Democracy and online voting: challenges and innovations

8 Dec 2021 14:05h - 15:35h

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Event report

By providing insight into the local contexts, the session aimed to address the impact of online voting on democracy. Participants shared experiences from their respective countries and pointed to the benefits and potential risks of adopting online voting.

Mr Rodrigo Silva (Expert Advisor, Brazilian Network Information Centre – provided an overview of the Brazilian electoral system and the challenges and opportunities of e-voting. Silva maintains a rather conservative position towards adopting e-voting in Brazil due to security challenges such as the security chain in the voting process being susceptible to breaches.

A cautious approach to internet voting was adopted by Ms Meredith Applegate (Programme Adviser for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)) as well, who focused on the principle of inclusion and pointed out that internet voting can both positively and negatively affect the meaningful participation of marginalised communities. Remote internet voting (i.e. voting from a personal device outside of a polling station or a controlled environment) potentially offers a range of really accessible options that would benefit a number of groups. While remote internet voting could enable populations with disabilities to vote from home and therefore contribute to the independence and privacy of their vote, voting removed from a controlled environment (e.g. polling station) can impede the right of certain communities to vote freely, secretly, and safely. For instance, those who face violence at home or practice family voting (e.g. where a single member of the family illegally casts votes on behalf of other members) may be prevented from voting or be instructed to vote for an option not of their choice.

In regard to India, Mr Apar Gupta (Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group) referred to numerous online electoral databases that exist in parallel and pointed to the large amount of personal data, such as addresses, party affiliations, birth dates, and much more, that is being collected throughout the process, noting that India does not have a data protection law which applies to the conduct of online voting mechanisms, such as the voting app used to record voting.

On a positive note, Mr Florian Marcus (Digital Transformation Adviser, E-Estonia) brought to the discussion the example of Estonia and the country’s experience with electronic voting. He used the term ‘i-voting’ instead of ‘e-voting’ to designate the process of internet voting. In Estonia, all elections have been conducted both on paper and through the internet since 2005. Marcus also made mention of the fact that every election in the country lasts for ten days to allow voters to change their vote if they feel they were coerced. Each subsequent vote annuls the previous one.

Participants agreed that having in place the necessary architecture for digital identification is paramount to a successful internet voting system. In Estonia, for instance, electronic identity is compulsory. Applegate noted that in many countries marginalised communities (e.g. voters with disabilities and internally displaced populations) are much less likely to have identification or access to birth certificate records. It is therefore important that countries that are digitising their civil registries in order to have internet voting, address the subsequent issue of who is most likely to be missing from that registry.

By Katarina Andjelkovic

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