This is a personal position about the state of Internet voting and what could be done to implement it in the medium term in a thorough way. It does only reflect my own views and not necessarily represents those of my employer.
Besides the desire to deploy new normative related to parliamentary elections, there also is a growing need to provide robust technologies for e-participation platforms. A good example of this is the recent tender issued by the City Council of Barcelona to provide the deliberative participation platform Decidim with appropriate e-voting (i-voting) technology. This technology would be used not only to vote for a specific citizen proposal, but also to sign citizen petitions.
Last, but not least, scattered —but relevant enough— initiatives raise in the civil society to implement i-voting for several purposes: elections in chambers of commerce, in school councils, in trade unions, in primaries in political parties, etc. are being held more and more frequently and are thus pushing forward the issue into the public agenda. How should a government be present in such a debate is becoming a major issue. Should it provide legal coverage? Provide methodology? A state-wide infrastructure?
This policy brief necessarily comes in a very executive format. Many statements should be consequently be better and extensively substantiated, and much more brought to detail if there were to be accepted as a working policy departing point. Thus, the only goal of this humble reflection is to briefly list where we are at and peak at some of the hypothetical options ahead.
Internet voting in the world
The technology is mature. Although zero risk can not be guaranteed —and this is the main objection to i-vote at the moment— the number of countries and regions adopting it is growing: technology, not being perfect, does already provide more guarantees than other modalities such as the vote by mail, allows much more flexibility and has a hugely scales in costs.
Auditing the process is mandatory. It is, right now, the only way to ensure the same guarantees as face-to-face voting. Auditing should be extended, if possible, to the design of the software and not only to the implementation and vote scrutiny.
Awareness is essential for the success of electronic voting, both with citizens and with politicians. The main detractors of electronic voting, other than technologists (see more about this in the technology section), are citizens who also distrust the institutions and the political system in general. Confidence in the vote must therefore work in itself but also at the level of the democratic system.
A broad ecosystem of e-services and, above all, a simple user-friendly e-identity is a requisite so that electronic voting can be adopted massively. Digital capacity, infrastructure and awareness are inadequate without a habit of interaction between citizens and technology. This ecosystem must evolve in parallel in all areas.
Electronic voting has returns of scale. Returns in efficiency and efficacy happen not only at the economic level, but at the sociopolitical one: electronic voting allows citizens to consult more often, encourages citizen participation and approaches decision-making to the society, improving the perception on policy-making and accountability in general.
Main opportunities and challenges of Internet Voting implementation
Technology and the infrastructure network are easily accessible. There are national and international providers that can provide technology and services, and the infrastructure network of most developed countries is fully prepared for e-voting.
Audits are totally feasible. There are experts worldwide capable of performing e-voting audits and the costs are quite fair. In addition, it would be socially very much welcome and would provide guarantees and confidence.
More awareness should be raised about the advantages and disadvantages of electronic voting, as well as the risks of taking it forward. There still is not a solid consensus around the issue, which is much needed for its successful implementation.
Electronic identification systems are still not adopted by the majority of citizens and their use is still cumbersome. Paradoxically, citizens use electronic identity devices to carry out other transactions on a virtual basis, from banking and electronic commerce to social networking sites. It is, therefore, a problem of technological model and habit, not of lack of digital skills or lack of confidence in technology.
Regarding the performances of scale, implementing electronic voting only for parliamentary elections would be slow and expensive, since while voting on paper remains an option, e-voting is an added a cost and not a minor one. Instead, implementing electronic voting in processes of citizen participation, internal voting processes in the administrations, as well as mixed bodies —or even in the private sphere— would return undeniable advantages, both economic and sociopolitical.
There are three broad areas where theory and experience identify possible benefits of introducing electronic voting in legislative elections. Due to the Catalan case, our reflections are the following:
Increase in the turnout / reduction of abstention. International experience is not conclusive on this issue. In most cases, it depends a lot on the social, cultural and political context of each moment. In most cases, the requirement of having to register for voting (especially when being abroad) as well as the multiple difficulties that accompany voting by mail suggest that voting would be positive in terms of increasing participation both in advance voting and voting abroad. On the other hand, if a single census was created —necessary requirement for Internet voting— electronic ballot boxes could be enabled for early voting outside polling stations such as civic centers or supermarkets. The convenience of this vote could also be a factor to increase participation. Finally, given the penetration of mobile telephony, Internet voting could be fostered with an awareness raising campaign and appropriate advertising, to try to increase young vote, although, as mentioned, previous experience is not conclusive in this regard. In short, significant growth in the vote abroad could be expected (more or less significant in relation to the current foreign vote in many places, but probably small in relationship to the global turnout), but not too relevant in the vote as a whole. It is worth noting, though, that if good voting systems have no clear effects on turnout, bad voting systems do have negative effects on the probability of voting, which goes from discouraging voting to directly not allowing it effectively. Electronic voting, thus, can have positive effects where the alternatives are perceived as (or simply they are) not effective for voting.
Reduction of costs. Internet voting is significantly cheaper than face-to-face voting, and especially on paper. However, total costs are only reduced if one modality is replaced by the other one. If the traditional voting system is combined with Internet voting, costs actually increase as the voting modes are expanded and, therefore, a new infrastructure and organization is added.
Transparency and accessibility. The clearest advantage of i-voting is the increased accessibility of voting. This should not be understood only as removing barriers for the disabled, but also to information and cognitive barriers that go with any type of electoral process. The efforts that accompany the deployment of electronic voting have a positive impact on trust in the system, opening the black box of the functioning of institutions, and by establishing new channels of communication between the citizen and the Administration.
These three aspects, by themselves, are probably insufficient to initiate a strategy for the introduction of electronic voting and/or Internet voting, especially in parliamentary elections. Although it is generally a good idea making things easy for the voter —and the Internet voting undoubtedly does— the benefits in terms of electoral participation are doubtful, there are high implementation costs, and remaining doubts about electronic voting could be counterproductive.
However, the combination of the three aspects has, in our opinion, great potential. We believe that the international debate about Internet voting is no longer about whether but about when it is going to take place. Once it has been implemented for a given election, it is relatively easy to extrapolate methodology and technology to many other elections where the impact on increased participation and cost reduction can be enormous. It is in this scenario that we have to place ourselves and where a community can have huge returns on investment:
Increase of the citizen participation in the whole set of the different electoral calls as well as increase of the number of electoral processes of diverse nature.
Exponential reduction of the costs of electoral processes, again taken as a whole.
Improved knowledge of the functioning of public and private institutions where collective decisions are taken and/or representatives are chosen.
Consequently, a proposal of implementation strategy for Internet voting would be:
Use the electronic vote to increase the legitimacy of the democratic system as a whole, both at the institutional level and in civil society, based on facilitating electoral processes in all areas and encouraging participation. This includes:
Processes of citizen participation
Electoral processes of civil society
Implement an electronic voting system understood as a public infrastructure. This infrastructure must be involved in its design, open to the use of any user and democratic in its governance model.
Making steps forward: social and political levels
The nature, context and possible fields of deployment of an electronic voting project in a given administration exceeds, in our opinion, the scope strictly circumscribed to elections to its chamber of representatives.
In the same way, the strong technological component of this project also goes beyond the usual single-handed implementation of the typical technological application.
Thus, at the political level, one would propose:
Create a multi-stakeholder task force to define and foster a project for Internet voting as a public infrastructure.
Make a detailed inventory of the type of processes where Internet voting could be applied.
Elections to the chamber(s) of representatives.
Processes of citizen participation and citizen councils.
Citizen petitions and citizen polling of all kinds and at all levels of the Administration.
Electoral processes of bodies of the civil society (chambers of commerce, school councils, professional colleges, labour unions, political parties, etc.)
On the other hand, we believe that the level of knowledge and acceptance of Internet voting is still not optimal among many citizens. Moreover, we feel that, in some circles, there might be a need for a thorough debate on the benefits and possible risks of this modality in an open, broad and well-founded way, beyond academic environments or scattered appearances in the media.
This knowledge and acceptance, however, will hardly come only through awareness and dissemination campaigns: Estonia’s reality suggests that only through practice and habit comes the familiarity and necessary confidence to achieve high levels of legitimacy in the use of Internet voting.
One would, thus, propose at the citizen level:
The deployment of campaigns of dissemination and awareness raising about the potentials and risks of electronic voting to engage in a deep and grounded debate.
The celebration of academic and sector discussion conferences to define a consensual strategy of Internet voting as a public infrastructure.
The progressive and practical implementation of Internet voting in all kind of elections and voting processes: elections of public representatives, citizen polls, citizen petitions, professional chambers, school councils and university boards, labor union elections, primaries in political parties, etc.
Making steps forward: economic and technological levels
There are two key considerations when it comes to deploying an Internet voting strategy at the technical level: the resources that will need to be spent on it and the resulting technological model.
We propose, at an economic level:
To calculate the cost of implementing Internet voting according to the various scenarios, depending on the inventory of potential uses of Internet voting.
Implementation only in the parliamentary elections.
Implementation in all the electoral areas and of citizen participation with direct or indirect involvement of the Administration.
Implementation for the civil society at large as a public infrastructure, for free or under a given structure of fees.
Calculate the benefits of replacing the current voting modalities for scenarios with electronic voting, based on the previous calculations.
Depending on the technological model: commercial solution for rent, commercial solution in property, free software solution.
Depending on the coexistence or substitution of modalities, absolute or progressive.
Depending on the expected increase in participation, especially in areas where it is extremely low: collegiate bodies, civil society, etc.
Beyond the economic issue, the technological model also has an impact on the confidence in the system as well as its flexibility. Although we have stated that the technology is mature and that auditing guarantees almost full confidence on Internet voting, it is no less true that this audit, to be fully comprehensive, must have total access to the code of the software, which is not always possible and, in any case, easy to do.
In the long term scenario —electronic voting as a public infrastructure applied to multiple areas of the Administration and civil society— we believe that the best option in terms of economic costs and trust in the system is free software. Only this option makes the economic returns to be highly growing with the number of votes and gives total confidence to the various stakeholders —not to mention the administrative simplification for the disappearance of the public procurement of electronic voting services.
We would propose, at the technological level:
An inventory and analysis of the current free Internet voting software solutions: reliability, scalability, flexibility, total cost of ownership, existence of a community of developers and users, etc.
Evaluate the institutional possibility (resources, political capacity, etc.) to create a consortium/community around a new free software tool that can become the de facto standard in the field of electronic voting.
These technological considerations are for the medium term and, in no case, they should suppose an impediment to the initiatives of Internet voting that could arise in the short term, that would have to execute with the concurrence of the market.
Regarding the consortium or community around a free software tool, it would be advisable that it be composed, at least initially, by a group of governments of an international nature (states, regions) with the triple objective of collecting all the sensitivities/needs a tool of this type, increase its legitimacy and distribute the development costs.
Priit Vinkel, head of the State Electoral Office, Government of Estonia
Casper Wrede, Elections administrator, Government Offices, Government of Åland
André Fecteau, Policy Analyst, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Government of Canada
Jordi Barrat. Professor, Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Josep Maria Reniu, Professor, Universitat de Barcelona
David Dueñas-Cid, Assistant Professor, Kozminski University Researcher, Tallinn University of Technology
Robert Krimmer, Professor, Tallinn University of Technology
Guillem Clapés, Analyst and political advisor
Adrià Rodríguez-Pérez, PhD student, Universitat Rovira i Virgili Analyst, Scytl
Mihkel Solvak, Researcher, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
Martin Möller, Researcher, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
e-Voting private sector
Liisa Past, Expert in cybersecurity, McCain Institute
Peter van der Veldt MSc., Sales Director Europe, Smartmatic
Jordi Puiggalí, CSO and SVP Research & Development, Scytl
Krimmer, R., Volkamer, M., Cortier, V., Goré, R., Hapsara, M., Serdült, U. & Dueñas-Cid, D. (Eds.) (2018). Electronic Voting. Third International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2018, Bregenz, Austria, October 2-5, 2018, Proceedings. Cham: Springer.
Citizen participation is entering a new era: the era of technopolitics. New forms of organization, of coordination, of civic action boosted by a new ethics and new methodologies, and all this made possible by new tools, spaces and actors.
However, this new era of citizen empowerment continues to require –probably more than ever– democratic institutions that are especially responsive to the changes that are taking place on the streets. Institutions that adapt, that innovate and that, ultimately, transform themselves to keep on being a chain of transmission between the will of citizens and collective decision-making.
This volume analyses how the City Council of Barcelona has faced and planned this transformation, and the impacts that the new strategy may imply on meanings, norms and power in the Administration-citizen relationship. It assumes a new game board, although the final outcome of the game is still uncertain.
The Spanish local elections in 2015 brought to many Spanish cities what has been labelled as “city councils of change”: city councils whose mayors and governing representatives come from parties emerging from the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement. Many of them, led by Madrid and Barcelona, tried to bring into office the same technopolitical practices that proved so useful to articulate a broadly supported movement when out in the streets.
But not only practices were put to work in decision-making at the local level. Also the ethos and values attached to them led, in many ways, with more or less success, the relationship between the local government and the citizenry. These values spin around citizen empowerment, participation, engagement and, in its most ambitious expression, devolution of sovereignty from the government to the citizen.
This book focuses on the socio-political environment where this phenomenon takes place, specifically in Madrid and Barcelona, the two major cities of the state and featuring these so-called city councils of change, and how it was deployed in Barcelona in the first months of 2016 during the definition of the strategic plan of the city. Using Anthony Giddens Structuration Theory, we will be able to assess if not the final outcomes and impact of this technopolitical turn in decision-making – surely too soon for such an assessment to be performed –, at least the main shifts in meaning, norms and power which, as tipping points, can shed a light on the main social trends that these political movements might be unleashing.
In Part I we draw a Policy Brief – Increasing the quality of democracy through sovereignty devolution – were we present the main drivers of change, the essentials of the several shifts brought by the new ethos, and the keys and aspects to be considered to understand the qualitative changes in our opinion already in play in the current political scenario.
Part II – ICT-mediated citizen participation in Spain: a state of the art – revisits e-participation since the beginnings of the XXIst century onwards and most especially in the aftermath of the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, proposing that recent ICT-based participation initiatives in such municipalities could be far from just polling the citizens and be, instead, the spearhead of a technopolitics-aimed network of cities. We critically explore the role of ICTs in reconstructing politics in Spain and which led to Spain’s new experiments in participatory democracy such as Decide Madrid, launched in the city of Madrid to enable strategic participatory planning for the municipality, and decidim.barcelona another participatory process launched in Barcelona initially based in the former.
This part provides an overview of the normative and institutional state of art of ICT-mediated citizen participation in Spain. The first section depicts the political and civic liberties framework in Spain. In the second section the landscape of ICT mediated citizen engagement is mapped. In the third section, we engage with implications of technology mediations for deliberative democracy and transformative citizenship.
Part III – The case of decidim.barcelona: Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement – analyses the participatory making of the Barcelona Strategic Plan (PAM) 2016-2019 for the whole term in office. The first section revisits the general context of the city in terms of ICT-mediated politics and explains the design and general functioning of the new strategic plan and its participatory process. The second section explains the methodology used for the analysis, which is carried on in the third section.
Mihkel Solvak, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies i-Voting and reliability
(note: we are using i-voting for Internet voting, and not e-voting as electronic voting also covers on-site electronic voting with e-voting polling machines)
Share of people who trusts i-voting has ranged from 53 to 77% since 2005 and now seems steady at 70%.
Surprisingly, people that trust less i-voting do not vote less electronically than those who do — although those who trust i-voting are much more likely to use it than those who don’t.
But the distribution of trust on i-voting is not a normal one: a majority totally trust the system, a minority totally distrusts it, and the rest are distributed evenly in between.
What we also see is that trust increases along time, and more people are thus shifting to i-voting. But even people that only vote on paper see their trust increased. There are two reasons for that: a precondition (one was also convinced about trust and that is why one shifted to i-voting) and a usage effect (after having switched to i-voting and having had a good experience, this increased one’s trust on i-voting). Trust is mostly a precondition, user experience adds very little. People with high pre-existing trust self-select into i-voting.
Higher rates of trust make the system more resilient, especially to reputation attacks. But we also need criticism to improve the system or not to forget about cyber-security.
It is worth noting that trust in i-voting positively correlates with trust in paper voting and trust in institutions in general. And there does not seem to be a negative correlation with higher levels of digital literacy (the hypothesis being that the more you know computers, the less you trust them).
People that shift to i-voting usually never shift back. But for those who do not vote, they can shift to paper voting and back to non voting.
Martin Möller, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies Landscape of political parties in Estonia: past and present
We witness an increasing stability in the Estonia political arena. But not only in terms of how many parties, or whether there are new parties entering the arena, but also between the manifestos of the different parties. Parties are becoming more similar between them.
Of course there are some differences in the left-right dimension and the liberal-conservative dimension.
Future of (Estonian) elections
Speakers: Priit Vinkel, Liisa Past, Robert Krimmer, Mihkel Solvak, Martin Möller.
Although society is moving towards a paper-less world, paper voting probably will not disappear. But, as new technologies appear, it is probable that new channels (including new electronic channels) will appear and will be used for voting.
Liisa Past: we have to move from a technocratic debate on voting to a democratic debate, to a debate about rights. This includes mobility, convenience.
Liisa Past: we have to confront supply chain management of elections. This is were the risks are, and this is beyond technology. What is more scary: a single firm controlling the whole process as a black box, or the Estate providing all technology and everything?
This is a three-part article entitled Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation. From mass democracy to the networks of democracy.
The first part deals with Man-mass and post-democracy and how democracy seems not to be maturing at all, or even going backwards due to lack of democratic culture and education. The second one deals with the Digital revolution and technopolitics and reflects about how the digital revolution might be an opportunity not only to recover but to update and transform democracy. This third part speaks about what kind of Infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation could be put in place.
Democratic participation happens in a planned and structured way: elections, sessions in the representation chambers, etc. they have their place in time and an internal order for their development.
Non-formal participation lacks the first feature: although it has an internal structure —provided often by institutions, but increasingly by citizens without an entity behind it— it takes place ad-hoc to respond quickly to a specific issue.
Informal participation, finally, is one that is neither planned nor does it have an internal structure determined as a spontaneous manifestation or assembly, or many debates in spaces such as social networks.
The general objective of a policy to promote infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation is to identify actors, facilitate spaces and provide instruments that enrich the non-formal and informal democratic practice so that it achieves its objectives, either directly or through channeling action at some point towards a democratic institution.
Actors: in addition to people who may have an interest or knowledge in a given policy, articulate the participation and active intervention of intermediaries (prescribers, experts, representatives), facilitators (experts in making happen democratic participation actions) and infomediaries (experts in the treatment of data and information for public decision-making).
Spaces: create the conditions so that the actors can work together, either coinciding in time and space as with other “spaces”, facilitating especially the conditions of participation, mediation strategies, channels and codes, weaving the network and explaining its operation.
Instruments: methodologies, operating regulations, technological support (digital or analogue) for information, communication, decision-making and return.
For the deployment of this policy to promote infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation we propose six axes or priority action programs:
Deliberative participation program: to promote and improve projects on deliberative democracy, government 2.0, an appropriate regulatory framework for citizen participation, and awareness of the importance of this instrument through training, research and dissemination.
Program of electoral participation and direct democracy: promote and/or improve electoral processes to increase the legitimacy of formal participation processes, as well as projects on direct democracy consisting of the return of sovereignty to the citizen; raise awareness about the importance of these instruments through research and dissemination.
Internal participation program: work towards a transformation of how the Administration understands participation, collaboration and cooperation within the institutions as well as in its relationship with citizens, through training and support networks and work, communities of professional innovation practice and open communities of practice between public professionals and citizens.
Collaboration program: with the objective of standardizing and normalizing public-social-private consortiums and innovation initiatives according to the quadruple helix model; or, to put it another way, to work for the planning and structuring of non-formal and informal initiatives of democratic participation for its scaling and replication.
Intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries program: to contribute to the growth and consolidation of a trained and/or professionalized sector in the field of participation, in order to achieve the highest quality of participatory practices and projects, providing the sector and citizens involved with knowledge, instruments, technological tools or resources in general.
E-participation, electronic voting and technopolitics program: accelerate the adoption of ICT in the field of participation, thus contributing to facilitate and standardize electronic participation, electronic voting, electronic government and electronic democracy in general, at the same time transforming the paradigm behind citizen practices based mainly on passive or merely responsive actors towards a technopolitical paradigm based on active, empowered and networked actors.
In it we can see how the programs become products or political actions that, in turn, have expected results (measurable according to the established objectives and indicators) and that, according to the theory, will lead to an impact, understood as a change in social behavior —or a latent variable impossible to measure.
As we have started saying, the expected impact wants to go far beyond the improvement of efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy of the democratic system, although this is the first desired impact, of course.
On the one hand, one should aim at fighting populism, fighting the simplification of politics and the manipulation of citizens working to improve the social fabric, information and the involvement of citizens in public issues.
This participation, moreover, is not merely quantitative but qualitative, given that we aspire to explain the complexity of the challenges of public decision-making and management with the concurrence of citizens in the design and evaluation of them.
We achieve this, besides reinforcing the traditional channels of institutional participation, by encouraging non-formal and informal participation initiatives, establishing or re-establishing broken bridges between institutions and citizens but, above all, doing it on an equal footing, sharing sovereignties … and sharing the resolution of the problems associated with the responsibility that comes with enjoying such sovereignty, both personal and collective.
This is a three-part article entitled Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation. From mass democracy to the networks of democracy.
The first part deals with Man-mass and post-democracy and how democracy seems not to be maturing at all, or even going backwards due to lack of democratic culture and education. This second part deals with the Digital revolution and technopolitics and reflects about how the digital revolution might be an opportunity not only to recover but to update and transform democracy. The third speaks about what kind of Infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation could be put in place.
While we are witnessing this possible exhaustion of democracy, the digital revolution has long ceased to merely affect the management of information and communications to be a vector of very deep transformations in absolutely all aspects of daily life. They do not escape to this revolution neither civic action nor democratic commitment.
There are many and controversial pros and cons on the so-called electronic democracy, the uses and abuses of the practices that we encompass as Government 2.0 or the enormous disagreement on whether the new channels of information and digital communication improve or worsen the quality of the information that arrives to the citizens, or if citizens are able to form part of more pluralistic communities or, on the contrary, they are enclosed in their own resonance chambers.
An issue that seems unquestionable to us, because it transcends the scope of democratic action, is the elimination of intermediaries for many of the collective tasks that traditionally required institutions to promote, articulate, organize, guide and resolve collective action. Or, failing that —the elimination of intermediaries— at least a radical transformation of the roles or actors that will develop these mediation roles.
We believe more than proven by the empirical evidence that the cost of participating in any area of collective decision-making has been dramatically reduced. Information, deliberation, negotiation, specification of preferences, decision making in itself, evaluation and accountability. All this can now be done with significantly less material and personal costs than in the past.
Likewise, and as mentioned above, the potential to increase the benefits of participation has also increased due in part to the potential increase in participation itself, but also to the potentially much greater quantity and quality of information for the taking of decisions, the possibility of carrying out simulations, pilot tests, obtaining more and better indicators and in real time, the potential increase of the relative benefit by reducing the cost of conflict management, etc.
These potentials have been materialized in countless citizen initiatives focused on self-organization, self-management, decision-making distributed in what has come to be called for-institutions, spaces of autonomy or means of mass self-communication.
However, the wide range of opportunities offered by these spaces often takes place completely giving their back to institutions. Not only outside of them, but alien to them, when not directly challenging what was previously the natural space of these institutions or even their foundational functions, as Yochai Benkler reminds us.
Even in the case where one believes that institutions were not necessary, an orderly transition between the now hegemonic institutional space towards informal spaces of democratic participation would seem desirable.
Our bet —based on the belief that institutions have many difficult functions to replace, among them and as a priority the protection of minorities— is towards a deployment of the collective action of institutional spaces towards (also) the new informal spaces, as well as a sharing of sovereignty between these same institutions with the new actors of civic action in particular, and citizens in general.
However, we run the risk of falling into what Manuel Delgado calls citizenshism, namely, let citizens participate, but participate just and necessary. To avoid this, we propose a return of sovereignty based on putting the “means of political production” in the hands of citizens.