Part of Europe Still Missing Advantages of Automated Voting

In European many countries have abandoned electronic voting and return to manual voting. A 2006 study titled “Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet” (“We can’t trust voting machines”), written by Rop Gonggrijp and Willem-Jan Hengeveld, details a series of breaches that these researchers seem to have found in an automated voting machine that had been used in the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

According to the researchers, “anyone who has had brief access to the machine’s peripherals at any given time before an election can obtain complete and practically undetectable control of the results of the election.”

This kind of machine (ES3B) was developed by NV Nederlandsche Apparatenfabriek (Nedap) and has been used recently by approximately 90% of Dutch voters.

Many European countries have performed some tests on e-voting systems and to a certain extent, they have ignored warranty evaluations that are performed on the automated system nowadays.

France went back to manual voting.

France decided to eliminate automated voting for the second round of the elections. There were negative reactions against this change because the return to manual voting did not obey to strictly technical reasons, but rather to a series of suppositions. For example, the electronic certification that would guarantee the correct functioning of the machines was omitted. On September 27, 2007, the Dutch Korthals-Altes commission published a report that criticizes voting machines and describes them as “controllable”, as they don’t provide proof of voting. Besides, this commission didn’t believe that the machines could guarantee voting secrecy. On May 16, 2008, the Dutch government announced that they would abandon electronic voting for good and return to paper.

In Germany, 1800 electronic ballots were used during the 2005 legislative elections. However, in March 3, 2009, the Federal Constitutional Court declared illegal the decree that implements voting machines. This way, citizens were not allowed to verify the tallying process without needing some tech skills.

In spite of what looks like a big step backwards taken by Europe, e-voting has already overcome many obstacles and has established itself as a safe system, backed not only by the versatility and usefulness of its tools, but also by the great span of possibilities it brings for auditing.

Spain, for example, has begun to analyze the advantages of automation and has started to implement it gradually.

Belgium is another nation that has just begun the challenge of automation with a 10-year contract with Smartmatic.

Another example worth mentioning is the Philippines, a nation that has been able to consolidate an automated voting process after some rather stormy elections. This has brought a sense of calm to its electoral procedures.

In countries like Venezuela, voting machines undergo more than 5 different audit processes. Source:

Nowadays, voting machines can be tested to show how equipments and programs work in order to guarantee the precision of the results.

There is a variety of practices to audit e-voting. First we have vote authentication. Some voting machine models, like the ones used in Venezuela and parts of the US, allow the emission of a printed receipt of voting, which can be used for later tallying. With this mechanism, digital votes have a physical proof that can be used to verify scrutiny if needed.

Other methods include the dissemination of the source code so that voters, political parties representatives, and civil organizations have the opportunity to examine the precision of the voting process.

There are other examples, like Brazil, where trust in e-voting is high and exhaustive review methods are not applied, but they do take risks: In 2009, the High Electoral Court (TSE) organized a four-day attack against the voting system that was used during the previous year’s presidential elections. 38 hackers participated in this activity, including representatives from public entities like the Federal Police, private entities and international organizations.

The three best attempts to break the system were: one that tried to violate vote secrecy through the capture of electromagnetic waves emitted by the electronic ballot, one that analyzed the preparative procedures of the election, and one that put the voting software to the test. However, these hackers were not able to violate the system. These tests were supervised by observers from the Organization of American States, the Deputy Chamber, the Military and Police force, the Federal Service of Data Processing (Serpro), the Court of Auditors (TCU), and the National Federation of Computing Companies (Fenainfo).

Comparing between manual and electronic voting, it becomes clear that the latter offers many more possibilities of revision. Mechanisms have even been designed to make the process more transparent, such as security codes shared between political actors and the electoral authority. Possibilities are almost endless, therefore adjustable to any technical or political demand.

Countries Address the Importance of Saving Paper Through Electronic Voting

It is well known that one of the advantages brought by electronic voting is the substantial reduction in the use of paper, which not only saves money but helps to preserve the ecosystem and the planet.

Countries such as India, the Philippines, Belgium, Brazil and Venezuela have had a successful experience migrating to electronic voting, now Spain is evaluating whether to take this step; and one of the arguments that have been taken into consideration is the decreased investment of printed voting cards. In Spain, the Ministry of Internal Affairs decided to cut down on voting card expenses for the November 20 general elections in 2011, which would entail a 5.8% of savings compared to 2008.

Many countries have come to understand that they can have transparent processes and preserve the secrecy of the vote even if costs are reduced. Implementing automation would allow the safeguarding of the voting process, ensuring its authenticity and the integrity of all the electronic documentation.

The Spanish government decided to save money by decreasing the amount of voting cards during the last elections. Source:

However, countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Ecuador have been on the way to automation for years. One of the reasons for doubts to arise is the cost that the migration from one system to the other would entail. It would be a change from a traditional system that depends entirely on paper and requires the participation of an enormous human component that is not environmentally friendly, among other things, to a new one where date are stored and transmitted electronically with no need for paper and less people working on the process.

The Electoral Systems and Computing Manager for the National Office of Electoral Processes in Peru, Jorge Luis Yrivarren, maintains that e-voting would reduce or eliminate paper costs and the amount of polling stations: “The voting capacity for an polling station is certainly superior to that of a traditional or manual one, as the latter holds a maximum capacity of 200 voters and the waiting line is longer. However, an e-voting station can hold up to four booths, and if each booth gets 600 voters at most, they add up to 2400 people per station. Part of the savings is just that.” He added that installing a polling station can take up to 15 minutes, and it would take just as long to close it at the end of the electoral day.

Likewise, automation experts in Mexico state that even though it is true that e-voting could entail considerable expense during its introduction, it does add up to big savings in the long run.

Little by little, technology is replacing paper as it reinforces participation and democracy in voting processes for associations, soccer teams, shareholders’ meetings, etc. This way its use will go from macro to micro scales.

Bidding on Electronic Voting: a process that will determine the failure or success of an election


"Clean" bidding for electoral technology is vital for democracy. Photo: Vortal

The decision to implement electronic voting in a country is not easy. Governments take years to overcome fears, doubts, financial barriers, even cultural ones, and therefore, take a bet on modernism.


After acceptance of the new technology has been won, nations must face difficult processes and decisions. Choosing the technology that best suits their laws and needs demands a high amount of professional, social and political responsibility, as well as commitment and knowledge of electoral systems.


If the necessary technology is not going to be provided by the country’s electoral organisms, a key mechanism to guarantee success in the implementation of e-voting comes up: a bidding process for the acquisition of software and hardware.


When the public sector releases a call for bids, there are many shadows lurking around, dark political and financial interests moving behind the government. However, assure the success or failure of a multimillion investment, and more importantly, of the preservation of Democracy through its most essential expression, will depend on whether the government can guarantee transparency in the selection of the company that will provide the technology for e-voting.


Keeping in mind these necessities to carry out a clean and efficient call for bids for e-voting, experts recommend certain indisputable conditions in terms of rules, technical aspects and organization. Some of them are:


–  the bidding should be public, so it allows competition between as many companies as possible,


–  the list of demands should be clear and complete, and it should avoid restrictive specifications,


–  proven expertise in the area,


–  include a printed receipt of electronic votes to ensure audits,


–  request an update of system security standards


If these and other technical conditions are met, it will be possible to select a technology that ensures the advantages of electronic voting: speed, accuracy, auditability and security. In other words, e-voting should guarantee that results will be released within a reasonable length of time in order to avoid suspicion of fraud or manipulation, that each vote will be counted, that the vote will remain secret, and that the automated results can be physically verified in case of emergency.


The importance of respecting the execution of a bid that complies with standards of security and transparency not only reflects the political and social commitment to give a country an automated voting system that is optimal and shielded against fraud. It also expresses the country’s will to present to the world a technology whose precision and security defend democracy over any particular interest.


E-voting has overcome many obstacles, mainly for the sake of winning the acceptance of citizens on the basis of security and transparency. This is why countries in the process of automating their elections (Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Peru are some Latin American examples) must be aware that the selection of electoral technology will be the foundation to support their institutionalism and democracy.