E-Voting Conference in Estonia (3)

The second panel examines the legal and constitutional issues associated with e-voting. Dr. Jordi Esteve, a professor of law at the Universidad de Leon, talked about the audit problem in elections. He noted that there are an array of legal questions—freedom, equality, secrecy, and the like—but auditability is perhaps the most important aspect of the process because it is auditability that gives confidence to the voting process. He does think, however, that there are ways to balance the problem of auditability with other measures.

Consider the traditional voting system. You have opaque ballot boxes and public tally which equals easy citizen control. A private, parallel tally can be conducted and compared to the official results. (Note here he is NOT talking about the American system, where ballots are counted electronically and often centrally tallied.) Now, consider the electronic vote. Here you have a black box, where the technician plays a critical role and it is difficult for the citizen to verify the results.

What do the audit measures for electronic voting look like? One is very familiar to the American audience—the paper trail. Jordi noted the Venezuelan experience with the VVPAT on the Smartmatic system where they conducted a post-election audit of a random sample of paper trails. With e-voting, here specifically Internet voting, he noted the Scytl model of providing an alphanumeric receipt that allows for the vote that the ballot as received by the electoral board. However, this still maintains a high technician role in the election.

This high level of involvement of technicians raises the question of whether independent audits are possible with e-voting. Jordi notes that there is not a common answer to this question among computer scientists—although many are skeptical it can be done—and that even if it can be done, it will be done by technicians, not citizens.

The problem of transparency is problematic also for other voting methods and we tolerate these problems. There are lax rules for postal voting, for example, in Spain and Switzerland. Spaniards also do not cast secret ballots on paper, which raises issues as well. These cases illustrate how certain nations have political or electoral cultures that prefer not to adopt and follow common rules for elections. This social approach to understanding elections suggests that, in some countries, the lost of control over the electoral process among citizens can be accepted if there are clear benefits, such as enfranchising new voters or increasing turnout.

Michael Remmert, who is the project manager for the Council of Europe’s “Good Governance in the Information Society” initiative, discussed the e-democracy initiatives at the Council. There are legal and declarative issues related to e-government that have been made by the Council. The council has already developed an “Internet Literacy Handbook” that is a model for member states on how to educate citizens about the Internet and its benefits and risks. The Council’s recommendations on e-voting include:

  • providing and ensuring interoperability for e-voting systems;
  • developing minimum standards for e-voting;
  • providing a checklist for all states of the e-voting electoral process; and
  • applying the principles of democratic elections to e-voting.

E-voting must be as reliable and secure as democratic elections and referendums which do not involve the use of electronic means. E-voting should be an additional and optional voting channel. Certifying voting systems is also a key component of this work.

Consider the breadth of work on e-voting in Europe. There have been binding pilots in Switzerland, Estonia, the UK, and France. A binding pilot will be done in the Netherlands in November. There have been nonbinding pilots in Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. There have been reports on e-voting in Ireland, Norway, and Lithuania. There is work on e-voting protection profiles in Germany. He noted specifically the use of e-voting for expatriates, something that Mike and I have touted as important for the United States.

The pilots on e-voting have proven that:

1. e-voting is feasible.

2. it is responsive to modern lifestyles and liked by users.

3. popular demand for it is not tremendously strong at present.

4. there is a democratic debate about the appropriateness of e-voting.

In order to have broad acceptance of e-voting, there needs to be a broad and open dialogue with all stakeholders—including voters, politicians, political parties, and public authorities.

E-voting requires a legal basis. States should consider creating laws that facilitate pilot testing of e-voting reforms and election reforms generally. Pilot tests also require pilots that start small and grow over time. It also requires research and systematic studies of the pilots.