Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New votings apps seen to increase turnout

For decades, election authorities in the U.S. have been puzzled over the dwindling number of people turning out for elections. Whether the reason is lack of interest, or lack of access to polling centers, or some other impediment, low voter turnout is proving to be such a pain point that it has received the attention of various sectors, even the developer community.

Recently, several innovative mobile applications have been released that aim to smooth the voter registration process. One such notable app is the appropriately-named Register to Vote which allows citizens in California, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, and Massachusetts to register simply by scanning their state IDs.  It promises to complete the whole process in thirty seconds. The app’s most obvious benefit is the elimination of the cumbersome step of having to physically go to a registration to sign up.

Another app takes the chatbot approach in helping voters register.  HelloVote allows voters simply enter their mobile phone number on this site, or text HELLO to 384–387, and the app takes them through the filling out the voter registration form for their state.  Some states allow direct electronic submissions while some states require voters to fill out a form that HelloVote will send back via via email or snail mail for later submission to the local electoral body.

It’s not as if anyone is likely to forget when Election Day is. But sometimes little nudge helps in to actually go out and cast that vote. TurboVote provides that impetus by sending text and email reminders. Voters get a notification the day before election day complete with ballot information and information on the nearest polling center.   What’s even more interesting is the TurboVote Challenge, which get top companies and leading organizations into a a nonpartisan advocacy to increase voter participation.

Reversing the voter turnout downtrend is a tall order yet innovation could provide just the needed spark to get voters trooping back to the polling centers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Election Performance Index: a thorough analysis of the North American electoral system

As Election Day draws nearer, poll-related studies continue to be conducted, throwing further light on the current state of American elections and the developments it had undergone.

Recently, the PewTrust Research Center published the Election Performance Index (EPI), a comprehensive evaluation of the electoral system in all of the nation’s 50 states – including the District of Columbia. The study took into account 17 key indicators.

The EPI covers the 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections, measuring variables related to the problems faced by voters with disabilities, the availability of an online register, the voting of military personnel deployed abroad, voter turnout and the number of voters registered.  

These indicators reflect how several states have managed to improve their performance during elections, particularly when it comes to online registration and waiting times to vote.  

-          Online registration: Since 2008 there has been a steady increase of the number of states that offer this option to voters. This year, only two states (Washington and Arizona) opted for this technology upgrade. Today, over 20 states offer an online solution for voter registration and the update of their data.  

-          Voters with disabilities: During the past 4 elections, the District of Columbia, Mississippi and Alabama polled over 20% in the EPI when it came to voters who were unable to vote due to an illness or disability, due to the lack of proper conditions at the polling places and of solutions offered by the voting system.  

-          Voter turnout: The EPI reflects two important changes. On the one hand, during the 2008 and 2012 general elections, voter turnout did not surpass 80%, while for the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014 this index dropped to a mere 58%.  

These indicators, in addition to others in the study, show how states can continue to develop their electoral systems to offer voters more accessibility, transparency and security. These variables could be improved by the use of technology, leading to a stronger democracy. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Democracy Day: Developing countries use technology to empower their citizens

Developing countries are now beginning to realize the power of technology in helping them deliver services more efficiently and provide their citizens with the tools needed for them to get involved in government initiatives more – especially in elections.

Asia and Africa are blazing the trail in this trend.  In the past ten years, countries such as India, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe have rolled out innovations to improve the transparency, security, precision and reliability of their elections, positively impacting their democracies by committing to the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, the theme for Democracy Day 2016.

In India, the authorities have focused on a plan to improve their education system through e-government, guaranteeing better management and attention to the students in the country’s schools.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited startups and investors to join the efforts to develop automated voting machines that meet international security standards (such as printed voting vouchers), adding mechanisms that make voting easier and more accessible.

Governments in Africa have shown an approach focused on technology that modernizes electoral registries and makes voter authentication more effective.  Uganda successfully tried out a biometric system that was deployed at the polling centres, considerably reducing the possibilities of fraud.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is analyzing the implementation of biometrics for the 2018 elections, in order to improve the electoral system by making it more inclusive and reliable.

The free world needs to adapt to the rapid advancements in technology and learn to harness its great power if it is to solve the many challenges confronting democracies nowadays.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Swiss citizens abroad push for a reform to allow e-voting

The Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA) has decided to find mechanisms to increase the voting turnout of younger generations and enfranchise Swiss citizens abroad by means of online voting. 
Therefore, the Council would like to implement this technology, already successful in countries like Estonia, a trailblazer and a leader in Internet voting, employing the practice in their national elections since 2005. 

During their annual congress, held in early August, the CSA debated about electronic and online voting, taking into account the constant requests to the Swiss government to employ innovations that make it easier for Swiss citizens abroad to vote.  

The CSA’s leading committee considers that broadening the possibility to vote for their members will grant the organization greater legitimacy. “The models applied by the UK and Belgium can serve as models for our communities in other countries”.  

Those promoting e-voting have argued that some Swiss expats lack the possibility to cast their votes, since postal voting is not reliable enough in some of the countries they reside in. 

With an Internet voting model it is possible to guarantee that citizens have access to the vote from anywhere in the world by using a smartphone, a tablet or a computer. This technology guarantees that the will of each citizen is recorded securely, transparently and precisely, doing away with the human errors that commonly take place during traditional manual voting.  

The CSA, which convenes every two years, represents the interests of over 760 thousand Swiss citizens residing abroad to the authorities and the media. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Denmark ranks first in ICT and second in e-Government

Each year, the Digital Agenda commission of the European Union offers figures that let people gauge the advances and imbalances countries show regarding the performance of their Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). 

This year Denmark  ranked first in ICT use, according to the average global ranking of the Digital Economic and Society Index (DESI) published by the EU. 

The European Union started the Europe 2020 growth strategy, which has five targets for growth attainable by means of seven “flagship initiatives”. One of these is the Digital Agenda, which defines the route European nations must follow to meet their objectives for 2020.  The DESI gauges the advances in the digital domain. 

Denmark stands out on account of their Internet use, their integration of digital technology, and their use of public digital services (e-Government).

The country’s performance is especially strong in e-Government. It has been at the vanguard of digital public services for years; in 2015 it ranked first, and it slipped to second place this year.  
Despite this good performance, authorities do not seem to be completely satisfied, and in order to go back to number one, Denmark has designed a new electronic management strategy (2016-2020). Despite not being published yet, we know this strategy aims to strengthen their leadership in the Public Digitization Service, which from 2011 to 2015 was highly ambitious and successful. 

Estonia, which surpasses Denmark, developed in 2015 an Internet voting system that has allowed Estonians to vote remotely from any location.    

This electoral technology has given Estonia the capacity to implement digital solutions to empower their citizens, and they have become a worldwide reference when it comes to elections, turnout and digital governance. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

India looks at E-governance to improve education

In its bid to improve overall performance of learning institutions, the Indian government has outfitted 1,200 central schools in New Delhi with e-governance technology. 

Through this program, activities of both the students and the teachers will be monitored to increase productivity and achieve a more efficient administration. Officials of the schools are optimistic that the e-governance program can help improve performance of students, teachers, and school administrators.

Already, some educators are reporting such expected improvements. Suresh Singh, a principal in Kendriya Vidyalaya in South Delhi, has credited the adoption of the e-governance system with minimizing the drudgery of administration allowing him to teach more.

“Now I am more of a teacher,” Singh says, “less of an administrator”. Mathematics teacher Alka Sharma from Ahlcon International School in East Delhi shares the same optimism. Digital intervention lessens administrative burden on teaching staff, enabling them to focus more on educating than doing paper work.

E-governance has clearly brought an effective tool to teachers, who are also looking at leveraging technology to improve student engagement through customized tutorials, better pedagogy, which in turn, develops an ideal teaching-learning atmosphere.

The government tapped MGRM Net Ltd, an IT company to implement the project. MGRM’s senior vice-president Partha Mohanty said his company seeks to bring the e-governance program to private and government schools as both require an education system that observes “transparency, accountability, improved efficiency and universal access to information”.

For this specific purpose, the e-governance is the solution he believes will bring a remarkable difference. Numerous domestic and international studies have revealed quality issues with India’s education sector, making it the target of a reform initiative.

The Union Human Resource Development Ministry has also considered the same e-Government technology through its “shaala darpan” system, an ICT program that provides mobile access to parents of students of government and government-aided schools.

With this technology, parents can view updates on their child’s progress. Observers are optimistic that integrating “shaala darpan” with e-governance technology would bring about outstanding results in terms of student engagement, assessment and gap analysis, and even school infrastructure.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Argentina eyes election automation for 2017

The Argentine government is looking to overhaul the country's electoral system ahead of the 2017 elections.

Topping the proposed electoral reform agenda is poll automation, which many Argentines believe has become an imperative after manual voting failed in 2015. The proposed reforms, which have yet to reach Congress, also includes a wide array of issues such as campaign financing and a revamp of election calendars. 

This move by Mauricio Macri's government is seen by observers as an encouraging response to the problems encountered during the first round of the 2015 presidential elections when the manual system collapsed. The issues with the paper-based system were so widespread and serious that a comprehensive reform became a campaign platform for Macri. 

The lack of an efficient system to process votes has long beset Argentina leading provinces such as Salta and Cordoba to adopt their own technology solutions.

In 2015, the Province of Buenos Aires used a sort of ballot printing and scanning technology that had been used in Salta since 2009. Although the technology helped count the votes, many technology experts were wary of the system's security features.

An article published in La Nacion-a leading Argentine outlet-, provides detailed information on the different problems found in this particular system. Although authorities have downplayed the effects of the incidents, the technology continued to be under the scrutiny of IT experts.

During the recent ekoparty Security Conference, the system used in Salta also came under heavy fire from IT practitioners  Barrera Oro and Javier Smaldone who worried about the system's lack of transparency and insufficient security. 

According to the Buenos Aires Herald, the system that is being proposed in the draft bill resembles the system in question, which has led some stakeholders to call for more consultation.

The reform proposal faces months of intense debates in the Congress before it can be passed into a law. The proponents would also need to work closely with the academe and election technology experts to craft a solution tailored to the country's complex requirements. Yet many are optimistic that the proposal is a step in the right direction in achieving the country's long-time goal of having credible elections.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Estonia: More young people studying e-governance every day

Estonia is today a world reference when talking about digital democracy. The government offers a vast array of online services, which its citizens access through a digital ID card. It is also worth noting that the online voting technology they have developed has been used in several processes in different countries.   

To keep developing these platforms that have improved the quality of life of millions, several of the country’s public and private universities are offering top-of-the-line courses to young people interested in innovation and e-governance.  

One of these institutions is the Tallinn University of Technology  (TUT), which offers a MSc in technology and e-governance services to native and foreign students. This degree, driven by the public and private sectors, is a priority for the country, and the subject is openly promoted by president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a confessed lover of innovative technology. 
At TUT, students with ideas for first-level startups want to be ambassadors for Estonia’s electoral technology and make it known worldwide. One of them is Crystal LaGrone from Oklahoma, USA, who is halfway through the masters program and wants to bring e-voting technology back home.   

LaGrone came to Estonia as a visitor and quickly became interested in innovation. “I’ve discovered great advances in IT, particularly Internet voting”. 

This student, who had no previous IT experience, thinks that Internet voting could strengthen democracy and increase turnout in the United States. In her opinion, the masters program offers extensive knowledge on how to found a modern statethe transition to e-government, its development and management. 

Her objective is clear: returning to the United States to improve e-voting systems, a tool designed to strengthen democracy by preventing paper-based fraud.  “If we managed to take a man to the moon and bring him back, Internet voting couldn’t possibly be as hard”. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

At least 43 states in the USA will use obsolete technology in the 2016 elections

It is estimated that during the 2016 elections at least 43 states in the USA will use voting machines that are already obsolete. In a world where technology is used almost daily, one must wonder why Americans must choose a President using devices running software from the year 2000.  

According to a study published by the Brennan Center most these machines are nearing the end of their useful life, placing the elections at risk by being prone to failures that could generate long lineups, or the loss of votes.   

Lawrence Norden,  Deputy Director of the centre and co-author of the study, wonders how one can think there are no risks  in running elections with technology designed in the 90’s. “No one expects a computer to work optimally for over 10 years”. 

The warnings in the report come at a moment when voter turnout in the US has decreased, given the long lines at the polls and the limited access certain sectors of society have to the vote.  

Before the 2016 primaries, Smartmatic – the leading elections company with experience in five continents – published a research paper that highlights the shortcomings of the American electoral system. 

The general opinion of those consulted shows that the current voting system is inefficient and discourages voters. On their part, Hispanics showed their concern about language barriers, considering that implementing new systems could increase turnout.  

These studies are just the tip of the iceberg of a subject that is gaining traction with American citizens, who see that an obsolete voting system could affect the vision their country projects worldwide about the strength of its democracy. For them, this situation could be reverted easily with the introduction of new and better technology.