Electronic Voting: Its Time Has Come

Kylie Watson

People across the globe are paying their bills, doing their taxes, and managing their health appointments and medications using digital devices and the Internet.

However, when it comes to one of the most important decisions we make about our national and local leadership, many of us are still forced to physically visit a voting station on a weekend, using pencil and paper to cast political votes at a primary school or community hall.

Data collection and polling are rooted in digital platforms, and in some countries even the census is digital (Australian census 2016), so why do we not practice digital voting?

Most governments around the world have balked at implementing digital votes. Their hesitance to embrace e-voting is part of government’s slow implementation of large-scale digital technology. While many citizens have fully integrated digital technologies in their lifestyle, from socializing through to work, their governments have lagged behind. This is a troubling pattern, not least because it reflects government’s unwillingness to let go of Luddite sensibilities and embrace the digital revolution that citizens have already accepted.

Among its many benefits, e-voting is much quicker, offers much more accurate results, and eliminates potential human error from manual counting. There are also cost savings: Reducing the need for manual counting means less human labor. And while many naysayers point to security, a secure digital voting method can actually improve security: It’s much more difficult to erase electronic votes in a properly curated system than it is to discard paper votes. Manipulation of votes via candidate arrangement on the ballot could be eliminated through randomization, and mistakes and ambiguous votes could be virtually eliminated.

Last, but certainly not least, e-voting would likely increase youth engagement, as younger generations increasingly expect digital tools. This is important, as there is an increasing decline in numbers of young people enrolling to vote in the U.S., UK, and Australia. Our future isn’t being engaged.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has responded to the implementation of digital voting, saying, “There would be a minimum change in the voting culture as electors would still attend a polling place on election day.” This assumes that culturally, citizens want to take time out of their weekend and go to the trouble of lining up and voting. Personally, I’ve yet to find people who love attending election day (with the exception of the fundraiser sausage sizzles).

The fact that 2.5 million Australians opted to vote by mail in Australia’s recent 2016 federal election suggests that attending a physical location during a prescribed time period is unfavourable to a significant number of people.

The cost of the digital transition and the need to update technology for every election is another concern cited by government authorities. However, even if technology requires frequent updates, there are so many mitigating factors regarding cost control that these must be taken into consideration. Remote voting, for example, could be implemented. Mobile devices and multiple-stage verification systems could easily replace polling places, eliminating not only the need for manual counters but also that for on-site staff. At the end of the day, a basic electronic system is better than a manual system – even if it’s outdated!

Accessibility is another point brought up by detractors, who claim that some may have a difficult time transitioning to a digital system. But what about the thousands, if not millions, of voters for whom accessibility will be improved? There are far more accessibility issues that would be solved by digital use than would be created. Furthermore, any accessibility issues that might be created by digital voting can be mitigated simply through offering alternative solutions.

Estonia and Kazakhstan both use e-voting, and a few other countries around the world have begun to implement digital voting methods in some form. Italy has had notable success with electronic voting, which has been used in a number of different elections. India has also used electronic voting on an especially widespread scale, as it is home to the largest democratic system on the planet. It has managed questions regarding vote accuracy and corruption by implementing a voter verified audit trail, which has been a great success. Leaders in these countries have made a commitment to accelerating progress, as has Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull.

Digital voting in the future

While there are still hurdles to overcome, it’s clearer now than ever that digital voting will soon be expected by most citizens in a majority of countries. When it’s possible to conduct international bank transactions online, and when users can expect their health care information and other data vital to their well-being to be held in security and privacy, they will seriously question why their governments are not taking the steps to streamline the voting process.

This is but one facet of the digital disruption and government agencies usually like to be a fast follower, but the time to “wait and see” is over. Citizens have waited. Citizens are expecting to move into the digital world, and it’s now time for government to tune into their expectations and capture their votes digitally.

To learn more about the SAP Institute for Digital Government visit www.sap.com/sidg, follow us on Twitter @sapsidg or email us at digitalgovernment@sap.com.


About Kylie Watson

Kylie Watson is a sociologist that focusses on digital business transformation across range of clients in Australia, and Asia. She is also a committee member on the global Change Management Insititute Board responsible for Standards.