The ABCs of e-voting (Part I)

e-votingThe use of e-voting has created great interest in learning what it is about, how it works and how it differs from manual voting.  Currently a third of the world’s population votes using electronic means.

What follows is an ABC of basic concepts related to e-voting.

1.- Electronic voting: A voting system where the voters cast their choices interacting with electronic tools, be it machines that capture the vote directly or through a connected electronic ballot, which is a touch-sensitive input device.  It must not be confused with elections where the selection is made on traditional paper ballots but where the count is automated, since only a phase of the electoral process is automated in this case.

2.- Presential electronic voting: Voting that takes place with a voting machine set up at a polling centre that is manned by electoral staff (polling centre workers). The venue changes with the country, but customarily they are schools.  Currently, this is the most applied model worldwide.  Countries such as VenezuelaBrazil and the USA use this voting model, which allows for a 100% automated election (everything from voter identification to vote capture, count, tally and transmission of results).

3.- Remote electronic voting: Also known as Internet voting, it takes place from any device with online access, such as computers or cellphones, which can be in homes or in public spaces set for this purpose.  Estonia and Switzerland are the most advanced countries when it comes to this mode, allowing their voters both inside and outside their national territories to vote online. For the latter case, voters are assigned an unique digital ID number, protected by advanced encryption, which grants them access to a website where choices are made. The votes then travel to a tallying centre through a network.

4.- Voting machines: for votes to be regarded as electronic, they must be cast using a device, whether it is a voting machine or an electronic ballot.  There are several types of voting machines, such as those having touch screens (Belgium and some places in the United States), where all it takes to vote is to press the desired option.  There are also machines with numerical keypads (Brazil), in which the voter needs to type the number assigned to a given candidate or option.  Besides being able to capture, register and count the votes, some voting machines can print a voting voucher that allows for ongoing audits, since each voter can see immediately the electronic choices made match the ones printed on the voucher.  This option can be used to settle future controversies or claims, since the paper slips can be counted one by one.

5.- Electronic ballot: Although for many elections the screen in the voting machine may have enough space to display all available choices to carry out the process, there are elections where the need to choose among many offices makes it necessary to use electronic ballots. These devices, used to hold large lists of options or candidates, have been very popular since they work together with the voting machine and are configured according to the specific requirements of the electoral event, as dictated by the electoral commission.

Both the use of machines and electronic ballots represents substantial savings in resources, both in the mid- and long term, as well as a simplification of the election, since manual voting requires the mass production of electoral materials and more complex logistics than automated voting.