Section 3: Key Election Process Categories Electronic Voting and Counting
What is electronic voting and counting?
Electronic voting and counting refers to the use of electronic technologies that assist or automate the voting and/or counting processes. In electronic voting, often called “e-voting,” voters use an electronic device to make and record their ballot choices. Choices are recorded on the machine itself or the machine produces a token on which the choices are recorded, such as a magnetic card or a printout of the ballot choice. Electronic voting systems include electronic voting machines (EVMs) placed in polling stations, SMS voting and Internet voting. In electronic counting, part or all of the tabulation of results is automated. E-voting systems can be remote or non-remote, referring to whether the voters’ ballot choices are transmitted to a central location (e.g. Internet or SMS voting) or recorded on a local medium (such as the EVM or a printed ballot). Systems will also be supervised or unsupervised, which relates to whether election staff are present to manage the voting process (e.g., if voting is done in a polling station) or not (such as Internet voting). The most common e-voting systems involve non-remote EVMs used in the supervised environment of the polling station. There are many key decisions that must be reached in adopting, designing, implementing and overseeing an e-voting system. These considerations are laid out in detail at www.evotingguide.com.
Why does e-voting matter?
Electronic voting and counting may offer a range of benefits to the conduct and administration of elections when strategically employed, but new technologies also present new challenges. Decision-making processes about all aspects of the use of technologies in elections should be transparent and consultative. If a decision to procure new technologies is reached, standards relating to transparent and competitive procurement should be upheld (see EMB Processes). Transparency in testing and certifying e-voting systems promotes credibility among election stakeholders such as political parties, the media, and civil society. E-voting technologies also introduce new and important stakeholder groups to the electoral process who are responsible for providing, checking, or overseeing e-voting technologies, including technology vendors, academia, and IT experts. Election results should be verifiable and auditable to provide sufficient means for voters and stakeholders to verify that votes have been accurately recorded. Independent testing and certification of electronic voting and counting systems are essential tools that EMBs should use to guarantee the accuracy, security, and reliability of e-voting systems. The “source code” – in some sense, the description of the underlying software system – should be made available. In 2013, Estonia’s Electronic Voting Committee released the entire source code of its voting server software. This step gave citizens a chance to understand their e-voting system more fully – although requiring technical knowledge to do so – but perhaps even more importantly, opened the door for interested programmers to help identify bugs in the system, strengthen its security and boost confidence in its capacities.
Citizens must be aware of any changes to the election-day process and voting procedures well in advance of election day, especially in cases in which a new and unfamiliar technology is introduced into the process (see Voter Education). Citizens can easily lose faith in the integrity of the electoral process if they are not well-informed about or have confidence in technologies used in voting and counting. With access to information about electronic voting and counting, stakeholders can assess the integrity of the procurement of technologies, the recording of votes, and the tabulation of election results. With access to data about electronic voting and counting technologies, including the underlying source code, citizens, political parties, election observers, and other stakeholders can help improve electronic voting and counting technologies and promote confidence in their use.
Example e-voting data
Data related to electronic voting and counting includes all information about the procurement of electronic voting and counting technologies (see EMB Processes). Additionally, data includes voter education information about how the voting and counting technologies work and how to use the technologies on election day (see Voter Education). Details of the technologies selected and associated source codes should also be made available for public inspection. Additionally, election results data collected, consolidated, or tabulated by electronic technologies is important, in addition to any information from audits (see Election Results).