31 August 2023
Elections are the core of the democratic process. Some of the first documented elections took place around 500 BC in Ancient Greece, where male landowners wrote the name of the candidate they most wanted exiled for the next ten years on broken pieces of clay pots. If the threshold of 6000 votes was met, the candidate with the highest number of votes above that number was sent away.
Technology all the way?
Things have moved on a little since then. The electoral process now comprises multiple steps, many of which could benefit from the use of technology. Specifically:
The legal framework that underpins the electoral process can be enhanced via online consultation with a wider range of stakeholders and the creation of online legislation portals to facilitate transparency.
Planning and implementation – technology can play a big role in this stage. From managing electoral geography; including polling districts and the limits of constituencies; to addressing management systems; allocation of members of electoral commissions; ballot design; the delivery of electronic or paper voting cards to voters; developing and testing electronic systems used in elections and facilitating procurement procedures.
Training and education – technology can be used to provide online training and education for voters and guidance and information for political parties and contestants. It can also be used to provide online courses for election administration as well as courses for election observers.
Voter & candidate registration – includes maintaining and developing a centralised electoral register; allowing for active voter registration; platforms that help voters find their registration status and nearest polling station; online signatures for elections and referendums.
Election campaigns – registering and publicising campaign events; reporting tools for media and social media activities, provision of digital reporting for campaign finance; countering misinformation and disinformation; gathering and managing complaints; developing platforms for registration of observers
Voting operations & election day – again technology may be used to produce voting lists; register candidates both online and offline voting, for early and home voting; ensuring transparency; registering and publishing turnout in real time; facilitating counting and tabulation; audio-videos of the counting process; gathering feedback from participants in the electoral process.
Tabulation & results – technology can help with the centralization of results and verification of their integrity; publishing preliminary and final results in real-time online; calculating the allocation of seats.
Post-election – digital tools can aid in the collection of electoral data for the production of reports and statistics. They can be used to evaluate the activity and performance of Election Management Bodies; the development of open data repositories
Electoral justice – digital tools can be used to deal with complaints arising from election results and the training of judges and legal personnel in electoral procedures
Political process – for the digital registration; de-registration and management of political parties as well as digital reporting tools for political party finance.
Many countries are also now using digital tools for political finance reporting and disclosure as well as the registration of political parties. Digital tools are used for both the management of elections internally and externally for the media, citizens, observer groups and other stakeholders.
Technology can improve the quality of the electoral process, but …
Yet, as the report points out, more than once, digital tools are not a panacea for fundamental weaknesses in the institutional and legal framework of a state. Neither can they solve related issues concerning the capacity and independence of electoral bodies, nor the political will to allow their development and use. Similarly, citizens also need to understand and trust the digitisation of the electoral system if it is to be successful. Rather, the report suggests that digital tools can help improve existing robust processes by enhancing their efficiency and transparency and hence the public trust in them.
How is election technology being used in different countries?
With the above in mind, let’s take a closer look at how different countries are using technologies in the electoral process. The Community of Democracies report draws on a 2020 study analysing the activity of Election Monitoring Bodies (EMB) in 72 states. It found that the majority of respondents (60%) are using electronic tabulation systems for official election results. While just over 50% of states allow voter registration confirmation via an online interface, just over 40% have a similar process for candidate registration. A majority of states publish political financing reports online although they are not typically machine-readable. Less than 10% of states surveyed use internet voting and just over 10% use voting machines. Fifteen percent of states use no technology in the electoral process at all and 30% use open source software for election administration.
The report looks at specific technologies developed by different countries, Estonia leads the way in terms of internet voting. However, the Norwegian EVA system covers most stages of the election process. One of its features means that it continuously adapts to the changing needs of users. Canada has developed the EC Connex system to manage voting records based on feedback from election officials. While the ENCORE application developed in India covers a wide range of stages in the election process. It also includes tools like the Voter Helpline app for citizens. Romania has developed a complex but apparently effective tool for voter registration and verification. SIMPV has been used since 2016 and has significantly reduced the potential cases of multiple voting. It has also enhanced transparency with regard to results.
For more details – see the full report.