E-voting and the road to the White House

Elections in the US capture the world’s attention and analysis.  Voter participation in the world’s greatest superpower has an influence watched from many angles, including election logistics, since every American election is a showcase of technologies that exhibits the variety of e-voting models available in the market.

The world will be able to see the automated voting methods Americans employ during the November 8th presidential election, the 58th in the country’s history. The Verified Voting Foundation  has listed the four technologies the country has been using recently, expected to make another appearance in this election.

According to their study, the models go from touch screen machines, to devices that issue paper trails, to scanners limited to automated tallying only.

The multiplicity of these technologies is a result of each county in the US having autonomy to choose and apply the model best suited to its needs. It is expected that over 3 thousand technology solutions will be put to use in November, based on the following models:

1.-Optical scan voting systems. This mechanism is used in some places in the US for automating the vote count. A scanner reads and recognizes the ballot, which is fed to the machine by hand, records the votes cast and processes them automatically.  Most voters mark their choices by filling ovals or marking arrows on the ballot.  The device stores the ballot counts in its memory.

2.- Direct-Recording Electronic voting machines (DRE). This kind of technology is the most used worldwide (countries such as Belgium, Brazil, India and Venezuela employ it), and its application has increased in the US. Votes are marked directly on the machine through a touchscreen or a tactile pad. According to the summary from Verified Voting, the first generation of DRE’s used a button interface for the selection, while latter models employ touchscreens.  There are variations of this model that can print a voting-verified paper trail.  Besides precinct counts, all the machines also transmit their own individual votes bundled together when the polls close.

3) Devices with a marking system. Machines of this kind have an interface that makes voting easier for those with disabilities.  They offer autonomy to voters with physical handicaps (mobility-related problems or absence of limbs) and those with sensory limitations (visual and hearing impairments).  For instance, for visual impairments, the device may have Braille markings, or headphones so the voter can hear the contents of the ballot.  There are also sip/puff devices that let the user navigate the ballot, intended for users with impaired mobility so they can vote unassisted.

4) Punched cards. According to Verified Voting, very few counties still use the ancient method of punched cards, having voters punch holes in the ballots with a mechanical device.  The ballots are then inserted in the ballot box to be either counted manually or with a tallying machine.

After reviewing the usual voting technologies in the US, the 185 million voters in the country will still employ the most common voting models in the world, but it is clear that electronic voting will prevail.

E-voting and electoral guarantees

In times when manual voting has had unfortunate consequences for countries across the region (Colombia, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Argentina and Haiti), it is worth taking a look at the characteristics of electronic voting, a model that presents itself as the transparent and secure alternative supporting the will of the people.

Manual elections have a long history of failures, mainly due to the fact that results depend on flawless behaviour from many players (poll centre workers, witnesses, political parties, electoral body officers, etc.), as well as on the proper filling of forms and statements, information transmission, and safe transport of materials to tallying stations.

To fight fraud and create greater trust, a voting system must be capable of faithfully recording votes, preserving their secrecy (of both choices and voter identities), showing a vote count that respects the will of the people, guaranteeing that results are tamper-proof, allowing the auditability of different processes, and also being user-friendly to all voters.

All of these conditions are met through electronic voting, which offers tools that minimize human intervention in the most important tasks, and therefore gets rid of errors and fraud. The process relies on equipment specifically designed and built to process, count and transmit vote results that are absolutely trustworthy.

One of the strong points offered by this technology is biometric authentication through fingerprints.  Every voter has his/her fingerprint captured for identity authentication and to avoid double voting or identity fraud.

Another interesting element is that e-voting allows for performing audits before, during and after the election.  These are usually conducted in the presence of the electoral body and political party representatives; the latter, having opposing interests, want to make sure the process has integrity, and to validate its security elements actually provide exact and reliable results.  Venezuela is an example of the vast possibilities for audit that this technology presents.

A major advantage of automation is that its design can be tailored to the idiosyncrasies or technical requirements of each country, which makes the voting process easier.  In Brazil, where a number is assigned to each candidate, the choice was to create a voting device with a keypad to replicate their original voting method.

Additionally, automated vote count and results transmission  have possibilities which are practically impossible to replicate with manual counting.  Voting machines were designed to add votes electronically and also encrypt them, therefore avoiding errors in the vote count or the filling of official statements, but they are also capable of transmitting this data to a tallying centre securely, curtailing fraud and other vices inherent to manual vote counts. The use of voting machines also expedites the process of proclaiming winners.

After reviewing the strengths of e-voting, it is clearly obvious that not only it minimizes human error, but also simplifies logistics.  Adopting some of the models available in the market would guarantee compliance with the demands of an election, and it would also allow countries to make their voting events completely immune to tampering.

Argentina prepares a reform to allow nationwide e-voting


Argentina had a 2015 full of difficulties when it came to electoral matters.  First, a tight electoral schedule that forced a series of voting events all over the country; and second, there were failures not only with manual voting, but also with the Single Electronic Ballot (BUE) used in some regions.

Facing the need to fix such issues, the country eagerly awaits the electoral reform that the Executive will put forward in the upcoming weeks.   The authorities have set to create a law that deals with the modernization of the voting system, where automation could replace the country’s outdated manual procedures.

Regarding the discussion this proposal entails, and which is now taking place in the political sphere, it is worth noting that successful automation cases have all dutifully taken a series of provisions, such as: adopting automation progressively; evaluating the local infrastructure and all possible obstacles; considering the system’s sustainability (i.e. its endurance and worthiness over time), and searching and comparing a variety of offerings in the market.

When it comes to automation, Argentina is already under way.  In the year 2015, e-voting was successfully implemented in the Cordoba province , and the province of  Salta and the city of Buenos Aires saw automated vote counting.

Finding the right automation model is a tall order, since there are several offerings from different companies.  When it comes to choosing, it is vital to carry out a bidding process that meets the highest standards, and which considers the summons of international, experienced suppliers.  The technology to be implemented must provide a flexible e-voting model, one which meets the legal, technical and financial needs of the country, as well as its idiosyncrasies.

The challenges are varied, but it is necessary that all authorities, political parties and citizens are careful about all the aspects of automation.  Technology can be used to make any step of an election easier, but its proper and massive use will make the difference between automated and manual processes.