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Electronic voting, approaches and risks
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Electronic voting, approaches and risks

  • TECHNICAL LEVEL

Electronic voting and, more generally, online democracy are essential issues for the development of our democracy, electronic business and the improvement of citizen participation in the governance of the state. In addition, these mechanisms will certainly, in the long term, significantly reduce the costs related to the exercise of democracy.

 

The expression electronic voting brings together a panoply of technologies operating on several possible distribution channels. You could vote from different places (home, office, polling station, public places) with various authentication methods, various interfaces (PC, voting machine and optical readers, WAP/3G, telephone, lottery terminals, automatic, interactive television) and via diversified networks. In fact, Lawrence Pratchet of De Montfort University has counted 136 possible combinations of each of these participating elements in electronic voting.  

THE APPROACH

For a second time, the agglomeration of Montreal is preparing to use electronic ballot boxes (voting machines and/or optical readers) to allow voters to cast their vote during the next municipal elections. In a more general context, the governments of Quebec and Canada have major interests in investigating, experimenting with and adopting practices and technologies related to online democracy.

Moreover, it is the Government of Quebec, via the Chief Electoral Officer and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Sports and Recreation, which supervises and authorizes electronic voting experiments. They will therefore be the ones who will ultimately dictate the parameters to be respected and valued in the implementation of such solutions for municipalities, school boards and the provincial government. They must therefore ensure that the experiments will promote the adoption of possible technologies if we want one day to be able to benefit from the many benefits of electronic voting, which has been tested in several other countries.

THE RISK

Jean-François Lisée  and Michel Dumais have already expressed with some aplomb the various reservations they had about electronic voting. We all remember the many disastrous adventures of our American neighbors in terms of electronic voting and in terms of non-electronic voting (you will no doubt remember the episode of the “chads” of George Bush's first election). Why am I talking to you about Americans? Because they are the example most quoted by the media and because they are the most negative example of what electronic voting is or can be.  

What is unfortunate with the Montreal Agglomeration's adoption of this type of electronic voting (voting machines) is that our elected municipal officials are opting for one of the electronic voting technologies that most worries the experts of the planet, that they are doing it from a one-channel perspective by unilaterally removing the possibility of continuing to vote on paper and choosing this form of electronic voting if it suits us and that they risk alienating the population at all other electronic voting initiatives for their jurisdiction but also for other levels of government.

However, many countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Great Britain or Switzerland have successfully experimented with electronic voting. What did they have in particular to succeed? They experimented incrementally and across channels, allowing voters to become familiar with various voting technologies while retaining the ability to vote in the traditional way (with paper and pencil).

EPILOGUE

To use an illustration from KPMG in a report on electronic voting in 1998, if the banks had introduced electronic commerce (counter, telephone banking services, debit cards) abruptly and equivocally by removing all possibilities for consumers to be able to continue transact at counters with cashiers, they would have protested vehemently and with good reason. Instead, banks have chosen to gradually introduce different transaction technologies that have been accepted, adopted and are now appreciated by consumers. Banks can now benefit from a ratio of 10:1 relative to the costs of a transaction at the counter versus that on the Internet.

Our elected officials should take inspiration from what has been done by banks, by countries other than the United States and gradually introduce various technologies with a multi-channel approach, while retaining the possibility of voting according to individual taste. . They could thus achieve long-term savings, identify the channels most appreciated by consumers and above all not alienate the population and commentators towards a reality that we have not yet begun to explore.

By Michel LeBlanc