Myths vs. reality about online voting in Ecuador

The pandemic will not be over in 2021, but it probably will be under control. In Ecuador, a country where the virus onslaught seems to have been rampant, members of the electoral organization ponder how to organize next year’s elections without putting people’s health at an extra risk, and avoid a pandemic outbreak.

The current Ecuadorian debate focuses on segmented face-to-face voting, remote (online) voting, and hybrid voting. The latter is presented as the most reasonable alternative, which would allow Ecuadorians to vote as in Estonia: choose between going to the voting centers and voting as traditionally, or voting online through a mobile device or computer. Leandro Querido, director of the Transparencia Electoral organization, published an article that brings clarity to the current debate amidst Ecuadorian authorities. In his article, Querido explains five myths about Internet voting, which we review below:

“Online voting is a very expensive method”

In fact, it is the opposite. According to the context analyzed in Estonia, online voting is the least expensive of the country’s voting methods. It costs one half the price of traditional voting, and is vastly cheaper than other voting methods. This was proven in a research paper led by scholar Robert Krimmer, full professor at the Tallinn University of Technology.

“Most people do not have access to the Internet, or to smart devices”

According to Statista’s recent 2020 data, no Latin American country has less than 40% Internet penetration. In fact, 67% of the population in Latin America use the Internet. This represents an important figure, bearing in mind that remote voting would not replace voting in a poll center; it is regarded as an alternative to ease the flow of people in voting centers.

“It lacks any strategies to avoid voter coercion”

Voter duress is somewhat difficult to measure if the voters are not present at the polling place. However, technology offers options to mitigate voter coercion. In Estonia, as in many countries that vote remotely, the process takes several days. During that time period, Estonians can vote online as many times as they wish, and only the final vote is counted. In this way, if a voter is pressed to vote in a certain way, he can login into the system at another time and vote again, this time in an environment free from coercion. This method was recognized by the Council of Europe as a valid voter duress mitigation strategy.

“It is vulnerable, the election can be manipulated”

In reality, electronic voting, including Internet voting, offer multiple security mechanisms, and above all, they offer the possibility of carrying out audits to validate the accuracy of the results. In Estonia, the voter can use the verification app to ensure that the vote was submitted to the system as marked or recorded. The server maintains a third-party verifiable audit trail for all votes; and is able to demonstrate to the point of tabulation that all votes were processed correctly according to the specific rules of each country. This type of auditability, together with cryptographic signatures, eliminates any chances of vote forgery, and provides a universal guarantee that voter preferences are duly captured, stored and accounted for, according to voter intent.

“Internet voting only appeals to younger voters with greater technological skills”

More and more citizens use the Internet through digital devices, and this is valid for all demographic groups, and for all ages. In Estonia, people over 55 years of age comprise the largest percentage of Internet voting users, around 25% of all online voters.

The implementation of online voting should not require a drastic change in the idiosyncrasy of the citizenry. However, it will always be necessary to implement educational campaigns that reduce the possible resistance of some citizens and leaders to the advent of new technologies.