Transforming the way citizens choose their leaders and representatives is one of the most transcendental decisions any democracy can face. Doing so demands not only honesty, but also the responsibility of delivering to the electorate a voting mechanism adjusted to their legal requirements, adapted to their logistic capability, connected with their idiosyncrasy, and capable of offering the intrinsic guarantees of suffrage: its universality, directness, secrecy, and auditability.
Once the decision is made, the next question is how to select a suitable technology? Every country must seek the answer to this question in order to follow an automation process that does not overlap any of the country’s needs and that provides the advantages of electronic voting: safety, speed, and auditability.
To that end, countries of renowned experience in automating their elections—USA, Venezuela, Brazil—have acquired the technology that best adapts to their laws and modes of election. They use methods ranging from manual voting combined with automated tallying (mechanical, punch cards, and optical scanner) all the way to fully automated elections with touchscreen devices, which are also capable of printing a paper vote receipt to prove the effectiveness and accuracy of technologically assisted voting.
When beginning the quest for a new voting technology, it is necessary to understand that the pillars of suffrage are the ones that should apply to technology. Thus, the local infrastructure must be evaluated, as well as any obstacle that might arise (irregular electrical supply, inaccessible populated areas or regions with poor services). Sustainability must also be considered (viability in time), and there must be a guarantee that the new system will be more efficient than the one it will replace. Checking the availability of maintenance services for the selected technology is also important, as is checking the adaptability of said technology to legal requirements (electronic voting and scrutiny, manual suffrage and automated tallying, electronic voter identification, digital signatures, auditable system). Other important points to take into account are the system’s cost-effectiveness, its usability, and its security levels.
Having established the requirements, if the country’s electoral body is not providing the technology, there must be an evaluation of the available offers on the market. Nowadays there are various companies offering these services, but only tried and true experience will determine which of them are eligible for the bid for purchasing electoral software and hardware.
One aspect to keep in mind is that when the public sector requests services to an external agent, shadows of doubt are cast over the process due to the complex web of interests that power entails. It is imperative that there is political will to undertake the transition towards automation. Moreover, the transparency of the process will determine the success or failure of a million-dollar investment. Experts recommend that the tender is made public—and that it allows as many companies from the sector as possible—, that the list of demands is clear, precise, and complete—to avoid restrictive specifications—. They also recommend considering demanding proved experience in the area, including paper receipts of e-voting as a guarantee for any audits done on the election, and demanding an update of the systems’ security norms.
The challenge of automating is a substantial one, and in order to accomplish it, all precautions must be taken to circumvent any concerns from the citizens and the political actors. The most effective way to confront resistance is to show transparency during the search for the most suitable technology.