Raising Trust in Electoral Technology
From August 31 through September 2, 2017, election officials from over 50 countries gathered in Bucharest, Romania, for the third General Assembly of the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) and an international conference entitled "Counting the Ballots and Accounting for the Votes: The Use of Technology for Enhancing the Transparency of the Electoral Processes.” International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Vice President of Programs Michael Svetlik and Senior Global Electoral Adviser Peter Erben represented IFES, and IFES Egypt Country Director Hermann Thiel and Deputy Country Director Omar Abdalla joined them, accompanied by a senior delegation from Egypt.
The two-day international conference, focused on the use of technology in electoral processes, followed the General Assembly meeting. Over the course of two days, participants reflected on the use of technology throughout the electoral process. Several delegations presented the latest technologies that have been introduced in their countries to address problems regarding voter registration, voting, counting and results tabulation, and public outreach. The delegation from Egypt, whose participation was supported by IFES, focused their presentation on technologies used to enhance voter registration, the transmission of election results and voting for Egyptians abroad. They also had the opportunity to introduce the newly established permanent National Elections Authority in Egypt to the conference participants.
Questions that received particular attention during the conference were whether the introduction of new technology should be mandatory in the modern electoral environment, whether new technology can be used to increase trust in the electoral process and whether there is still a place for traditional technologies in modern electoral processes.
IFES Senior Global Electoral Adviser Peter Erben delivered one of the most discussed and quoted presentations of the conference. Erben argued that, although many have hoped that technology would offer a revolution in how elections are conducted, this promise has yet to be fulfilled. He emphasized that, in an environment where electoral technologies have proven vulnerable to failure and security breaches, distrust, inflated cost and legal challenges, electoral leaders must resist the enormous pressure they are under from all stakeholders to implement new technologies. Good judgement and common sense should prevail, and electoral leaders should be proud to implement homegrown solutions that combine traditional paper-based systems with electronic systems. Paper balloting and a well observed manual count, combined with electronic results transmission and tabulation – and possibly adding the scanning and online upload of hand-signed results forms for public scrutiny and extensive parallel vote tabulation – are examples of such systems, he said.
Drawing upon IFES’ three decades of experience in electoral assistance, Erben also emphasized that areas requiring attention as new technology is introduced include: the development of comprehensive legal and procedural frameworks; inclusive and consultative system design; training and accountability; and, building trust through public information and interaction. Assisting decision-makers in the process of introducing new technologies, IFES has strived to capture the best practices from around the world in our published methodology for feasibility studies. These best practices include convening resource feasibility committees with multi-stakeholder representation, getting clarity about existing systems and determining clearly what the problems are that need to be solved, identifying all potential technologies that can be used to solve the problem, analyzing all factors that influence the choices, and conducting comprehensive pilot tests prior to implementation.
The A-WEB General Assembly meeting was held on August 31, 2017, with the re-election of Secretary General Kim Yong-hi and the appointment of the new chairperson, Daniel Barbu of Romania, and deputy chairperson Shri A K Jotiof India. An additional topic of discussion at the General Assembly meeting was a proposition by the A-WEB Secretariat to transform AWEB from an NGO to an inter-governmental organization. The proposition was approved after much discussion and debate. Founded in 2013, A-WEB is a global association of election administration professionals, comprised of members from election management bodies from over 100 countries.
To read Peter Erben’s remarks, please click here.
For more on electoral technology, please see: “Implementing and Overseeing Electronic Voting and Counting Technologies.”