E-voting, adaptable and safe


Between October and November, three countries in the Americas will go to the ballot boxes once again to reaffirm Democracy. At the same time, they will reassert their leadership in electoral technology before the whole world. E-voting experiences in Brazil, United States, and Venezuela, are being closely followed, as they are an example of the applicability of vote automation.

Brazilian ballot boxes have number keyboards and a biometric authentication device.

Studying the voting systems of these three countries allows not only to prove that with technological support, transparent and secure elections with fast results can be achieved, but also to make evident the fact that electronic voting is adaptable to any legal, technical, logistic and even idiosyncratic requirement demanded by a country.

In the case of Brazil—which began automation in the 90s—, its system was designed for the transition between manual and electronic voting to be dramatic to the least possible degree for its citizens. The formula that was applied consisted in reproducing paper ballot voting as closely as possible with an automated format. Thus, the Superior Electoral Court designed electoral ballot boxes with number keyboards so that each political party and each candidate would be identified with a number, replicating the selection method from traditional voting. This way, when voting, citizens mark their preferred numbers and the screen shows the candidate’s picture and number. For this southern giant, electronic voting is one of its main achievements, as it manages votes from 150 million people on a single day and shows results promptly. Next October 7th, Brazilians will vote to elect about 5,500 mayors, and if necessary, a second round will take place on the 28th of said month.

Venezuelans vote with touchscreen machines and electronic ballots.

Also on October 7th, Venezuela will hold elections, but to choose the President of the Republic. The implementation of electronic voting in this country during the late 90s was accompanied by strong political friction, which made the application difficult but also served as a platform for the automated system to adjust to all of the nation’s technical and legal necessities. Thus, from a first approach consisting in the automation of scrutiny while maintaining manual voting (1998), in 2004 the definite step towards a technology that attended all necessities was adopted. This technology has ranged from the use of electronic ballots resembling the old paper ones and the inclusion of software with digital signature or shared code between political parties, the electoral body and the providing company, all the way to voting receipts that make it possible to audit on site up to 54% of emitted votes in an election. Besides, in a few weeks it will start using biometric authentication devices to guarantee the one vote, one voter principle and eradicate identity theft for good.

Multiple e-voting systems are used in the US, as each county is free to choose what technology to employ.

The US will hold general elections on November 6, to elect President and Vice President, 33 Senators, the entire House of Representatives, 11 governors, and various State legislators. This country presents substantial differences from the aforementioned ones, as each one of the hundreds of counties comprising the Union manages all the aspects related to elections separately (from the purchase of material to the definition of procedures). Thus, each region has acquired the technology that best adapts to its laws and election methods, therefore ranging from manual voting and automated tallying (mechanical, punch cards and optical scanner) up to completely automated elections with touchscreen machines.

Brazil, the US, and Venezuela show other countries still entrenched in manual voting that electoral technology exists and is possible for all, no matter what their tradition dictates. E-voting is adaptable, so there is no excuse to take the leap to modernity.

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