Weighing the Benefits and Challenges
Last updated on December 17, 2013
The increasing adoption of these new technologies in some regions comes in part from the recognition that technology may offer benefits over traditional methods of voting and counting. Such benefits may include:
- eliminating the cost and logistics involved with paper ballots; improved voter identification mechanisms;
- improved accessibility to voting;
- easy conduct of complex elections; increase in voter turnout;
- eliminating invalid ballots;
- faster, more accurate and standardized counting of ballots; and
- prevention of certain forms of fraud.1
However, the use of new technologies brings new challenges. These challenges may include:
- lack of transparency;
- negative impact on confidence in the process;
- confusion for the illiterate or uneducated voters on process;
- need to conduct widespread voter education, how to use it and its impact on the process;
- difficulties in auditing results;
- secrecy of the ballot;
- security of the voting and counting process;
- cost of introducing and maintaining the technology over the lifecycle of the equipment;
- potentially losing control over the process to outside technology vendors; recruitment of staff with specialized IT skills;
- added complexity in the electoral process and the ability of the EMB to deal adequately with this complexity; and
- consequences in the event of equipment or system malfunction.
In addition to these challenges, it is also vitally important that electronic voting and counting systems are implemented in such a way as to not violate core electoral standards.
The challenges need to be carefully considered and balanced against anticipated benefits when deciding whether to use such technologies for elections. The relevance of each of these possible advantages and disadvantages will vary from country to country, as will the challenges and issues presented by the existing system being used for elections. Therefore, there is no one answer on the appropriateness of using election technologies. Rather, each electoral jurisdiction will need to fully assess possible advantages and disadvantages to see whether using such technologies is beneficial.
Because the decisions on these matters will profoundly affect voters’ confidence in electoral results, the assessment should be made through a broadly consultative process and be based on equally broad consensus. Without such inclusive and transparent deliberations, suspicions that often exist in competitive political environments may undermine the decision to use electronic voting or counting systems, and erode the legitimacy of the electoral process.
1 While the use of electronic voting and counting technologies can serve to prevent some kinds of fraud, it also opens up the possibility for new kinds of fraud. The use of these technologies should certainly not be seen as the means by which fraud is eliminated entirely from the electoral process.