Thursday, March 10, 2011

Electronic voting: a solid anchor for democracy

On February 16th, I attended the forum Elecciones ¿Del papel a la era digital? (Elections: From paper to the digital era?) in Bogota, Colombia, organized by the magazine Semana in conjunction with its partner magazine Dinero and Smartmatic. The goal was to debate the different stands on electoral automation held by important Colombian political personalities. 

A phrase by the Interior and Justice Minister Germán Vargas Lleras caught my attention and stuck in my head: “we all want electronic voting here, but when it comes the time to go for it, oh boy, are we scared!” I think this is the current reality worldwide, where the trend towards automation seems irreversible.   

I’d like to use this post to revisit the speech given by Eduardo Correia, Vice-President of Smartmatic’s Electoral Unit, at this event which was considered a big success by the panel members in attendance.   

During our Smartmatic’s kick-offs we usually hear that we’re the world’s most important election company.  When we attend events like this we realize that our expertise, our products and services, and our people have embarked us on a path to success in several markets, thus making this statement true beyond any doubt. 

Eduardo Correia offered a great presentation about the world’s three largest automated elections: India, Brazil and the Philippines. He compared each technology employed and their benefits, advantages and disadvantages. He offered very interesting figures: for instance in the Philippines, the first South East Asian country to automate its elections, the pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed that 75% of the voters were “very satisfied” with the conduction, speed and credibility of the election.  These elections allowed the Filipino people to know who was elected president on Election Day for the first time in their history. This case illustrates the point that, at least partially, there is no direct dependence between the development of a country or its geography (incredibly complex in the Philippines) and the implementation of electronic voting systems.

In Brazil, although the machines don’t print a voting voucher, Eduardo highlighted the advantage of having the equipments activate through a biometric ID process of the vote, thus guaranteeing that one voter equals one vote. He also praised the minimum energy consumption of the voting equipment used in India, where the world’s largest election is held and the machines can operate with AA batteries.

Finally, I believe that one of the most valuable points of his presentation was the academic exposition of nine quality criteria developed by Smartmatic experts to gauge the level of maturity of voting systems, and their efficiency against the most frequent vulnerabilities. The criteria are: accuracy, transparency, accountability, speed, flexibility, resiliency, equality, reach, anonymity. Fortunately, we can check all of these for Smartmatic systems!

The general conclusions at the end of the Forum were that electronic voting processes have been very well executed in some countries, have had a very positive acceptance by the electorate and that automation and electronic voting are firm and irreversible tendencies for any democracy that wishes to strengthen their institutions.

“Automated voting systems originate from the idea of having the voters, and only the voters, determine the outcome of every election”. This quote by Eduardo reads easily but its true value is hard to measure: if every elected representative in every country on Earth was absolutely legitimate, political violence would be a thing of the past. This is our contribution to society, our tiny grain of sand.
Mariana Iztúriz