The right to fair and transparent elections based on the secrecy of the vote is one of the bases of any democratic system today. That is why Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – signed in Paris in 1948 – puts emphasis on the importance that citizens ascribe to having authentic electoral processes which are periodic, universal, and where the voting is free and secret.
In order to guarantee the fulfillment of these requirements the Organization of American States (OAS) has developed one of the most important treaties in existence about electoral transparency. For the OAS, elections are considered democratic when they meet the following four conditions:
Inclusive elections: all citizens must be effectively habilitated to exercise their right to vote in the process.
Clean elections: the choices of the electorate must be respected and faithfully recorded.
Competitive elections: all candidates must have equal opportunities to register and run their electoral campaigns under a climate of tolerance and respect. Besides, voters must have access to the candidates’ proposals in order to make informed decisions.
Elected public offices: the main public offices in the country must be filled through periodic elections, and the results expressed by the citizens through their voting must be irreversible.
The most recent technological advances, such as biometric identification and high speed data transmission, have allowed electronic voting to reach extremely high levels of transparency and exactness. Countries around the world, such as Brazil, Belgium, the Philippines and the United States are making great efforts to meet the democratic demands of their citizens, adopting the most advanced technologies on the market for voting and all election-related processes (from the postulation of candidates to the proclamation of winners). Venezuela, a world leader in the matter, will be implementing a biometric ID system developed by the multinational company Smartmatic in the next presidential elections, on October 7th 2012, in order to guarantee the “one man, one vote” principle. Brazil is another Latin American country that begun to implement biometric ID in some municipalities during their last voting, and they hope to cover 100% of their territory for the 2018 election.
Thanks to the use of auditable voting machines and biometric ID systems, the electoral authorities can meet the first two requirements of the OAS in full; that is, having inclusive and clean elections. A well designed automated voting system will improve the efficiency and transparency levels of the following areas:
- Assembly of voting registries with no irregularities
- Ease and speed of the act of voting at the polling stations
- Guaranteeing the right to vote
- Protection of the voters’ identities
- Truthfully reflecting the will of the voters into counted votes
However, there are still stages in an election where technology has no role to play. For instance, automatic voting cannot contribute towards the independence of the voting authorities, or giving candidates a fair share of access to the media, or helping achieve an equitable distribution of campaign resources among the candidates. Sadly, when it comes to these aspects neither the electoral authorities nor the voters can count with technology as the great ally who guarantees that the election is fully transparent.