Technology is transforming the way election commissions manage the entire election cycle, from automated systems to register candidates and voters, to advanced online platforms to facilitate remote voting or digital applications to announce timely results.
The United States has been at the forefront of election automation for decades. In fact, in the late 19th century the U.S. introduced the mechanical lever voting machine, which became the first widely used voting system. Since then, the country has adopted numerous types of technologies. Today, approximately 95% of all votes are cast electronically.
But the US is not the country reaping the benefits of election technology. The rest of the world is catching up. Approximately one third of the world’s voters now participate in elections using some type of voting machines. And, according to International IDEA, only very few countries (about 11%) conduct elections largely without technology.
Given how ubiquitous election technology has become, we bring you five technology trends in the world of elections.
1. Mastering cybersecurity
Cybersecurity management in elections is, and will continue to be, a priority for election management boards. Specially after the 2016 US election in which foreign interference became a hot button topic.
The US is leading a worldwide debate on how to protect election integrity. However, other countries like Estonia -which has given its voters the possibility to vote online since 2005- are also world references.
Any system to be deployed in the coming future will have to comply with the strictest security protocols available.
2. Making voting more convenient
Voters are demanding convenience. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the number of Americans who have voted early, or sent an absentee or mail-in ballot has increased from some 25 million in 2004 to 57 million in 2016. Likewise, during the recent midterm elections, the number of early voters tripled from 10.2 million in 2004 to 35 million. Though the change in preferences has been rapid, it should not come as a surprise; convenience has become a key decision driver for many of us.
Pilot programs are proving new technologies to be not just more reliable, but also more convenient. It is critical to offer optimal and reliable options to take part in elections for all registered voters, regardless of location, different abilities, language or age. For instance, secure online voting is increasingly being viewed as a more convenient alternative to traditional remote, proxy and postal voting.
3. Centering the overall experience on the voter
Offering a human-centered experience during the voting process has become the natural next step for the most forward-leaning election management bodies. Voters are used to consumer-like user experiences and casting their ballots should not be different. An easier, more intuitive, accessible and pleasant way of voting will become the norm. From artificial intelligence to machine learning, new technologies have much to offer to UX design in election systems.
4. Embracing blockchain, AI, and other new technologies
Blockchain is not a bulletproof solution for improving online voting. Nevertheless, it is an excellent tool to further reinforce election system security. On the other hand, AI and advanced analytics will be powerful allies for cybersecurity. Creating secure solutions against real-time threats in an automated, predictive way (with AI or machine learning) is already a trend among EMBs. It can enhance products, services, processes, and most importantly help with voters’ experiences and engagement.
5. Increasing the role of audits and paper audit trails
Post-election audits are predicted to become standard practice in the next few years, among countries using electronic voting machines and other election technologies. Currently, the two most critical issues in audits are requiring paper records and structuring rigorous certification standards.
According to a recent article about voting machines in the U.S. in Scientific American, “the key insight behind auditing as a cyber defense is that if you have a paper record that the voter got to inspect, then that can’t later be changed by an attack. If you have no paper trail, then it’s impossible to perform a rigorous audit. It’s one of the few grand cybersecurity challenges that doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. But it’s going to take national leadership and national standards to get there.”