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Research Report

Democracy Rebooted: The Future of Technology in Elections

Conny B. McCormack
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 31
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. [v]-[v])
    Peter Schechter and Rachel DeLevie-Orey

    From small start-ups to major corporations, technology has disrupted and revolutionized business, civil society, and our daily behavior. Technology has infiltrated the most ordinary tasks—like calling a taxi—and created extraordinary possibilities—like students in rural villages streaming classes taught a world away. As both consumers and citizens, people have come to expect the world to keep pace with modern technology.

    Yet elections remain relatively untouched by technological advances. While some countries seize newly available electoral tools, many remain wary of them. Governments and electorates are grappling with how to embrace the digital age and its benefits while maintaining...

  2. (pp. 1-2)

    People around the world increasingly rely on technology in everyday life—from the ubiquity of PCs, smartphones, Internet banking and shopping, to using GPS for directions: The list is endless. Yet the process of casting a ballot stands in stark contrast, typically involving marking a paper ballot with a pen or pencil. And counting those paper ballots—even in many of the most developed, long-standing democracies—is often a manual process. Halfway through the second decade of the twenty-first century, the mechanics of the voting process remain largely rooted in the past.

    As the United States is on the brink...

  3. (pp. 3-5)

    It seems like no industry has escaped the impact of the technological revolution, yet elections remain an outlier. While some countries have incorporated the newest technologies, others carry on with the pen and paper of centuries past. Certain areas, such as voter registration, have benefitted from a greater willingness to use new technologies than others, such as ballot casting and counting.

    Online voter registration is more frequently available where self-registration is required.⁵ In the United States, online registration is growing exponentially, from two states in 2008 to twenty-nine states today. When Great Britain launched the option of online registration in...

  4. (pp. 6-8)

    The circumstances of different political environments and electorates have led some countries to seek alternatives to their voting systems. From managing hundreds of millions of votes, as India and Brazil do, to aiming to increase inclusion and accessibility, various countries have turned to technology as a tool to help address these challenges.

    Where can technology help strengthen the electoral process? Why should technology be adopted? Four key reasons stand out:

    Accuracy is paramount. The primary incentive for adopting electronic voting is to increase the accuracy of ballot counting to reflect the will of the voters, including by preventing fraud (ballot...

  5. (pp. 9-14)

    Which countries have reaped the benefits of electronic voting, and what factors contribute to their sustained success? What can be learned from examples in other nations, several of which successfully implemented electronic voting for a number of years but subsequently returned to pen and paper? Obstacles have ranged from opposition by organized community groups and political parties to insufficient trial periods to inadequate regulatory and certification processes. Below is a brief look, including a closer examination of several countries’ experiences.

    In recent years countries in South America, Asia, and Africa have been active in conducting pilot programs using electronic voting,...

  6. (pp. 15-16)

    Elections by their very nature are emotional, taking place in highly charged political environments where stakes are high. When examining voting system options, the importance of evidence-based decision-making in a collaborative process is critical to enhancing credibility and fostering trust. Political parties, civil society, and independent electoral bodies must all play an active role in determining the myriad criteria for a legitimate and credible election. Unanimous support is not necessary, but building partnerships and fostering dialogue among all stakeholders and incorporating their concerns and ideas in an open, transparent process helps avoid contentious, polarized rhetoric surrounding voting systems. Collaborative efforts...

  7. (pp. 17-18)

    More information is needed on many aspects of the electoral process and the potential impact of an expanded use of technology. The following recommendations address some of the obstacles to greater use of election technology with an eye toward its responsible implementation.

    The lack of statistical or economic analysis on the cost of electronic voting compared with paper voting is detrimental to determining which system is most cost effective. Election technology companies are convinced electronic voting is substantially less expensive than using paper ballots. Further debate on this issue requires an in-depth study to make such a determination. Respected institutions...