Project and Risk Management

Last updated on December 17, 2013

The successful implementation of electronic voting or counting in an election should have as a first step a comprehensive project management plan. The management plan should detail the steps necessary for effective implementation, the schedule for these steps, as well as the personnel responsible for carrying them out, and should identify risks associated with the implementation and how these risks can be addressed. The management plan is a key resource for managers to gauge progress on the implementation of electronic voting or counting technologies and to respond to delays or obstacles. Observers should use the management plan to provide oversight of the implementation process and make recommendations in cases where deadlines are not being met according to schedule or where risks are not being effectively addressed. 

Elections are a complex logistical exercise. The introduction of electronic voting and counting systems makes them even more complex. As has been discussed previously in this manual, the successful implementation of electronic voting and counting technologies depends on a broad number of variables working together properly. For this to happen, the project needs – first and foremost – effective planning and management.

Although this manual attempts to present the implementation of electronic voting and counting in as straightforward a manner as possible, discussing it as a coherent process, implementation is much more likely to involve a diverse range of processes conducted by official and unofficial actors, dispersed across institutions and over a lengthy period of time. The EMB must establish mechanisms for overall project management and coordination, including the establishment of a project management group. Such a group can include members from a diverse range of relevant institutions to ensure the smooth coordination and timely progress of the project. It is important that a broad set of skills be represented among members (e.g., project management, field operations, training, logistics, voter education, legal and IT) so that all aspects of various issues are considered. 

Two important questions for the election authorities and other relevant institutions are whether to devote dedicated staff to the project and whether project staff should have additional responsibilities. While it may be preferable to have staff dedicated to the project, this might not be possible – particularly if there is a long time period between the project’s conception and its actual implementation. In a situation where there are few or no dedicated project staff, the role and importance of a project management group is further increased.

From the outset, it is important that the EMB and other relevant institutions (or the project management group) conduct a planning process that lays out step-by-step how the project will be implemented, who (or which institution) has responsibility for each aspect and how long it is expected to take. The project management group should draft a detailed plan and timeline that set out each stage of the project as well as the deadlines to be met. This plan and timeline should be publicly available and reviewed by EMBs on a regular basis to ensure that targets are being met.

As has been stressed elsewhere in this document, the amount of time necessary to implement electronic voting and counting systems should not be underestimated, and the schedule should include adequate time for public consultation, drafting of the necessary legal framework, feasibility studies, pilot testing, design of appropriate technology, security testing, expert review, personnel recruitment and training and voter education. The timeline should also include some flexibility in case some of the activities take longer than anticipated.

In Norway, for example, the Parliament decided in 2008 to pilot Internet voting during the September 2011 local elections. This timeframe provided several years for development of the system and pre-testing, with the 2011 pilot taking place in only 10 out of 429 municipalities. Despite this extended timeframe, the project team still had to work very hard to get the Internet voting system ready in time for the pilot. 

The project management group should meet on a regular basis to review the project’s progress. Periodic progress reports can refer back to the original plan and timeline in order to assess progress made to date; these reports should also be publicly available. The project management group can further promote transparency by allowing political actors and independent observers to attend some of its meetings and by regularly briefing them on project progress.

It may be advisable to establish a broader consultation group in addition to the formal project management group. This group could be kept informed of project progress and consulted periodically and at key stages during the project implementation process. This consultation group should have a wide range of interests and organizations represented, such as members from academia, civil society and professional communities. The inclusion of those who advocate against the use of electronic voting or counting in this consultation group will also be important, as those critical of the use of such technologies often raise important issues and perspectives that may need to be addressed to some extent.

A critical aspect of project management is developing a risk assessment tool that realistically identifies possible sources of risk, considers any mitigating factors and provides appropriate responses. This will involve a full assessment of potential security risks, as these are among the most critical for an electronic voting and counting system and should be carefully considered; but other types of risk related to logistical or even legal issues should be considered as well.

Although each project will have its own risks, a risk plan should address: 

  • Late or failed delivery of equipment and services
  • Failure of security mechanisms (e.g., breach of electronic voting machine security)
  • Missing, malfunctioning or late delivery of equipment, software or supplies (e.g., thermal paper, backup batteries, and other consumables)
  • Communications failure (e.g., nonfunctioning Internet connection) 
  • Power failure
  • Problems with staff recruitment
  • Legal challenges to the use of the technology
  • Public (mis)perception and resistance
  • Attempts to discredit the system by those with competing commercial or political interests

A risk management plan should be developed early in the project and should be made publicly available so as to increase public confidence in the election authorities’ ability to face the challenges of implementing electronic voting or counting.

Election observers should review the project management documents on an ongoing basis and highlight any gaps that they identify in a timely manner so that recommendations can be made to improve the project. Using the project documents, observers can also provide oversight to ensure that deadlines are being met and the project remains on track in terms of its timeline. Observers should also review the risk management plan to determine whether risks have been realistically anticipated and countermeasures devised. Observers are in a key position to provide this assessment of project progress to citizens on an ongoing basis through periodic statements. Such reporting can enhance public confidence in the election administration and also highlight any areas of concern in a timely manner so that action can be taken.

ExampleEXAMPLE: UK Electoral Commission Report Critiques the 2007 Electronic Voting Pilots


ExampleEXAMPLE: Electronic Voting Project Management in the Netherlands


Key ConsiderationsKEY CONSIDERATIONS: Project and Risk Management





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