Electronic elections as a way to transition to democracy

The main idea of the public organization “Public reforms” is to conduct annual elections to the full restoration of trust in the government, government work in favor of the people. We offer to conduct the elections of officials to key positions of regional and district levels, which will allow beginning the process of decentralization of power which is so much spoken about. But along with the understanding of the necessity to start reforms in this way, the understanding of the necessity to optimize the electoral process itself has also come to mind.

Information technologies are developing rapidly. So today with the help of the Internet we make purchases, monitor bank accounts, work and observe events in the city and the world. It would be natural to digitalize the voting process, to optimize in order to reduce the human factor in the voting and counting of votes.

In foreign countries, electronic voting has been widely used in organization and conduct of elections. Exactly this experience we offer to implement for annual elections to local self-government bodies, courts, tax administrations, prosecutors’ offices and police.

Nowadays there are different electronic voting systems. In particular, they include:
1) a voting system by punch cards;
2) a system of optical numeration;
3) a system of direct electronic voting;
4) Internet voting.

Out of the four listed electronic voting systems we are more interested in the system of direct electronic voting and Internet voting as systems which optimize the election process as much as possible.

Direct electronic voting systems are used in Belgium, Brazil, India, Venezuela, USA and other countries. The voting process is held by means of selecting a candidate or party on the touch screen of the electronic system, installed at the polling station. In applying this system there is no need to print the ballots. Voting process details are placed on the local data carrier and transmitted to a central server through the Internet. For example, in Belgium every vote is registered simultaneously on the local data carrier and paper check, which is put into the ballot box to duplicate the data of the electronic system in case of its failure.

Internet voting is the most convenient way for voters by which you can vote without leaving home. In this case, the voter goes to the site of the election commission, makes a few notes in the form and clicks the button “vote”. This system allows saving cash used for placement and operation of polling stations. Moreover, the electronic counting of votes is faster than counting of traditional paper ballots, as it is conducted online.

We propose to combine and unify the system of direct electronic voting and Internet voting in order to improve the efficiency of the derived system.

- Voting via the Internet in the terminal: voters vote by means of an electronic system – a terminal placed both at polling stations and in public places (for example, in commercial and other centers). Out of the electoral process this terminal serves as the state electronic system.

- Remote voting via the Internet: voters vote from home by means of home PCs and tablets. Out of the electoral process, voters use the state electronic system.

The introduction of such a system will require voter identification, because it is necessary to exclude the possibility of organizing usual schemes of misrepresentation of the voting process by vote bribing, using of different manipulative techniques. Analyzing this aspect of the problem being solved, and taking into account that the elections are supposed to be conducted annually, it means that vote bribing will be inefficient method, if it doesn’t disappear fully. Accordingly, it is enough to build a system in such a way as to guarantee voter identification, security and privacy of data. The practice of building such systems already exists; in particular in Estonia in 2001 this idea arose and quickly gained popularity among the heads of the coalition government. In 2005 Estonia became the first country which legally conducted voting via the Internet. The system has passed a real test and was admitted as successful by Estonian officials. Parliamentary elections in 2007 with the use of Internet voting also passed successfully, and all the following elections were conducted using the Internet voting.

But, let’s go back to the identification. In Estonia, for the identification of citizens they use the Estonian ID-card. This is a smart card issued to the citizens of Estonia from 2002 upon the attainment of the age of 15, used to identify a citizen in a number of automated systems in Estonia:
1. Elections.
2. Public electronic services.
3. Banking services.

And in the cities of Tallinn and Tartu ID-card can be used as a ticket in public transport. It should be noted that along with the ID-card Estonia has a standard passport of country citizen.
Our country has gone a bit the other way – it introduces biometric passports.

Биометрический паспортBiometric passport is a state identity document which has a special built-in chip containing a photo of the owner, as well as his data: last name, first name, patronymic, date of birth, passport number, date of issue and expiration, and also any additional information about the owner.

Accordingly, we can use the biometric passports for identification, which will increase the authenticity of identification. Moreover, the technology does not stand still, and today it is possible to use biometric identification of fingerprint, palm, and retina.

Биометрический отпечаток ладони

(Biometric palmatogram)

In order to improve the transparency of the electoral system, to eliminate the human factor, and later, to reduce costs on the elections, we offer a phased introduction of electronic voting and government electronic services:

  • Introduction of the system of identification of citizens by the biometric passports, ID-cards, direct biometric identification.
  • Introduction of the system of direct electronic voting.
  • Supplement \ conversion of the system of direct electronic voting with the system of Internet voting.
  • Introduction of government electronic services for improving the monitoring of their implementation and ensuring transparency of the mechanism:
  • Payment of invoices (fines, duties, taxes, etc.)
  • Obtaining licenses, permits, certificates, complaint, etc.
  • Submission of applications, suggestions, complaints, etc.
  • Appointments to the official, monitoring of the case.
  • Electronic queues to kindergartens, schools, universities, etc.

    Introduction of these practices will allow making the first step towards electronic democracy, the form of democracy characterized by the use of information technologies as the main means for collective thinking and administrative processes (informing, making joint decisions – electronic voting, controlling of decisions, etc.) at all levels – first local self-government and then state. This will require increasing the degree of citizen participation and the number of citizens in governance processes and thus move to firm and full democracy. Due to the interactive nature of the Internet ordinary people for the first time will have the opportunity to form and influence the decisions taken by the state in their favor. With the increasing of involvement of citizens in the process of solving their own needs and objectives, solving their own and then the state problems, the latest will get more and more control over the activities of their government, and the government will report back to the citizens as managers hired to perform tasks.

But to achieve these goals, we have to overcome the most important obstacle – the obstacle of consciousness. We have to abandon the imposed, and now the usual way of thinking, be demanding and responsible for everything that surrounds us, learn to take responsibility for our actions first of all with ourselves, because every citizen of a democratic society determines how to live by himself.

Continuation in the article “Models of electronic elections and their safety”.

Author: Alexander Shalimov

Date: 17 December 2014