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Home » Elections and Governance

The 5th ICPS Annual Electoral Affairs Symposium

Submitted by on 18 Jul 2012 – 10:05

By Charles Lasham, Director of Electoral Affairs, ICPS

The 5th Annual Electoral Affairs Symposium organized by ICPS took place on the beautiful island of Mauritius on 30th and 31st May 2012. The symposium looked at managing the logistics of holding an election using state of the art technology. The event examined the current use of technology in elections and the trends in terms of usage throughout the whole of the electoral process. Delegates came from Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Georgia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, USA and Zambia and they heard from high-profile speakers, experts in their field, on a variety of topics. There was plenty of opportunity for networking and delegates commented that they learned a great deal, not just from speakers, but also from exhibitors and each other when they were able to share experiences, talk about problems and find solutions.

Delegates considered the latest developments in terms of voter registration, whether to have continuous or periodic voter registration, or whether to use a civil register. The capturing of voter registration data, biometric features and online registration were all explored. New voting technology was examined in detail – direct recording machines, touch-screen voting, internet voting – and the use of traditional paper ballots with optical scanning for the counting of the votes was also considered. In addition there were case studies on Brazil, The Philippines, Estonia and The Netherlands. Those present learned that some countries with electronic counting still manually audit a percentage of the ballots to ensure the accuracy of the electronic voting and counting machines. They are all found to be accurate.

Delegates were able to meet with exhibitors on their stands – which were located in the main auditorium – and in informal settings. They were able to see what was available from the exhibitors present, talk about their needs and discuss problems they were facing in their own countries and, more importantly, find solutions.

It was pointed out that electronic voting does not lead to increased turnout at elections. The successes and failures were highlighted and the main lessons to be learned were that early planning was essential; election commissions should see what is available in the marketplace; they should carefully consider what the electorate will be comfortable with; they should learn from the experiences of other election management bodies; and they should pilot any new technology to ensure it works prior to launching country-wide. One other important issue raised many times over the two days was that last minute purchases are to be avoided. There needs to be a long lead-in time whether the election management body is purchasing voting machines, voter registration kits, polling booths, ballot papers or ballot boxes.

Susanne Caarls, a Dutch new voting technology expert, enlightened delegates on current trends and presented the case studies. David Orr, an election supervisor from USA, gave examples of the different type of technology being used in his country and talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the different electoral practices. Dr Rama Sithanen presented a paper on ideas for the reform of the electoral system in Mauritius, and electoral commissioners from Bangladesh, Nepal and South Africa shared their experiences of the use of technology in their own countries. There were also examples of countries experimenting with early voting, countries voting predominantly by mail and the advent of new social media as a way of encouraging people to register and vote.

The main sponsors for the event, Smartmatic, made two excellent presentations and alerted delegates to the need for proper planning prior to any acquisition of new technology to be used in the registration of voters, the voting process and the counting of votes. They drew attention to the reliability of automated voting, the security of such systems and the auditability. They also did a bit of myth-busting one of which is “Only a few countries are using automated voting nowadays” when in actual fact 3.1 billion people are actually doing so. And that equates to 35% of voters worldwide!

At the time of writing this short article the top three items of news on CNN were the elections in Greece, the French elections and the Egyptian presidential run-off elections. Elections really are topical stuff. The need for administrators of the electoral process to keep up-to-date on all advances connected with elections is crucial if electoral management bodies are to deliver what their customers need. Their customers include political parties, civil society organizations, the media and most importantly of all, the voters. Symposiums like the one organized by ICPS in partnership with Smartmatic help electoral commissioners and others keep ahead of the game. This is crucial in our ever-changing world.

I had the pleasure of chairing this symposium and, as usual, I came away with lots of new information, new ideas and a feeling, along with other delegates, that we need to do this again soon.