Literacy rates are on the rise all over the world, but there are still almost a billion people who remain unable to read or write.
This encompasses a potentially significant number of voters disenfranchised at the polls. If they cannot cast their ballots independently, one of their fundamental rights is vulnerated.
Election technology ̶ and electronic voting machines in particular ̶ is making voting far easier for those who may not be literate. Unfortunately, only a few countries have deployed them nationwide. Voters in Brazil, Belgium, USA, India, The Philippines and Venezuela are among the few to have the chance to cast their votes more independently with help from technology, even if they do not know how to read or write.
According to election research in India and Brazil, and electronic machines user’s surveys carried out by Smartmatic in The Philippines and Venezuela; 90% of voters, both literate and illiterate, feel satisfied with the ease of use of their voting machines.
However, what does the introduction of electronic voting mean for non-educated citizens? Or even for voters with a learning disorder, like Dyslexia? It represents accessibility, independence and political empowerment. For instance, according to The Economist, the introduction of voting machines in India not only lowered the number of split votes from 23% to 11%, but it also increased overall voter turnout by 10%.
Illiterate voters in the countries above have claimed that using technology in their elections have made voting simpler, faster, more accessible, and liberating. 95% of illiterate voters said that they prefer the use of voting machines, as opposed to only 3% who favour the manual voting. This is up from 81% in 2004.
The adoption and penetration of technology are crucial, as many people from these countries own a smartphone, and many more own a computer for internet access. IT skills and digital knowledge are growing all over the world, and it is essential to assess how election technology is working to catch up to modern tech.
Election technology has become an ally for election administrators to tackle illiterate voters’ marginalisation. It is only a tool, but it has proven to be an effective one in developing, large and complex contexts. As more illiterate people are encouraged to participate and vote, their voices will be heard, and their needs will be included in public policies. It is a fundamental issue of election integrity, representation, equality, inclusion and political engagement.