Last updated on December 17, 2013
By defining general requirements on the design of the electronic voting or counting system, electoral authorities provide an indication to potential suppliers of what their overall needs are. System design should ensure transparency, accountability, secrecy, usability, accessibility and security. Design requirements should ideally be informed by testing of equipment on different groups of voters. The design process should involve the input of relevant stakeholders, such as parties and civil society. The design process should also consider and specify any additional components (beyond electronic voting and counting equipment) that must be provided as part of an overall election management system.
The starting point for the development of an electronic voting or counting system is for the election administration body to define a set of general requirements that a system should meet. These general requirements should be in line with any national or international standards (including emerging electronic voting standards), as well as the country’s own legal framework.
General requirements should provide broad guidance on the design of the electronic voting or counting system. They should address issues such as secrecy, transparency, accountability, usability/accessibility and security. For instance, such requirements might indicate what kind of audit trail is necessary or whether source code must be open or verifiable.
The process of defining design requirements should be an inclusive one, seeking the input of various stakeholders, including political parties and civil society. Such consultation will help to ensure broad support for the system that is eventually selected, as well as provide specific information on the needs of particular target groups.
By defining general requirements, election authorities give potential suppliers of voting and counting equipment an indication of what their overall needs are. Once these requirements are agreed on, authorities can review different options offered by vendors to determine whether any already developed off-the-shelf products meet the requirements or whether a new system will need to be designed.
Of particular importance are design requirements regarding the usability and accessibility of the electronic voting or counting system. The system should be as user-friendly as possible to maximize the ability of all voters to cast their ballots in an accurate, effective and efficient manner. At the same time, electronic voting and counting systems should be designed to maximize opportunities for the inclusion of voters who may normally struggle to participate in the electoral process, such as voters with visual impairments, hearing impairments or motor difficulties, as well as those from minority language groups. New technologies can increase the ease of access for such groups, and election authorities should make requirements for such accessibility explicit in their initial design requirements.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets the overall norm for ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal access to the same services as the rest of the population. Article 29 of the convention explicitly requires state parties to ensure that persons with disabilities can participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others; this includes the right and opportunity to vote. It further requires that appropriate procedures, facilities and materials be provided that are accessible for persons with disabilities and that protect their right to cast secret ballots. The Council of Europe Recommendation on Legal, Operational and Technical Standards for E-voting also addresses accessibility, suggesting that e-voting systems should maximize opportunities for people with disabilities.
A number of standards relating to usability and accessibility are not tied specifically to voting, but instead seek to make technology as accessible as possible, and are therefore directly relevant to the design of electronic voting and counting equipment. For instance, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has developed standards on the interaction between humans and machines that do not specifically relate to electronic voting and counting, but that can be usefully adopted to maximize the accessibility of such systems. Similarly, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has developed operational guidelines to ensure that persons with disabilities have the best possible access to content on the web. WAI guidelines are particularly relevant for Internet voting.
Election authorities can incorporate standards related to usability and accessibility into their design requirements to ensure that voting and counting systems are developed in a manner that maximizes usability for all voters as well as the access afforded to particular groups of voters. For instance, in Norway, election authorities referenced specific accessibility and usability requirements as part of their tender for electronic voting solutions. This reflected the emphasis Norway put on making elections as inclusive as possible.
The usability and accessibility of a particular voting or counting system can best be assessed through the testing of equipment on different groups of voters throughout the design phase. Such testing should be as inclusive as possible, involving voters from different demographics as well as those who might normally struggle to participate. Election authorities should liaise closely with NGOs that represent particular groups such as persons with disabilities, minority language communities and illiterate or low-literacy voters to understand their needs in the voting process and to maintain an ongoing dialogue about the development and testing of the equipment.
Testing of electronic voting and counting options with voters also provides an opportunity to enhance the transparency of the development process and boost public confidence in the system. Involving political actors and citizen observer groups in the development testing process should also help to promote transparency and confidence in the resulting system.
If election authorities determine that off-the-shelf solutions are not available that meet the general requirements, it is likely that customized equipment will need to be developed. In such cases, technical experts will need to develop the specific technical requirements for the equipment. It is important that throughout the development process, details of the work of such experts is made available to the public. Such experts should be independent from state authorities and political contestants, and should disclose any affiliations with interested parties so as to avoid any perceived or real conflicts of interest where particular vendors could be seen to receive preferential treatment.
Additional factors for practical use and storage of the equipment should also be considered in the design phase, such as: whether there are particular environmental conditions in which the equipment will be required to function (e.g., high temperatures, humidity or dust); whether the power supply is uncertain in some parts of the country; how equipment should be transported and whether this is an issue for the design; and the environmental requirements that should exist for storing the equipment between elections.
For Bhutan’s 2008 parliamentary elections, election authorities decided to use the lightweight (5 kilogram) battery-powered electronic voting machine used in India, as the machines needed to be transported by officials to distant villages, sometimes on foot.13 Consideration of such factors early in the design phase is absolutely crucial for the successful implementation of electronic voting and counting equipment.
It should also be noted that it is not only the design of voting or counting machines themselves that needs to be considered and specified. An electronic voting or counting system may be part of an overall election management system. This election management system may be used to manage the administrative aspects of the election related to the machines (for example the pre-election configuration) and also to integrate candidate registration and verification with ballot production, issue of election notices, production of polling cards, count tabulation and results publication. If any or all of these components are required to be provided as part of an overall election management system, then they will need to be specified in advance.
31 Election Commission of Bhutan, “Electronic Voting Machines,” www.election-bhutan.org.bt.
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