Making a Decision on E-voting or E-counting
The first step in implementing electronic voting or counting technologies is the decision-making process concerning the adoption of the technologies. This process has varied considerably in the countries that have used electronic voting or counting technologies. The institution making the decision has also differed; in some countries, parliament has made the decision through the passage of legislation, and in others the election management body has made the decision under its authority over operational matters.
But no matter which institution has decision-making authority, the way in which the decision is reached is vitally important. A decision is more likely to meet the needs of the electoral environment if it is made after consulting openly and widely with electoral stakeholders, based on comprehensive research into available technologies and judged against clearly identified objectives for the implementation of electronic voting or counting technologies. A decision based on these characteristics is also likely to be a far more stable decision that is less likely to face concerted challenges from electoral stakeholders.
Conceptually the decision-making process can be divided into three main phases. The first is the decision in principle, which consists, first and foremost, of assessing whether there is a problem with the current voting or counting process (i.e., a needs assessment), followed by assessing the technical feasibility of addressing that problem with the technology, anticipated benefits and potential risks, financial feasibility and stakeholder reactions to the technology. If the decision in principle indicates that an electronic voting or counting technology might be appropriate, the second stage of the decision-making process should be conducting one or more pilots of the technology. Finally, once pilots have been conducted, a decision can be made regarding the adoption of the technology.27 Though all three of these stages may not have been followed in each instance where electronic voting or counting has been implemented, they provide a framework for understanding best practices when making such a decision.
An important component of a good decision-making process is the inclusion of a range of stakeholders and interests in dialogue about the possibility of adopting electronic voting or counting solutions. The use of such technologies affects many vital components of the electoral process, and the inclusion of a wide range of stakeholders in the debate helps ensure that all of the necessary perspectives are discussed. While it may be easier to exclude certain skeptical groups from the debate about the possible introduction of electronic voting or counting technologies, especially those who are very critical of such technologies, the perspectives that they bring to the debate may still be very useful and provide valuable insight. Engaging skeptical groups can often be a way to anticipate and address concerns that could later evolve into significant public resistance or that might threaten the integrity or security of the election.
27 This conceptual framework is offered as a model of good practice for sound decision making about the adoption of electoral technologies in Goldsmith, B. (2011) Electronic Voting and Counting Technologies: A Guide to Conducting Feasibility Studies.
Decision in Principle