The Future of Elections


Digital technology brings great efficiency that disrupts business models and governance. One of the biggest challenges faced by most of the democracies around the globe is about increasing the voter turnout for the elections. Like any other new gen business models increasing the convenience and ensuring the security of the voters has become a key foray for the governments. Online databases hugely facilitate the task of creating and managing accurate and up-to-date electoral rolls. The second challenge is the identification and registration of the voters, in most of the developing countries, identification, and registration of voters has been a key challenge; digitization of the identity records has always been a greater challenge - which gave rise to optical scanner mechanisms which never solved the greater purpose. However, for some aspects of election management in India, true digitalization began with the advent of Aadhaar ID which penetrated over 85% of the Indian people, creating a digitized record for every citizen.

True digitization becomes effective when true efficiency and convenience observed in the process. Electronic voting machines count votes quickly and accurately. First used in the United States, they have spread to several Latin American and Asian countries. However, the intangible nature of digital processes makes detecting tampering more difficult; as a result, most European countries are sticking to tried-and-trusted conventional paper ballots.


Benefits of Digital Technology in elections


Voter registration

Accurate voter registers are vital to enable all the eligible citizens to exercise their right to vote and eliminate fraud. Digital technology facilitates the process of creating registers and in most of the countries, data is extracted from population registers and census to generate an electoral roll. In most countries like Australia, where the count is taken from scratch an online form is filled which enables the government understand the number of people eligible to case their vote.


Voter identity verification

Voter identity verification is one of the main areas where technology has been beneficial. Creating a repository of identity information of citizens enables the election commission to cross verify the person’s identity against the repository of information.


Vote counting

In India, counting the results from voting machines takes between two and three hours per constituency, including the time needed for checks; which previously took days for paper votes. It also reduces the scope for human error and saves money through recruiting fewer poll workers.


Results transmission and tabulation

The processes of sending the results of the vote count from polling stations to a central polling office and aggregating them to give total results (at constituency or national level). With paper-based processes, collecting and calculating results from thousands of polling stations country-wide is often the slowest part of the process; with digital technology, results can be transmitted electronically (for example, over the internet or by mobile phone) and aggregated by computer, allowing at least preliminary results to be announced quickly


Standards for digital technology in elections

International standards addressing the specific characteristics of electronic voting and other voting technology do not yet exist. However, the Council of Europe's recommendation on standards for e-voting is a useful reference. It recommends that:

  • voters should be reliably identified;

  • voter interfaces should be easy to understand and use for all voters;

  • voters should have the chance to confirm their vote before casting it;

  • after casting their vote, voters should be able to check that it has been correctly cast;

  • voting should be anonymous;

  • all aspects of the vote must be fully transparent;

  • electronic voting systems must be tested and certified by an independent body.

Main Concerns that exist with digital technology

  • Reliability

  • Protection from electoral fraud

  • Auditability of electronic voting

  • Verifiability

Technological options for electronic voting


Iris/Facial Recognition for Voter Registration


Iris scanning in Somaliland In the 2017 elections for the president and the representative house, Somaliland, held the first elections in the world in which voters were identified by iris scanning when registering to vote. The system was developed to eliminate multiple voting – a major problem in previous Somaliland elections. Election observers praised the voter registration process as 'highly successful'.

The national identity card of India - AadhaarID makes this achievable. The AadhaarID tagged along with a unique identifier can be used to track and store the data of the iris and other data of the citizen. The verification at every touch point could be with the use of this identification. TroonDx also recommends the ID to be used as a common “KYC” that not only acts as a Voter ID but can also be used as other identification and this ID can also act as one source of truth for the citizen of India.


Secure Internet voting Concept


Internet voting is a much more radical departure from traditional procedures than either of the two above options, as it allows electors to vote from home, without having to visit a polling station. For this reason, it presents specific benefits and risks, and remains highly controversial; several countries have piloted online voting, but Estonia is the only country to use it for all categories of the voter in national elections. TroonDx proposes a distinct methodology to run i-voting on a secure model with a hybrid model consisting of both on the network and off-network models using Blockchain as a secure ledger for an audit trail.


Let’s look at the process in detail -


Vote forwarding server


The vote forwarding server or VFS is the only publicly accessible server. It accepts HTTPS connections from the client software, which could be both mobile or web - verifies voter eligibility and identity and acts as an intermediary to the backend vote storage server. The backend vote storage server is inaccessible through internet.


Vote storage server


The VSS is a backend server that stores signed and encrypted votes which is a combination of the private and public keys of the electoral and the user during the online voting period. Upon receiving a vote from the VFS, it confirms that the vote is formatted correctly and verifies the voter’s digital signature using an external Blockchain or a file server, which is not accessible to the outer environment.


Log server & Shared Ledger


This server is an internal logging and monitoring platform that collects events and statistics from the other servers as transactions and events. This ledger is not publicly accessible, it can be accessed remotely by election staff.


Vote counting server


The vote counting server is never connected to a network and is only used during the final stage of the election. Officials use a Flash disk to copy encrypted votes (with their signatures removed) from the Vote storage server. The VCS is attached to a hardware security module or HSM that contains the election private key, only with this election private key can the votes be decrypted. It uses the HSM to decrypt the votes, counts them, and outputs the official results.


Reconciliation


The shared ledger can be used to cross check the number of entries across the different constituencies viz-a-viz the final set of votes received from the vote counting server. The shared ledger being on Blockchain is immutable and secure - which provides complete access to the audit trail of the elections.



Problems with i-voting


Convenience in the process also brings along certain compromises. To begin with, i-voting potentially compromises ballot secrecy, as it is impossible to guarantee that nobody is watching voters as they submit their ballots which therefore opens the door to voter coercion. To exclude this possibility, Estonia allows citizens to re-cast their votes an unlimited number of times during a seven-day period, or, even override the internet and vote in person. Secondly, Internet voting discriminates against persons who are less comfortable with digital technology or with the access of internet-based devices or even the lack of access to high-quality internet services. However, provided the right amenities and the right infrastructure for the citizen to cast their vote with or without internet devices (that is, using a government center to cast their vote); the elections are moving closer towards i-voting.


References


International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

International Foundation for Electoral Systems

E-public, e-participation and e-voting in Europe - prospects and challenges

Estonia : i-Voting


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