Last updated on December 17, 2013
Electronic voting and counting technologies allow for quicker tabulation and transmission of results when compared to paper-based systems, but election authorities must ensure that these processes are undertaken with as much transparency as possible and with a strict focus on the security of results data. Results can be transmitted either through secure communication channels or by encrypted data. And as these security measures are taken to safeguard the data, election authorities must ensure that observers and oversight groups are able to observe the data being uploaded. Results data from the polling station to central level should be made publicly available online.
Once votes from electronic voting or counting machines have been aggregated at the polling station level and recorded in a polling station protocol, they must be delivered in a secure and efficient manner either to the next level of the election administration or to the central election authorities for tabulation, depending on the election legislation.
Results transmission is likely to be simultaneously conducted through more than one channel. Often unofficial results are transmitted first, and then official results follow. Results may be transmitted electronically through the Internet (using a modem or satellite device) or by mobile phone. Security measures should be in place to prevent any interference with the electronic transmission process. For instance, data may be encrypted, and secure communication channels may be used, along with digital signatures to verify the integrity of the data that is received. At the same time, hardware devices such as memory cards or memory sticks may also be transported to the next-level election commission, with encrypted and signed data. Paper results protocols may be sent through an additional channel.
At the next stage in the tabulation process, for instance at a district-level tabulation center, election officials will feed results from polling stations into the system. If results have been submitted electronically or using electronic hardware, then results may be automatically uploaded without the need for any data input, saving time and avoiding errors.
The tabulation process at all levels should be fully transparent for party representatives and observers. Observers should be able to witness the data being uploaded or entered into the tabulation computers. If observers have collected results protocols from polling stations, they should be able to verify that these figures have been properly recorded at each higher level of the tabulation process. The full tabulation from the central level down to the polling station should be publicly available on the Internet in an easily verifiable format.
Depending on the technology adopted, the tabulation process when using electronic voting and counting systems has the potential to be extremely quick – even instantaneous. In such cases, consideration must be given to how results will be presented. One criticism of the Ireland pilot of electronic voting was that the tabulation and announcement of results happened too suddenly, before the losing candidates could prepare for defeat. Traditionally in Ireland the tabulation process takes one or even several days, and is conducted in front of party representatives, who are able to make an early calculation of the results. There have been similar objections to rapid reporting of results in the United States, where multiple time zones create the possibility that the outcome of a presidential election may be known even before the polls close on the West Coast.
Challenges and Recounts