesitant to that sort of change. And this is why some of the best advances may be coming from the private sector.

The private sector is inherently more agile and quickly adaptable to change than the public sector. Major corporations and multinational companies in particularly can reap many benefits from using e-voting technology within their own decision-making infrastructure. In the case of South Korea, it has now been announced by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) that it will adopt electronic voting for its own internal processes.

Part of the motivation behind this move, according to an article in Business Korea, is to “act as a stimulus for the enhancement of voting rights of shareholders.” In many ways, the shareholders in a company are not dissimilar from the citizens of a particular country. The decisions made by executives and elected officials affect the shareholders and citizens directly, and thus the shareholders and citizens want to ensure that their opinions and preferences are heard.

KEPCO is not the first company in Korea to make this move, as some 452 Korean companies have already adopted e-voting as part of their own practices. This is according to the Korea Securities Depository and it reflects an astronomical increase compared to just 79 companies at the end of last year. This still only represents 19 percent of companies in the KOSPI and 24 percent of companies in the KOSDAQ, so much more progress needs to made among public companies in Korea to implement electronic voting.

The positive trend toward the higher adoption of e-voting among corporations and public companies is also being reflected in other parts of Asia. More specifically, e-voting was mandated for listing companies in Taiwan earlier this year. The popularity of e-voting in the private sector is growing and will quickly become the norm.

For elections in the South Korean government itself, progress has been slower. The country's people are generally more conservative in nature, though it did elect its first female president two years ago. This demonstrates some inclination toward a more progressive mindset, one that would be more amenable to the adoption of e-voting for public elections too.

At this time, elections in South Korea do not use technology for voter registration purposes, nor is an e-voting system used in elections for public office. It's quite possible that the growth of e-voting in the private sector, as demonstrated by KEPCO's announcement, will help to spur further development in the public sector too.

This is in addition to tests and demonstrations of e-voting in recent years that have further illustrated that Korea, a country rich in tradition yet definitely on the forefront of innovation with such heavy hitters as LG and Samsung, is ready to adopt e-voting on a more public context. It's ready to move into the 21st century.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reviewing the results of Bulgaria's e-voting referendum

One of the purist and most direct ways to gauge the popular opinion on an important issue is to hold a referendum. In this way, you are granting voters the same access to expressing their viewpoint as they have during a regular election that would see the selection of new heads of state and legislative representatives. When the referendum ties into the electoral process itself, the cycle is completed.

This is a big reason why the recent referendum held in the country of Bulgaria is so important. The results of the referendum could set a precedent not only in Bulgaria itself, but also in other democracies around the world. It could also expedite, maintain, or diminish any progress made in other countries seeking similar movements and advances in its electoral processes.

The referendum was first proposed last year and consisted of three different questions. After some debate among government officials, the national referendum was eventually narrowed down to a single question. It asked the people of Bulgaria whether or not they would support the use of technology to allow for remote voting through electronic means.

The support for e-voting was largely being gauged in the context of distance voting. More specifically, the referendum question was worded as thus:

“Do you support that remote electronic voting is enabled when elections and referendums are held?”

Despite what some of the opponents may have to say about the adoption of e-voting and i-voting technology in modern elections, the result of the Bulgarian referendum is one of overwhelming support for the use of remote electronic voting.

The exact figures from different sources vary somewhere between 69.5 percent and 72.5 percent, but the Bulgarians who did participate in the referendum have clearly indicated that they support and favor remote electronic voting in future elections and referendums. Compare this to the mere 26 percent who voted against the introduction of electronic distance voting. Even in the district with the least support for the adoption of e-voting, Shoumen, a 57.8 percent majority still marked their ballots with a “yes.” The capital city of Sofia saw the largest support for e-voting at 76.5 percent of the vote.

The referendum question itself was also posed to Bulgarians who are living or working abroad through a number of overseas polling stations. This only makes sense, as this is the demographic that would be affected the most by the implementation of remote e-voting possibilities in the Bulgarian democracy.

Interest in electronic voting technology and interest in participating in nationally-held elections are also growing in Bulgaria. When the country last held a referendum in 2013, voter turnout was a mere 20.22%. With this most recent referendum, that figure nearly doubled to 39.67%. There is still much room to grow and to learn, but the positive trend demonstrates promise.

While this level of voter turnout in the e-voting referendum in Bulgaria is not enough to be legally binding at the governmental level, which requires a turnout of at least 48.7 percent, it is above the 20 percent threshold needed in order to require the National Assembly in Bulgaria to further debate the issue and to keep the conversation moving forward.

Where the Bulgarian democracy goes from here remains to be seen, but given the steadfast determination of President Rosen Plevneliev in pursuing the e-voting agenda, the issue will clearly remain top of mind and a continued topic of hot debate. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The continued growth of remote e-voting in India

As the world's second largest country by population and the world's largest democracy overall, India certainly faces more than its fair share of bureaucratic and logistical challenges in addressing the needs of its citizens. The economy is growing and jobs are being created, but living conditions for many Indian residents continues to be wearisome. And with this many people anxious to have their voices heard for how to move the country forward, capturing their intentions on Election Day can be a logistical and administrative nightmare.

One strategy that has been making significant progress in recent years is the rising adoption of electronic voting technology, particularly as it pertains to the possibility of an Internet-based online voting solution. It has been said by the Central Election Commission that a new e-voting system will be introduced soon and this will help significantly with reducing or even eliminating the issues surrounding extraordinarily long queues on voting day.

The appeal of being able to cast a ballot online is multi-faceted, going beyond the convenience of avoiding long lineups on Election Day. The simple convenience of being able to vote from home or even on a mobile device is undeniable, as is the ease of access for people who may have geographic or physical challenges to overcome. This should help with improving voter turnout too.

What's more, it's said that voting online would help to mitigate issues related to the intimidating attempts made by “goons paid for by the local leaders” that have become a problem at voting places.

The benefits for the government and for the electoral commission cannot be understated either, by reducing the wastage of paper and other resources that are needed to run a more physically-oriented election.

This all sounds very good, but it's also increasingly clear that much more work remains to be done. The e-voting and online voting solution appears to be working, but the registration process for i-voting has been nothing short of a catastrophic debacle. The Gujarat Congress issued a statement decrying the lack of adequate preparation on the part of the State Election Commission in its execution of the online voting system.

More specifically, it says that some 20,000 citizens “had registered for online voting, but necessary details for registrations were not timely shared with them by SEC.” While the SEC had sent the required usernames and passwords to registrants, the required weblink was not included. What's more, because of further technical complications and challenges, registered voters could not even complete the activation of the e-voting process.

The logistics of the situation were further exacerbated as the convenience of voting from home was nullified. Registrants were told to visit a local office in person to complete a verification form, but upon arrival, they were told to go to the magistrate office for even further verification. This is no longer convenient at all and, as such, more preparation in preparing the infrastructure for e-voting and i-voting is clearly required.

All is not lost and other democracies around the world can look to India to address problems with their own e-voting and i-voting systems in a more pre-emptive manner. Moving forward, India endeavors to make it easier for non-residents to vote online too and the recent mandates toward this goal should spur on further progress and development. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Once again, electronic voting guarantees exact results in Venezuela

Image: Reuters
Eleven years and thirteen elections after electronic voting was introduced in Venezuela, voters headed back to the polls to elect its parliament representatives. The elections, held on December 6 registered a participation rate of 75%, which is an impressive turnout considering that voting is not mandatory in Venezuela. 

Venezuela’s system automates all stages of the election, from biometric voter authentication, to voting, results transmission, tallying and results publication. The system has been deemed reliable by important observation organizations such as the Carter Center and the European Union.  

Weeks before the election, a report published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance stated that "the strength of the Venezuelan electoral process lies in the automated voting and vote-counting system". Meanwhile, Leonel Fernandez, head of the observation mission from UNASUR said in his post-election balance that "The Venezuelan voting system is solid and safe." 

One of the most important attributes of the technology used in Venezuela is its high level of auditability. Before, during and after the election, technicians from participating political parties, independent auditors and electoral authorities review the system thoroughly. 

In addition, during the night of the election a public audit was performed to compare the printed vote receipts against the precinct counts issued by more than 50% of the voting machines. No significant issues were found.  

On Sunday night the official results of 96% of the seats in contention were published, and they were accepted by all political parties without exception.

1,799 candidates were competing for the 167 seats that constitute the parliament. This was a heavy contested election, where few votes made the difference to declare the winners. For example, in Aragua, a state in the central region, one parliament seat was decided by only 83 votes, a difference of only 0.06%.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Technological challenges lie ahead of Nigeria's 2019 election

In order for a country to move forward with progressive change that is beneficial for all its citizens, it must first establish a democratic process that is fair, secure and respected. This is particularly challenging for countries in transition, especially where a fair and open democracy is still a relatively novel concept in the shadow of previously unjust regimes.

A prime example of these circumstances is happening right now in the African country of Nigeria. Even though the federal elections were held just earlier this year, electing Muhammadu Buhari as the new President, the electoral commission and other governmental organizations are already looking ahead to the next election scheduled to take place in 2019.

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Acting Chairperson Mrs. Amina Zakari has indicated that the commission “is ready to implement what is contemplated in the law.” More specifically, she says that Nigeria is technologically ready to move forward with e-voting as soon as the impediment of the law has been alleviated. The next major step required is to pass laws in Nigeria that allow for the widespread adoption of electronic voting technology for the 2019 elections.

To this end, INEC has partnered with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in an effort to deploy high technology in what should be a very robust election in four years’ time. The announcement of this collaboration comes ahead of an annual e-governance conference in mid-November, called eNigeria, where discussions will be held in regards to applying technological solutions in the 2019 general election, as well as to how to improve the electoral system in the nation as a whole.

It would not be prudent for Nigeria to hurl itself into full deployment of e-voting throughout its democratic process without first performing some due diligence. Indeed, while Nigeria did make use of biometric technology in its general election earlier this year, the fingerprint identification system was marred with problematic challenges. Once again, this further illustrates the incredible importance of two key issues.

First, the electoral commission of Nigeria must be careful in selecting the right providers for its e-voting equipment and infrastructure. This includes not only the hardware for voter authentication and digital ballots, possibly with the inclusion of a voter-verifiable paper trail, but also for the systems in place to manage these machines. A reputable vendor will have a proven track record in running elections of at least this size and magnitude.

Second, and this point is intimately intertwined with the first, the full election process must be open to scrutiny and testing through a robust series of audits. The audits must be in place through an impartial third party throughout the election, as well as both before and after the ballots are cast. The e-voting machines must be audited thoroughly. This way, any challenges or shortcomings will be suitably addressed before they become more widespread.

The integrity of the election results, and thus the public perception and acceptance of the election results, depends heavily on the reliability and security of the infrastructure used. Nigeria needs free, fair and open elections and the use of technology could pave the road. Nigeria is ready to adopt e-voting for its 2019 national elections and the pace is quickening with each passing day. Even before laws are passed to allow for e-voting on a national scale, INEC is prepared to move forward with agencies to develop the legal framework needed and to update its own internal processes. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Managing the complexity of the Venezuelan parliamentary elections

On December 6, Venezuela will hold parliamentary elections amidst a highly polarized political environment. Authorities are expecting 20 million voters who will elect 167 representatives from 1,800 candidates.

Amongst the upheaval and uncertainty, at least one factor has remained a constant in Venezuelan politics for over a decade: the continued advancement and improved deployment of e-voting technology.

Indeed, even though more than 14,000 polling stations will be open and millions of ballots will be cast on December 6, the official results will likely be available and reported within just a few hours of the polls closing. This is because of the 100% automated voting platform, from voter registration to the electronic capture of the ballot on a direct-recording e-voting machine, from the tabulation of results to the proclamation of the successful candidates. Electronic voting can bring about incredible benefits when it comes to complex elections of this type and the expedient and secure reporting of the results is just one of them.

After using electronic counting for six years, Venezuelan moved to electronic voting in 2004. From the 13 elections that took place between 2004 and 2013, a total of over 340 million votes were processed, over half a million voting machines were deployed, nearly 300,000 operators were trained, and some 5,600 candidates were elected through this end-to-end voting infrastructure and system.

Throughout this experience, e-voting has played an integral role in improving the efficiency, security and effectiveness of the democratic process. Venezuela has held the most automated elections in Latin America.

Looking ahead to the December parliamentary elections, Venezuelans can fully expect this strong history and pedigree of successful e-voting will continue with the integrity of audits, the user-friendly experience of the voting machines and the remarkably expedient reporting of results. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bulgarian E-Voting Referendum Opens Overseas Polling Stations

Technology has become an integral part of just about every aspect of contemporary society. Computers are used in nearly every line of work, smartphone adoption is at an all-time high, and a growing number of tasks are being performed over the Internet, including online banking and passport renewals. The use of technology in elections is also growing on a global scale.

In Bulgaria, a referendum was proposed last year that would posit three questions as they related to elections in the Balkan nation. Since that time, the referendum has been further revised to include only one question to be asked of the Bulgarian people: are they in favor of or are they opposed to the adoption of electronic voting technology in future elections? This may also include the possibility of remote e-voting too.

While it may have once been assumed that the people of Bulgaria would only be able to vote in this referendum if they are physically present at a polling station in Bulgaria that was not the case when the referendum was held on October 25. Indeed, 312 polling stations were opened in 45 countries around the world to allow Bulgarians to voice their opinion on the issue from abroad. These included polling stations in such nations as the United States, Germany and Turkey, among dozens of others.

The point here is that the results of this referendum and the profound ramifications that it could have on the electoral process in Bulgaria affect not only the people who live and work in the country itself, but also for expatriates and overseas workers. Expatriate voting has become a hot issue in recent months with dramatic changes in Canada and an increased push for voting for Swiss living abroad. By opening the referendum to Bulgarians in 45 other countries, the government has clearly indicated that expatriate and absentee opinion matters.

The referendum also highlights two other important topics. First, it could serve as a viable experiment for how e-voting and remote voting could be best implemented in actual elections and not only in referendums. Second, it could also help to build popular interest in the advancement of e-voting in the nation of Bulgaria and for Bulgarians living abroad.

The potential was there. The opportunity was there. This referendum could have marked a major milestone for Bulgaria, helping to propel its democracy ahead today and into the future.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of opening overseas polling stations and working to increase public interest in the mechanics of democracy, the referendum ultimately did not live up to its promise. This was attributed to insufficient voter turnout. Even though 69.5 percent of those who participated did vote in favor of remote online voting, only 40 percent of eligible voters responded to the referendum.

The laws are such that the voter turnout must be at least at the same level as that of the last parliamentary elections. In this case, 48.66 percent of voters turned out for the 2014 parliamentary elections and thus the referendum came up nearly 9 percent short of this mark.

President Rosen Plevneliev is undeterred, stating that “voters want to be asked and expect to be heard.” Even though the results of the referendum are not binding, Plevneliev says that it would be a “big political mistake” to ignore them. And so, the saga toward increased e-voting and remote e-voting in Bulgaria continues. If nothing else, this referendum indicates that voter apathy must be addressed and the issues surrounding technology in the democratic process must continue to be pushed to the forefront of the conversation. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Azerbaijan considering electronic voting system for next election

It is not terribly common to find discussions of advancing democracy coming from countries that are perhaps more associated with communism or socialism. However, it is perhaps from these previously political states that the emergence of truly fair, free and open democracy can have among the greatest impact, as just might be the case for Azerbaijan.

The former member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or “Soviet Union”) recently held its major national election on November 1. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (“New Azerbaijan”) party, headed by President Ilham Aliyev, was re-elected with a sizable majority, taking 71 of the 125 seats in the country's parliament. As a result, Aliyev will be leading the country for another five years.

Unfortunately, this election was not without its fair share of controversy. There have been allegations of ballot stuffing at a number of the polls, for instance, as well as the noted boycott by several of the nation's leading opposition parties. These include the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), the Musavat party, and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan. According to the NCDF, the polls in Azerbaijan are “fully falsified” and do not accurately reflect the will of the people of Azerbaijan.

A democracy cannot be fully respected and hold the legitimate seat of power if the nation's people do not trust in the integrity of the electoral process, especially when leading opposition parties boycott the polls. This leads to an inherent skewing of the results, even though voter turnout was a mere 55.7 percent.

To move the democracy forward and to earn the respect of the Azerbaijan people, the electoral process in the nation is in desperate need of reform. If the integrity of the election is not trusted, then neither can the results and this can lead to further political upheaval. Thankfully, the November 1 election was conducted in a peaceful manner with no major stories of violence.

Looking ahead to the next election in 2020, the greater possibility of a free, fair, open and transparent election is possible, one where the major opposition parties may not feel compelled to boycott. During a briefing on October 9, Azerbaijan Central Election Commission (CEC) Information Center Director Rufat Gulmammadov indicated that electronic voting technology could be suitably launched in the nation.

“If this issue is reflected in the legislation, I believe that it can be resolved without any problems from the technical point of view,” stated Gulmammadov. “If the issue of electronic voting will be reflected in legislation of the country, this corporate network can act as a platform for the launch of e-voting.”

He is referring to the corporate network of the CEC itself, which can operate as the framework for an e-voting system in Azerbaijan's national elections. The network has been in operation for more than three years and has already been used successfully in previous elections. The next major step would be for the parliament of Azerbaijan to pass legislation that would facilitate the widespread adoption and deployment of e-voting technology.

With greater reliability and transparency, an electronically-powered election in Azerbaijan may be ready for 2020. Perhaps then, the results will not be as heavily disputed and a point of rampant controversy as this most current election. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

E-Voting denied in Switzerland over hacking fears

No one ever said that the path to progress was going to be easy, straightforward and without challenges, but that does not mean we should abandon any of the positive steps we have taken to move forward. One area where this has become increasingly pronounced is in the context of voting technology.

A very recent example of this comes from Switzerland, widely regarded as one of the safest and most affluent countries in the world. There, the government has decided to deny access to e-voting technology in nine cantons. The explanation provided is that an audit of the electronic voting system being put forth for the upcoming federal elections has unearthed a number of significant security flaws in regards to protecting voting secrecy.

The electronic voting system was developed by Unisys, a company based in the United States. “Some serious deficiencies were noted,” according to government spokesperson Andre Simonazzi. “Hackers would have been able to reveal the electors' vote, which is not tolerable in a democracy.”

Absolutely, it is of incredible importance that the confidentiality and privacy of the vote must be secured in any election, let alone one of this magnitude. However, such deficiencies should not deter governments like the Swiss to move backward in its progress toward greater and more widespread adoption of e-voting technology. With this move, over one-third of Switzerland's 26 cantons will be without access to the electronic voting system.

This follows a recent story involving Swiss expatriates who are calling for electronic technology for voting from abroad. Significant progress has been made in Switzerland and in other European countries, most notably in Estonia, a democracy that continues to serve as a positive model of how e-voting can be very successfully implemented.

A bigger part of the problem with this government question is that it may now cause citizens to question their confidence in the credibility and reliability of e-voting technology in general. The problem here comes specifically from the Unisys system and it should not reflect poorly on other systems developed by other vendors.

If anything, it further solidifies the proposition that such hacking fears, among other possible causes of concern, need to be suitably addressed by the careful selection of the most reputable vendors with proven track records. A robust series of audits – before, during and after an election is held – must also be put in place.

The decision to repeal the Unisys-developed electronic voting system may offer some positives to the Swiss people if the system is as “seriously flawed” as the government report indicates. However, it is important that the government follow up as soon as possible by pursuing another vendor and another solution in order to keep the momentum moving forward with e-voting rather than sliding back to more archaic and arguably even more flawed systems of voting. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The future of Internet voting in the US

Even though the actual election itself is still over a year away, all eyes both home and abroad have turned their attention on the United States. As Barack Obama has already served two terms and is not eligible for re-election, it means that this upcoming federal election will necessarily name a new President of the United States. It could be Florida Governor Jeb Bush. It could be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It could be self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. It might even be real estate mogul Donald Trump.

And while the magnitude of who will eventually emerge as the winner cannot be understated, there is another very important story related to this upcoming election that should not be ignored. The technology and infrastructure involved in running the election are in dire need of improvement and upgrading.

A recent report published by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law indicates that 43 states will be using electronic voting machines that are at least 10 years old for the 2016 elections and as many as 14 states will be using machines that are more than 15 years old. This is well past their expected lifespan, especially when you consider that many of these machines are no longer manufactured and replacement parts are increasingly difficult to find. This problem is particularly notable in a number of swing states, like North Carolina and Virginia.

While some of the wealthier counties have been able to afford the purchase and configuration of new equipment, poorer and more rural counties have been left with older, more dated machines that are more prone to issues and inconsistencies. A lot has changed in the last decade and the electoral process in the United States needs to reflect this.

Consider that the United States is only now adopting the “chip” technology for credit cards, a technology that has long since been used in a number of other developed countries. Moving ahead with the democratic process requires a similar update to the machinery and infrastructure used.

Some progress has been made in expanding the availability of electronic voter registration in the United States ahead of the 2016 election. The next major step would be to not only update the electronic voting machines that some constituents may use in person, but also to update the process to include the possibility of voting online.

To this end, the US Vote Foundation has put together a comprehensive report describing the future of Internet voting in the country. More specifically, it calls for end-to-end verifiable Internet voting, or E2E-VIV for short. This system would need to provide the proper balance of security and transparency that the democratic process requires, protecting the privacy of the vote while providing voters with the ability to check the system. Voters can see if their online ballot was recorded correctly and whether the vote was properly included in the final tally.

All current systems, according to this report, are currently inadequate in guaranteeing “voter privacy or the correct election outcomes.” The proposed Internet voting system must be usable and secure, with protections in place against “large-scale coordinated attacks, both on its own infrastructure and on individual voters' computers.”

The reality of the situation is that the United States will not be ready for widespread Internet voting in time for next year's elections. However, by following the guidelines outlined by the US Vote Foundation report, the first steps can be made to move in this direction in time for the next election. There are several fundamental challenges that need to be overcome before Internet voting can become a reality on a mass scale in the country. In the meantime, America can look to positive examples elsewhere in the world where e-voting and i-voting have been successfully deployed.

Electoral officials just have to recognize the immense importance of end-to-end verifiability of any online-based voting system they consider. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What the Estonian e-residency could mean for global e-voting

When seeking leadership and innovation in the area of e-voting and i-voting technology on a national scale, it's not in the United States, England or Germany where inspiration can be found. Instead, a decidedly smaller nation in the Baltic region of Northern Europe continues to act as a shining example of how a modern democracy can and should be run.

Estonia's widespread and enthusiastic adoption of secure, transparent, and robust Internet-based voting technologies is well documented and widely applauded. The country continues to move forward with new and better technologies, always looking to how its democracy can be better applied for its citizens. But what about the rest of the world?

Perhaps one of the more compelling developments to come out of Estonia in the last little while is the e-Residency project. From the official website, e-Residency “offers to every world citizen a government-issued digital identity and the opportunity to run a trusted company online, unleashing the world's entrepreneurial potential.”

The government startup effectively allows nearly anyone in the world to participate in Estonia without having to physically relocate to the European country. In effect, individuals can open Estonian bank accounts, launch Estonian businesses, and pay Estonian taxes, all via the Internet. The program is quickly growing and they anticipate that there will be 10 million e-Residents by the year 2020.

The identity of the prospective e-Resident is verified at one of the embassies located around the globe, meaning that he or she will still need to produce a passport and have his or her fingerprints recorded. The government will also conduct a background search to verified eligibility before issuing the e-Residency card.

Now, why does this matter?

The e-Residency project satisfies the requirements of Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations, allowing for improved cross-border investments and business operations while guarding against money laundering, terrorist financing, and other possible concerns. This provides lenders, crowdfunding providers and alternative finance platforms with the assurance of securely confirmed identity. What's more, while the digital signature is used extensively in Estonia, it will become legally equivalent to a traditional, handwritten signature in all of Europe's member states by July 1, 2016.

While the e-Residency program in Estonia is targeted within the contexts of online business and related operations, the fundamental guiding principles can be possibly extended to the area of electronic voting and Internet-based voting in government elections as well. If Estonia can issue an e-Residency card this way and if digital signatures can carry the weight that they will, these same technologies can be used to power elections in other countries when adapted to local conditions.

This allows for far easier access to the democratic process for citizens who may live in rural or remote areas. This provides for greater access for expatriates wishing to exercise their right to franchise from abroad. And it could significantly reduce the costs of running an election for a government while minimizing errors and maintaining the integrity of verified voters and ballots.

Challenges related to Internet voting systems are numerable, to be sure, but this e-Residency program could prove to be yet another example of how Estonia continues to solidify its place as an e-voting and i-voting global leader. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

On the issue of expatriate voting rights

Do citizens who are living and working abroad, particularly for an extended period of time, still have the same voting rights as the citizens who choose to stay in their home country? Should these expatriates be granted the same level of access to exercising their right to franchise, even if they haven't lived in their home country for several years?

This is surely a very controversial subject and it will continue to be a hotly debated issue as the global economy continues to grow and expand. A growing number of people are now working remotely or seeking new career opportunities in countries other than their own, all while retaining citizenship in their homeland rather than seeking citizenship where they currently reside. And what about students attending school abroad?

Most recently, a very significant change was made in Canada in regards to the voting rights of expatriates. The current Canadian government has stated that expatriates who have lived abroad for a period of more than five years are no longer be able to cast ballots and participate in the country's elections.

The rationale, according to Chief Justice George Strathy, is that non-residents should not be able to vote on laws that “have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives.” Indeed, if legislators are passing laws related to the infrastructure of a country, like schools and roads, but the expatriate never accesses these schools and roads, should they still have a say in how these issues are resolved?

Unsurprisingly, this ruling has consequently resulted in a significant backlash from the expatriate community, including celebrated actor and octogenarian Donald Sutherland. He stated that he only has one passport – a Canadian one – and he deserves the right to vote, even if he doesn't live in Canada. He has refused American citizenship and has no interest in pursuing dual citizenship. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada nearly 40 years ago. He feels Canadian, through and through, but he cannot vote. 

Questions have been raised as to how such laws should be applied and whether they require significant revision. Should and do the circumstances matter in determining whether a person living abroad can vote? What if it's a student taking a five-year program at a university abroad? What if it is a professional, like Sutherland, who hasn't lived in Canada for years? What if it's someone who works abroad most of the time, but comes “home” on a periodic basis where his family continues to reside?

Voting rights as related to non-residents and expatriates is not unique to Canadian politics.

A major movement is taking place among the community of Swiss citizens living and working abroad, for example, calling for the implementation of electronic voting technology. Remote e-voting was recently mandated for non-resident Indians so they can vote in elections without having to make the physical journey back home. But what does “home” really mean in this context?

And this lends itself to another related issue. If expatriates are granted the right to franchise, can e-voting better accommodate their ability to cast a ballot? Postal ballots or being forced to return to a home constituency can be inconvenient at best and an overwhelming obstacle at worst. By being able to vote through e-voting machines at local embassies or voting over the Internet instantly from anywhere in the world, expatriates can have far greater access to democracy.