There is currently a group of countries in South America focused on the automation of their voting systems. This measure, a transcendental one for any democratic nation, calls for decisions that will determine the success or failure of the technology. Therefore, it is very important for authorities to consider a few vital steps to overcome the challenges of revamping an entire voting system.
Among these countries we find Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. They all are in different stages and are following their own rules. However, it is worth it to review the best practices available to revamp a voting system with as few problems as possible, or at least, without any costly ones.
In different successful instances of voting automation around the world, the authorities have taken precautions in choosing the electoral technology that best fits the system already in place. There is no such thing as “too many safeguards”. Quite the opposite; being thorough is what will make an electronic voting model bullet-proof.
Some of the experts’ recommendations include the following:
1.- To secure trust in the new system, it is mandatory that an open process takes place for every stage (creating the legal regulatory framework, selecting the system, testing, bidding, etc.). The implementation of the new system must also be gradual and go hand in hand with an extensive information and training campaign.
2.- It is vital to conduct a bidding process that meets the highest standards, that is, one which considers an international call for electoral technology vendors, who must be able to prove their experience in the subject and offer a flexible e-voting model that is tailored to the legal, technical and financial needs of the nation, even to its idiosyncrasies. Running an election implies lining up countless variables, and a company with no previous experience is the wrong choice for mission critical projects.
3.- When starting the search and comparison of offers in the market, it is fundamental to evaluate the local infrastructure and every potential limiting factor in it (power grid, phone and data services, communication lines, etc.). The sustainability of the automated model over time must also be considered. It must be understood that the success of automation calls for more than technology alone. The services available in the country will be determining factors to guarantee good performance.
4.- The selection must answer to the interest of acquiring a system that guarantees the security, secrecy and transparency of voting, as well as providing the advantages characteristic to e-voting: safety, speed and auditability.
5.- Together with the need to carry out pilot runs that test the reliability and adaptation of the model to the country’s characteristics, verification of the system’s auditability is mandatory. There are several kinds of technology that can be audited exhaustively during every phase: software, electoral infrastructure, servers, security protocols, firewalls; all can be reviewed. Reviews can be done by technicians, political figures and organizations, and most importantly, by the voters themselves. Such a scenario is possible when using voting machines capable of printing voting vouchers, since these can be reviewed on the spot and tell whether the vote recorded is the same as the vote printed.
6.- When designing a voting model, authorities must strive to make voting easier, adapting a technology that suits the nation’s characteristics. For instance, in Brazil, where people are used to associating candidates with numbers, the machines reflect this fact: they have a numeric keypad used to mark choices, analogous to the writing of numbers on traditional ballots.
These six suggestions are not the only ones, but they are the most important for an optimal application of electronic voting. Technology can be used to make any step of an election easier, but its proper and massive use will be what makes the difference between automated and manual processes.