Whether e-voting has already been implemented in a country or not, if the electoral authorities have already planned to initiate suffrage automation, there must be a consultation process for each and every stakeholder in the electoral process going on at the same time as the search for the most suitable technology.
The transformation of an electoral system is a complex procedure, and experience indicates that beyond the complications arising from technological adaptation to legal and logistic requirements, the fundamental barriers are imposed by the stakeholders who will be affected by modernization: political parties, voters, legislative and executive branches, civil and political rights organizations, and even mass media.
The importance of including all the involved parties in the debate lies on the fact that lack of knowledge on the possible new electoral technology will bring uncertainty, and this as well will bring distrust, diminishing the possibility that said technology will be successfully implemented. Equally important is the fact that authorities must listen to the needs and requirements of all parties involved in order to build a reliable system that is accepted by all.
When speaking of consultation processes carried out by the countries with e-voting, Venezuela could become an example of the positive effects of an open debate, and it even serves as a reference on the negative impact of implementing automation without an adequate inquiry to the citizenry and political branch.
Since 2004, Venezuelans have been using technology provided by Smartmatic, which automated all the stages of the electoral process: authentication, voting, scrutiny, tallying, and transmission of results. Throughout the process, the electoral organism faced pressure to attend to the demands of both political parties and citizens. The reception of petitions, as well as forums and explanation sessions on the system, were key then for a completely automated e-voting system to comply not only with technical requirements, but also with political ones—17 process audits, including manual counting of 54% of the votes—, causing the results to be accepted and respected in spite of the strong political frictions. Prior to this, in 1998, the country initiated the process of automation with an optical scanner technology, which did not undergo an adequate debate process, sparking reluctance and doubt that worsened when it came out that this technology was cumbersome and had a high error margin (up to 15% of cast ballots in some cases).
On the other hand, Colombia has spent many years championing automation. In its latest bet it has appointed an Advisory Commission for the implementation of the e-voting system, presided by the National Registrar. Throughout seven sessions, aside from holding consultations all over the country for voters, politicians and the civil and governmental authorities, the commission has seriously explored the most suitable alternatives for the nation. It even designed a flowchart presenting how the modernization of all the stages of the electoral process will be carried out, as well as presenting a study of the polling stations where pilot tests could be run. Also, a national and international tender was opened for providers of this service to exhibit their tools.
The strategy to successfully implement e-voting is to be inclusive and not to refrain from consulting any link of the chain. Applying new technologies requires negotiation and compromise, and in order to raise awareness in those who will risk their political future through machines, it is vital to listen.