E-Voting a Boon, if Managed Properly
The Constitutional Court’s decision in March to approve a Bali district’s petition to allow alternative forms of voting has opened a vibrant discussion on the applicability of electronic voting systems in Indonesia.
Although the possibilities are intriguing, however, a rush into electronic voting without first evaluating whether the technology will improve election performance would be ill-advised.
It may be that the attention on electronic voting and the suggestion that it directly and immediately applies to Indonesia’s situation is both premature and distracting from the real challenges facing the future of the country’s election administration.
When election administrators and policy makers examine the practical interests of improving elections, invariably the issue of technological enhancements must be considered.
Much of the adaptation of technologies into electoral processes and management mirrors a general trend in the workplace.
Where technology may simplify a process or make it more user-friendly, it will be adopted and integrated into business, industry and public institutions alike.
The result for election administration is generally an improved and more easily managed process for election commissions and their management bodies. If properly designed, the system is more accessible and intuitive to voters as well.
Technological innovations will continue to present opportunities to enhance the capacity of election administration.
How far an election body wishes to reach with these technological innovations or solutions depends largely on the will of the voters and a consensus among policy makers to support the introduction of new technological platforms.
What is imperative, however, is that elections technology be harnessed in a transparent manner that safeguards public confidence and assurance that an individual’s vote will be cast in secrecy and counted uniquely.
When technology is not well understood by either those who administer the systems or the voters who will use them on election day, it is possible that insecurities about the systems will discredit the integrity of the elections.
It is also critical that the adoption of voting technology and electronic voting in particular is not driven those who sell it.
Selection of any voting-system technology should be based on objective evaluation and testing, for example through pilot programs in select locations, rather than on the claims of vendors or a desire to generate new large-scale projects.
As a first step toward better polls, Indonesia and the General Elections Commission (KPU) should attempt to fix fundamental problems with the voter registry.
It may do this not by waiting for the government to develop a new national identification database but by seeing an independent election administration move forward with the development of an independently managed national voter-registry database.
Second, the nation could harness sophisticated mapping technology and combine it with the recently collected national census demographic data to define electoral districts better.
Third, Indonesia should look to improve reporting of results and its tabulation processes. There is still no electronic record of the 2009 national elections at levels lower than district and province.
Arguably if the same amount of attention were placed on these three problematic areas as was given to the idea of new election technology, Indonesia’s polls would be on the path to tangible improvement. However, if policy makers and others continue to push for electronic voting as a way to improve election performance, the nation will be well served to consider the Philippines’ experience.
That country did not move hastily toward electronic voting systems but instead engaged in many years of dialogue, testing and development of a legal framework to govern the implementation of the systems.
The law on electronic voting strictly governed the method of testing, selection and certification of the technologies.
To build public credibility for the systems, the public and civil society were invited into the process of selection through the development of a technical advisory board to the national election commission, a technology-certification panel, and other safeguards to audit performance and results reported through the electronic systems.
In each case the Philippine Commission on Elections sought support from other organizations and individuals more adept at information technology to help the commission make an informed decision on the selection of the new voting technology.
This comprehensive evaluation process helped build a high level of public buy-in and acceptance of the new technology. At the same time it engendered public confidence in the process and the results.
A well-planned and publicly discussed evaluation and adoption of voting-system technology that is both transparent in its operations and auditable will go far in ensuring public confidence in the electoral process.
A well-managed evaluation and introduction of the technology has the opportunity to enhance the integrity of the electoral process.
Adam Schmidt is the country director for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Indonesia.