Series: Automated voting III: Technologies for preparing an election

The vast majority of countries have introduced different technologies for the different stages of an electoral process. The decision to acquire and implement progress lies primarily by legislation. Once that process is passed, it starts the whole analysis of the steps to be followed.

In these phases prior to Election Day, the degree of sophistication of these management systems will depend on what each country considers appropriate to its electoral system. For this, they must assess the local infrastructure and any limitations that could be presented, consider their sustainability (applicability in time) and start the search and comparison of the bids in the market. Another component that must be taken into account is the availability of services to maintain the chosen technology.

The companies that offer electronic voting also develop technologies that may be used for configuring an election. Smartmatic, for example, offers an electoral management software (Electoral Management System, EMS), that automatically generates all the instruments required on the Election Day. As Eduardo Correia states (Correia is Smartmatic’s vice president of the electoral unit), in fully automated voting or manual elections, Smartmatics’ electoral management system offers a rules-based engine that makes the configuration of elections a simple and direct process, from the nominations of candidates to voter lists and the even the ballots’ design.

Even though there are systems that automate the entire process as the one described before, there are nations that apply technology to one or more stages. Among these, voter registration stands out as one of the pre-electoral processes that need a strong technological assistance. Currently, there are different ways to support the identification of voters, one of which is the electronic storage for an immediate comparison with the elector, and another alternative is the support in automated voting notebooks. The management systems facilitate the creation of voting notebooks or voters lists, with the precise information of who is registered to vote in each voting center.

Even in adherence to the Electoral Register, technology can participate, since registration may be voluntary in nature, after having the age established by the law to exercise the right to vote, or can be automatic, with the direct involvement by registrar.

The automation of the electoral register has been an almost natural process, in all democratic nations, and has served as the basis for applying technology in the other stages in order to provide greater transparency and speed in the electoral logistics. One of the benefits of electronic registry is that it serves as a quick guide for calculating the number of voting machines required, their distribution in the polls, and therefore the number of on site polling stations required in the country. The pattern affects what the distribution of voters by polling stations.

The candidate’s nomination process, which is a formal way through which political parties or other organizations solicit to register their candidates for an election, may also be administered in an automated manner. A key part of the electoral management systems corresponds to the information of all nominated candidates and parties, and automates the various application process stages (submission, resignation, partnerships, etc.). For example, if a candidate, only a few days from the election ceases to be a candidate for any reason and cede his or her votes to another party, those votes would automatically go to another candidate, without affecting the speed of the aggregation process.

The full compliance of this procedure will allow the correct elaboration of electoral ballots, when using the optical voting system or electronic ballots, or the emptying of the information, in cases in which is worked with electronic registration of the vote.

Another technological advantage with greater capacity for expansion in the world is the voter’s biometric identification. This process allows, through the use of equipment designed to capture the fingerprint of every voter, to identify the person and avoid impersonation or double voting, crimes which are occurring in many Latin American countries that have questioned the results. In general, its application starts in centers with the majority of voters.

To ensure the voter’s identity other systems have been designed such as identity cards, digital photography, bar code and electronic signature, but biometric identification is setting the pace in this area.

Internet is not left aside in the race for electoral automation, and the use of this network to facilitate processes and improve access to information is commonly used in developed or developing countries. Some of the electoral applications correspond to the report or data publication for voters, candidates and media, as well as voter registration, publication of electoral results or the public reporting and disclosure of campaign finances.

The challenges in electoral matters are varied, but it is necessary that the electoral body is aware of taking care of all the technology and its links with each of the preparation stages prior to polling day. The technology can be used to facilitate all these activities of the electoral administration, but the correct and massive use will be the aspect that will make the difference, compared to manual processes.