As we stand at the nadir of the technological revolution that is Web 3.0, we see the convergence of several emerging technologies that will essentially reshape how we interact as a society. On the one hand, we have the unrivalled potential to cure some of the planet’s most pressing challenges through using new technologies. On the other hand, with this potential comes an increased degree of risk. The interplay between increased risk and incredible possibility is seen in the commentary surrounding the implementation of e-voting. This article seeks to examine the existing barriers to e-voting as well as some possible barriers that may develop along the road.
Please note that the opinions below concern the barriers from a political point of view. An examination into the technological challenges that implementing e-voting would entail is beyond the scope of this article.
The first barrier that we come across is an incongruency in the degree of criticism attached to traditional voting versus e-voting. Generally, when discussions surrounding a transition to e-voting are held, we see that the standard against which e-voting is measured is absolute faultlessness. Interestingly though, traditional systems are far from faultless and are predisposed to logistical difficulties, suppression, and human error. When examining these two forms of voting type, we need to be mindful that the current system is not perfect. Therefore, discrediting e-voting in its entirety, under the guise of the traditional system being flawless, is problematic as the systems are not being scrutinized by the same degree.
Another barrier we identify is the electorate’s distrust and/or lack of comfort in using technology. Although this appears to be a generational hurdle, it is one that has far-reaching implications. Distrust of technology might only be overcome as younger generations, who are more adept at utilizing online ecosystems, form the bulk of the electorate. Additionally, we see far greater trust in e-voting (or i-voting) in places where e-governance is operational and understood by citizens. Estonia, albeit small in size and population, is an example of a country where 43.8 % of voters voted over the internet in the 2019 Parliamentary elections. Estonia’s ‘i-voting’ mechanisms are just one arm of a greater e-governance strategy adopted by the government. This signals to us that when countries undergo shifts in governance models that accommodate greater digitization, greater trust in internet-based voting is established.
The third barrier that is present is a lack of governmental buy-in that is necessary to transform from traditional systems. It could be argued that governments in power have no incentive to change the system by which they were successfully elected. Although this does not mean that government officials have not shown interest in revolutionizing voting mechanisms, it appears that we may see greater developments if the electorate itself drives innovation. By demanding, as the electorate, that governments start investigating ways to transform traditional electoral systems to keep up with the technological times, officials may see this as a mandate from their constituents.
The next barrier to adoption is the legitimate security concerns of running elections online, where the process could be hijacked by hackers and foreign governments who have an interest in a particular electoral outcome. These risks are large and should not be taken lightly. However, as discussed above, we cannot simply reject all forms of e-voting experiments under the guises of an imminent attack by mala fide actors. Traditional systems have evident flaws and dismissing these as minute in comparison to the potential risks of e-voting shows a misunderstanding of the numerous entry points where fraud could potentially take place using paper ballots. Without mass testing of e-voting projects, we simply do not have the hard data against which equitable risk can be measured.
A balance of priorities might need to be undertaken by governments where proper weight is afforded to the importance of addressing issues such as voter ID requirements, language access, voter roll purges, accessibility of voting poll stations, elections funding, training of electoral officials, duration of elections — and then assessed in light of the possibilities that e-voting offers in addressing those challenges.
E-voting need not be viewed solely in the context of governmental elections. Successful tests can, and are currently been run, on university campuses using electeez.com, the e-voting tool developed by Electis. By conducting small-scale, low-risk experiments before attempting large-scale, high-risk implementation, governments have to ability to test for flaws and determine ways and means to address breaches when they occur.
Simply dismissing the incredible opportunity that e-voting provides for the strengthening of democracy because of the risks involved, is respectfully looking at this challenge from a pessimist’s viewpoint. If we are to build impenetrable e-voting systems, we have to start somewhere, and a mandate from the electorate is a promising place to start.
by Luna Hernandez