Technology

Elections And Technology: The Vote Of The Future

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The decrease in participation among young people has made the European Parliament put forward measures to encourage voting among these new generations. This could only happen through innovation in the technology used in electoral systems. The time has come for online voting systems.

We are in the electoral period for the European Parliament and the data show that there is a great abstention from the youngest generations. In fact, only 27.8% of young people between 18 and 24 years old voted in the European elections of 2014. For this reason, among the measures proposed to facilitate access to the vote of the population and to encourage it, there is now a debate on electronic voting and, more specifically, on the Internet voting systems.

There are two types of telematic voting: The first one takes place in controlled environments (from voting machines at public places), such as the one in certain countries as the United States. The one takes place in uncontrolled environments, as the case of votes made via the Internet, such as in Estonia, the UK or Switzerland. Today, we will focus on this last case.

The Online Voting System

In the case of online voting systems, ballots are transmitted over the Internet from the device of the citizen choice to a central server, where they are then stored and counted. This speeds up, not only the election days, but also the subsequent votes counting, eliminating any type of human error. The possibility of casting a vote remotely, without having to go to a polling station, as it is easier and more comfortable, allows increasing citizen participation in the elections, especially in younger populations and among expats.

Among the advantages of electronic voting, we can find:

  • Greater comfort for voters.
  • Increase in electoral participation (see the case of Estonia in the next section).
  • Facilitation of the electoral participation of citizens residing abroad.
  • Greater accessibility for voters with special needs.
  • Decrease in the number of printed ballots, with the consequent benefit for the environment.
  • Reduction in logistics and personnel expenses, etc.

But beware, everything that glitters is not gold. No voting system is free of fraud, and much remains to be done. The factors that, to date, are slowing down the development of online electronic voting are, among others:

  • The identification of the person – although this is beginning to be solved thanks to the Blockchain technology.
  • Guarantee that it is that person and not another – although it could be solved thanks to a widespread use of the electronic ID Card and the grant of ID Card readers.
  • Possible problems of cybersecurity, especially when casting votes from home networks that can be not properly secured – today is the biggest problem as there is no system that is 100% secure. However, physical voting is not secure either.
  • Lack of access to the network or lack of knowledge about the use of ICT – in this case, alternatives such as voting physically in authorized spaces must be offered.
  • Maintenance of the anonymity of the vote and vote count – by anonymizing the vote, the identity of the voter is separated from the vote cast. This, in the end, makes it impossible to prove that this vote was counted. However, thanks to obtaining printed voting certificates, this problem could be solved by associating an ID with each vote.
European Parliament at Strasbourg
Photo by Artur Roman from Pexels

The Estonia Case, A International Leader In Internet Voting

Since 2005, citizens of Estonia have voted through the Internet or i-Vote. By accessing a secure web portal called Valimised, citizens can download the voting application. Once the app is opened, and the electronic ID is inserted in the computer, they can start voting. During a certain period, each citizen can change that vote, always keeping the last record before the end of the electoral period. This allows to avoid frauds or forced votes, as the citizen can modify his vote as many times as he wishes.

Thanks to this system, Estonia has achieved records of electronic participation: 44% of its population voted online during the parliamentary elections of March 2019. In addition, they saved 11 thousand working days in the organization of the elections.

To avoid any kind of problem, citizens can always go to vote with their ID in a polling station. If they had already done so online, only this last vote will be used, while the introduction of the ID Card in the station would eliminate the previous votes.

The Role Of Blockchain In Electronic Voting

Blockchain technology helps to store and secure online votes. In fact, it has already been used both in the case of Estonia (employing Blockchain from 2017) cited above, as elsewhere such as the Japanese city of Tsukuba in August 2018.

How does it work? Once the voter enters his / her ID in the device, and chooses his / her vote, it is encrypted and stored in a Blockchain. This system integrates a machine to verify the identity of the voter, within a decentralized network as Blockchain. Precisely because Blockchain guarantees immutability, auditability, and identification, it prevents a large part of the potential risks involved in electronic voting.

As we have seen, the day when we can vote from home, or even from the street thanks to mobile devices is getting closer. But for this, it is necessary to have legislation that allows it and an investment in technological development that contributes to guarantee confidence and security in online elections. In addition, and as we saw in the case of Estonia, it is necessary that a transition process is carried out where there is also the possibility of voting in a physical manner.

With all this, we would contribute to better citizen involvement in the elections on the one hand. On the other, governments would reduce the cost of elections in terms of money, work days, environmental matters, etc. All of that at the same time it makes simpler and more agile national elections.

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Article written by Cristina Marcos, Marketing Manager at Barbara IoT.

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