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E-Voting: Introduction



There is an on going discussion in many countries about e-voting with particular emphasis on voting via Internet or electronic distance voting. While some kind of e-voting is already widely used by society, organizations and private industry voting needs as well as non professional/non-official polling, the situation is quite different when it comes to national elections and referendums. Several countries are considering the introduction of e-voting and are running a variety of pilot projects. Because of security concerns there is, in some countries, a strong opposition to any kind of e-voting, but specially when it comes to the use of the Internet for voting at national elections or referendums.

While the ACE Project does not recommend any particular type of e-voting including the Internet to be used for national elections and referendums, the sections that follow outline some basic requirements for additional consideration when introducing e-voting to the electoral process and opportunities, risks and challenges that face e-voting today. This “Focus On” ends with a brief overview of countries considering e-voting applications.


What is "e-voting"?

E-voting is short for ‘electronic voting’ and refers to the option of using electronic means to vote in referendums and elections. There are systems such as DRE (Direct electronic recording) voting machines that record the vote without that vote being transmitted over the Internet or another network. The interface of a DRE machine can be a touch screen or a scanner that scans the ballot paper where the voter marked the vote. The vote is then registered and stored in the voting machine. Then there is the voting over the Internet that uses a PC with an Internet-connection to cast the vote and send it to be stored in another remote computer. Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s), telephones or mobile phones can also be used to cast a vote electronically.

There are a wide variety of e-voting set ups, ranging from the casting of the vote with the aid of an electronic device (voting machines) inside a polling station to casting a vote anywhere outside the polling station at a PC and transmitting the vote via the Internet.

E-voting might also refer to the use of electronic means for the vote counting process, but this will not be addressed here.

In this "Focus On" “Polling place e-voting” will be used in reference to systems where a voter casts his or her vote inside a polling station or similar premises controlled by electoral staff. "Remote e-voting" will be used to reference the system where a voter casts his or her vote at any place outside the polling station.

The two systems face similar challenges. However, remote e-voting is, in some aspects, more challenging than polling place e-voting. The fact that the casting of the vote is not done inside a controllable area of a polling place and that the vote has to be transmitted in some way to the polling or counting place, poses additional challenges.

Requirements for e-voting

Traditional voting systems have been developed to ensure that the principles required for democratic elections and referendums are met, namely the guarantee of the freedom to vote, the secrecy of the vote, the non modification of the expressed intention of the vote and lack of intimidation during the vote operation. It is essential that these principles are not undermined by the introduction of new voting methods and, accordingly, e-voting systems must be so designed and operated as to ensure the reliability and security of the voting process.

In sum:

      E-voting has to be as free, secret, reliable and secure as voting systems
      that  do not involve the use of electronic means.

An e-voting system therefore should consider the following minimum requirements:

  1. To ensure that only persons with the right to vote are able to cast a vote.
  2. To ensure that every vote cast is counted and that each vote is counted only once.
  3. To maintain the voter’s right to form and to express his or her opinion in a free manner, without any coercion or undue influence.
  4. To protect the secrecy of the vote at all stages of the voting process.
  5. To guarantee accessibility to as many voters as possible, especially with regard to persons with disabilities.
  6. To increase voter confidence by maximising the transparency of information on the functioning of each system.

Auditing of e-voting systems

Just as is the case with manual voting systems, e-voting systems have to able to be audited, i.e. it must be possible to examine the processes used to collect and count the votes and to re-count the votes in order to confirm the accuracy of the results. The greatest danger to e-voting systems is if external interference on systems is possible and can go undetected affecting the results of the voting. This is why independent and extensive security monitoring, auditing, cross-checking and reporting need to be a critical part of e-voting systems.

There are different mechanisms to audit an e-voting system. Some systems include a so-called ‘voter verified audit trail’ (VVAT), also known as ‘voter verified paper ballots’. These systems include paper records of the vote, which have been verified by the voter at the time of casting the vote and can be used for a recount at a later date. VVAT can only be used in non-remote e-voting systems (polling place e-voting), since the voter has to be physically present at the place where his/her vote is actually recorded and printed for control.

Other e-voting systems include a ‘voter verifiable audit trail’. The difference between the first systems and the latter is that in the first case, it is mandatory that the voters check their vote before they cast it. In the second case, voters may check their vote but they don’t have to. In some systems, the ballots are printed only after they have been cast and are stored in a closed area. These ballots can also be used for a recount. But it has to be noted that the voters did not verify these printed ballots.

Other systems include the disclosure of the source code and/or documentation on the e-voting system, so that voters or / and representatives of political parties and civil society organizations have the opportunity to examine its accuracy.

Whichever approach to auditing is chosen, it is crucial that the e-voting system has audit facilities for each of the main steps of the voting operation (voting, counting). The audit system should also provide the ability for independent observers to monitor the election or referendum (without revealing the potential final count/result). The audit system has to be able to detect voter fraud and provide proof that all counted votes are authentic.

Audit systems by their very nature gather a lot of information. However, if too much information is kept, the secrecy of the vote may be compromised. A voting audit system should maintain voter anonymity and secrecy at all times. In all cases the information gathered by the audit system has to be protected against unauthorized access.


Opportunities, risks and challenges of e-voting

Both supporters and opponents of e-voting offer arguments justifying which method is better suited for the electoral process. On the one hand, e-voting technology:

  • It can install a process to enable people with disabilities to vote by themselves, easily and in secrecy.
  • E-voting via Internet encourages more voters to cast their vote remotely and increases the likelihood of higher voter turnout for a mobile electorate.
  • E-voting via Internet allows voters to cast their vote in an electoral district other than the one where they are registered and facilitates the polling process for citizens formerly voting by mail.
  • Over time it reduces the overall cost to operate and manage the election process.
  • Contributes to a faster vote counting and delivery of the final election results.



Potential risks in e-voting

  • Unauthorized intervention of third parties in the voting process. Given the current state of information technology, there is no guarantee, that a programme would not be manipulated to allow the storage and printing of a form or document different from the one appearing on the screen.
  • More difficult to detect and identify the source of errors and technical malfunctions than with conventional procedures.
  • Possibility that fully digitised system would fail to produce results and lack physical back-up records, making a public recount difficult or impossible.

Challenges of remote e-voting

In the context of remote e-voting, special attention should be given to the process guaranteeing a free and secret vote. Only entitled voters are allowed to cast a vote and this requires that every voter be authenticated (e.g. by using a PIN -Personal Identification Number or TAN -Transaction Number or by the use of digital signature) and their right to vote verified. In order to prevent multiple votes being cast or other misuse, a record must be made and checked in order to establish whether he or she has already cast a vote. With a remote electronic voting system, there must be an electronic separation between the vote and the identification of the voter.


Countries with e-voting projects

AUSTRALIA (polling place e-voting)

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Electoral Commission recommended to the ACT Government, to permit electronic voting for the ACT Legislative Assembly elections. The ACT’s Electoral Act 1992 was amended accordingly in December 2000 and electronic voting was allowed for the first time at an Australian parliamentary election in October 2001. In that election, 16,559 voters (8.3% of all votes counted) cast their votes electronically at polling stations in four places. Electronic votes could be cast 2 weeks before election day for those unable to vote on that day. On election day, 8 polling places were equipped with electronic voting machines.

Remote e-voting is not likely to be introduced in Australia for the next Parliamentary elections. The ACT Electoral Commission recommends in its report to the ACT Legislative Assembly) on electronic voting at the 2001 election that electronic voting should continue to be provided only at polling places using secure local area networks. At this time the Internet is not considered a sufficiently secure way of conducting a parliamentary election.

For the 2004 election, due to be held on 16 October 2004, the electronic voting machines of the same type as in the previous elections will be used at the same number of locations as in 2001.

AUSTRIA (remote e-voting)

In Austria, e-voting is not a first priority of the government. Nevertheless, the Austrian Federal Council of Ministers approved an e-government strategy in May 2003, in which an e-voting project is listed in the Annex. In spring 2004, the Federal Ministry of Interior established a working group on e-voting in order to study and establish a report, on various aspects of e-voting.

A first (legally non-binding) test of remote e-voting was undertaken in parallel to the Student Union election at the WU Vienna (Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration), in May 2003. A prototype developed at the WU Vienna by Prof. Prosser and his research group e-Voting.at was used (www.e-voting.at). The system implements a remote voting procedure which is based on the Austrian electronic National ID Card: Before Election Day the voter applies for the issuing of an electronic voting token, that is saved on the electronic National ID Card. On Election Day the voter to prove his right to cast a vote supplies only this electronic voting token.

As a follow-up to this first test, the same project team conducted a second (legally non-binding) test of its system in parallel to the Austrian presidential elections of April 25, 2004. This time, 1.786 students out of a possible electorate of 20,000 students of WU Vienna voted electronically in addition to voting with their traditional paper ballot. The political result was very similar to that of all Austrian voters (see www.e-voting.at )

BELGIUM (polling place e-voting)

The first trials using e-voting machines in polling places were made in 1991. In 1994, the legal framework for e-voting entered into force and e-voting has been widely used in the general and municipal elections in 1999, 2000 and 2003. During regional and European elections on 13 June 2004, 3.2 million voters (20% of voters in Wallonia, 49% in Flanders, and all voters in Brussels) were due to vote electronically. As in the previous election of May 2003, electronic voting took place exclusively at the polling stations through a voting machine, which has a screen, a magnetic card reader and an optical pen.

BRAZIL (polling place e-voting)

In 1987 Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) began building a centralized database of registered voters to be able to identify multiple registrations by a single voter and other irregularities. This database was assembled three or four months before an election consolidating voter registration data provided by all states. Then in 1993 /1994 a network connecting all regional electoral Tribunals was built which allowed all the regional electoral registers to communicate among themselves and to regularly update a centralized national register eliminating the need for consolidation of register data prior to an election. At the end of 1994, the specifications for an electronic voting system were prepared and in the 1996 elections, about 30% of the Brazilian voters were able to cast their vote with a Direct Recording Electronic Voting System (DRE), called "urna eletrônica". The use of these urnas eletrônicas in Brazilian elections grew progressively from election to election, unit it reached the totality of precincts. By the 2000 and 2002 elections more than 400 thousand electronic voting machines were used nationwide in Brazil and the results were tallied electronically within minutes after the polls closed. Data was transferred on secure diskettes or via satellite telephone to central tallying stations. These in turn transmitted data electronically over secure lines to tabulating machines in the capital, Brasilia, where the results were consolidated and announced within hours. For more information see www.tse.gov.br and www.observatorioelectoral.org

CANADA (remote e-voting)

In the Canadian State of Ontario, from November 5 to November 10 2003, 12 municipalities from the Prescott Russell and Stormont Dundas & Glengarry Counties held the first full municipal and school board electronic elections in North America using either the Internet or the phone but no paper ballots. These elections included choices for mayor, deputy mayor, assistant deputy mayor, ward councilors and school boards members.

About 100,000 voters in 12 municipalities of eastern Ontario were registered to cast their ballots online or through the phone ; see also an example of Voting procedures published by the Township of South Dundas . Each of the 100,000 registered voters had received a Voter Identification Number and a password, allowing them to vote by Internet or touch-tone telephone. The e-voting system helped increase turnout to 55% in some places, against normal municipal election rates of 25 to 30%. After the elections, the Ontario Secretariat for Democratic Renewal was created to work on proposals for a reform of Ontario electoral process including to make the Internet a voting option.

ESTONIA (remote e-voting)

Discussions on remote e-voting started in Estonia in 2001 and one year later, in 2002, the legal provisions for it were put in place. During the summer 2003 the National Electoral Committee started the actual e-voting project. A public procurement procedure was carried out and the Estonian company Cybernetica Ltd. was mandated with the development of the e-voting system. The system includes the use of smart cards and electronic signatures. The software should be ready by autumn 2004. In late 2004 the first test of the whole e-voting system is supposed to take place during a consultative referendum in the capital city of Tallinn. The next test is planned for the local government council elections in October 2005. (see General Description of the E-Voting System (PDF file))

The EU CyberVote Project (polling place e-voting, remote e-voting)

In September 2000, the European Commission launched the CyberVote project with the aim of demonstrating “fully verifiable on-line elections guaranteeing absolute privacy of the votes and using fixed and mobile Internet terminals”. The project involved partners from industry (EADS Matra Systèmes & Information of France, Nokia Research Centre of Finland, British Telecommunications of the United Kingdom), universities (K.U.Leuven Research & Development of Belgium, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven of The Netherlands) and potential users (Freie Hansestadt Bremen of Germany, Mairie d'Issy-les-Moulineaux of France, Kista Stadsdelsnämnd of Sweden).

The CyberVote project involved the development of an e-voting system that was tested in different elections in 2002-2003. The first test was held on 11 December 2002 in the French town of Issy-les-Moulineaux. 860 voters have elected their representatives to the city boroughs' counsels electronically. The second test took place in Germany on 13-15 January 2003 at the Bremen University. The trial covered the elections of the three University's representative bodies: the university council, the councils of the different university departments and the student council with a total of 47 voters casting their votes electronically. The last test took place in the Swedish Kista with the participation of the elderly citizens in Kista. Much work was needed to attract voters aged over 55. The trial was open all day during the week of 27-31 January 2003. At the end of that period, 226 voters had participated in the electronic voting. In July 2003, the CyberVote project has officially ended.

FRANCE (polling place e-voting, remote e-voting)

On the 1st of June 2003, French citizens residing in the USA were given the possibility to validly elect their representatives to the Assembly of the French Citizens Abroad (Assembée des Français de l’Étranger - AFE, ex- Conseil Supérieur des Français à l’étranger – (CSFE ) by remote e-voting. The AFE is a public legislative body, which elects 150 delegates who elect the 12 members of the Upper House of the French Parliament to represent the French citizens living abroad. 8,77% of the 61,056 registered voters in the US representing 60.6% of the actual voters cast their vote over the Internet (PDF file). In 2003, the ‘Internet Rights Forum‘ (Forum des droits sur l'Internet ), a private body supported by the French government, published recommendations on the future of e-voting in France. They recommend that remote e-voting should not be introduced, except for French citizens abroad who should be able to elect the AFE delegates by voting over the Internet. However, they recommend that every voter should be able to use polling place e-voting (at a voting kiosk in the polling place (PDF file.)

The use of polling place e-voting for legally binding political elections in France was made possible by a decree passed by the Government on 18 March 2004 . This decree authorises 33 municipalities to deploy electronic voting machines (the authorisation was subsequently extended to 20 further communes). Following successful trials in 6 cities during the regional elections held in March 2004, 18 communes conducted e-voting tests during the European elections on 13 June 2004. Some of these experiments where legally binding (e.g. in the city of Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy), while others were not.

GERMANY (remote e-voting)

Germany started e-voting tests and pilot projects in 1999. The tests were held at non-political elections, like at universities, at local advisory level (youth community and senior citizens councils) as well as at public and private employee’s councils. The system used in most of the German tests was the i-vote system developed by the Research Group of Internet Voting .

Recent efforts in the field of e-voting in Germany concentrate on the connection of all polling stations through an electronic network and the building of an electronic voter register )

INDIA (polling place e-voting)

Since 1998, the Election Commission ) has increasingly used Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in polling places. In 2003, all state elections and by-elections were held using EVMs. Encouraged by this the Commission has decided to use only EVMs for the Lok Sabha (Lower House) election in 2004. EVMs were used throughout India with a voter population of about 672 million. Nearly 700‘000 polling stations spread over 35 states and Union territories were equipped with EVMs to elect the 543 representatives to the Lok Sabha and 697 representatives to four state assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa and Sikkim. Over one million EVMs were used in these elections (Further information on the functioning of the voting machines is available at www.eci.gov.in/EVM .)

IRELAND (polling place e-voting)

Ireland was planning e-voting since 1999. In that year the basic legislation for e-voting was introduced, tests started in 2000. E-voting in polling places was supposed to be available during the elections to the European Parliament and local elections in June 2004. Based upon a critical paper by two scientists (PDF file)), reinforced by opposition action, and finally upon the negative interim report of a government-sponsored independent Commission on Electronic Voting (PDF file)), e-voting at polling stations was not introduced for the mid-2004 elections.

NORWAY (polling place e-voting)

The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development accepted pilot projects in three municipalities at local elections in 2003. Voting in the pilots was carried out on voting machines in the polling stations using touch screens. An evaluation of the tests showed that the system was well accepted by the electorate and local election officers. However, the evaluation report, which followed the pilots, also stated that questions regarding e-voting and security needed further clarification. The Norwegian government therefore has stopped further use of the system until a working group appointed by the Ministry delivers its views on these questions. The working group will submit their report to the Ministry in December 2005.

PORTUGAL (polling place e-voting)

On 13 June 2004 Portuguese citizens could participate in a non-binding polling place e-voting test during the European elections. The pilot project allowed voters in 9 municipalities to try one of three different e-voting systems (a touch screen e-voting machine, a light pen system or an electronic card solution). From a total of 128,060 registered voters in the 9 municipalities, 50,562 actually voted and 9,390 of them participated in the pilot project after casting their (binding) vote. The Portuguese Prime Minister, who was one of the voluntary participants, considered the pilot project a "very positive" experience and said he would like to be able to implement legally binding e-voting in the future. The Portuguese Government had explained that the non-binding tests were a first step to put electronic voting on the agenda

SPAIN (remote e-voting)

Since 1995, the Generalitat de Catalunya (the government of the autonomous region of Catalonia located in the north-east of Spain;) had run several pilot projects in parallel to public elections using electronic voting machines inside polling stations. In November 2003, a non-binding remote e-voting pilot was held in parallel with the Catalan parliament elections. Over 23‘000 Catalans resident in Argentina, Belgium, the United States, Mexico and Chile were invited to participate using any computer connected to the Internet. The Generalitat de Catalunya sponsored this pilot to examine the use of secure electronic voting for the future. 730 voters participated in the pilot).

Furthermore, on 14 March 2004 several non-legally binding electronic voting trials were conducted in Spanish municipalities. In the municipality of Jun, near Granada, a total of 597 citizens tested electronic voting systems, with 400 people voting through computers connected to the Internet and 197 people voting by SMS sent via their mobile phones. Internet voting pilots were also carried out in three polling stations in Zamora and Lugo, where 274 citizens tested Internet voting machines at a number of polling stations. (www.laflecha.net/canales/e-administracion/200403151, www.laflecha.net/canales/e-administracion/200403152)

On 10 August 2004, the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and the First Deputy Prime Minister, announced that in September the government will consider modifications to the law on general elections and the law on referendums with a view to introducing the possibility of using remote electronic voting in the referendum on the European Union Constitution in February 2005 (www.laflecha.net/canales/e-administracion/200408101).

SWITZERLAND (remote e-voting)

The Swiss government commissioned the Federal Chancellery in August 2000 with the task of examining the feasibility of e-voting. A first report on the options, risks and feasibility of e-voting was delivered in January 2002 (see www.admin.ch/e-gov .) Since then, a variety of legally binding tests of remote e-voting has been carried out in the canton of Geneva . Voters in the community of Anières were the first in Switzerland to be able to vote electronically in the communal voting, which took place on 19 January 2003. Further tests took place in Cologny on 30 November 2003, in Carouge on 18 of April 2004 and in Meyrin on 13 of June 2004. On the 26 of September 2004 in all these four communities, e-voting is used in a national referendum. Further tests will be carried out in 2005 in the cantons of Neuchatel and Zurich .

The legal basis for the testing of e-voting in Switzerland is provided in article 8a of the Federal Act on Political Rights and in articles 27a-27q of the Decree on Political Rights). An interim report on the development of e-voting in Switzerland was published in August 2004 and is available at www.admin.ch/e-gov .

The pilot projects in Geneva, Neuchatel and Zurich are due to be completed and evaluated in 2005. The government and parliament will then decide whether and how electronic voting should be made available in Switzerland as a supplementary form of voting.


THE NETHERLANDS (polling place e-voting, remote e-voting)

In most districts in the Netherlands, voting is done electronically in polling places. The Dutch government also considers and tests remote e-voting. During the European elections in 2004, citizens who stayed abroad on election day and who registered explicitly for using remote e-voting could cast their vote via Internet or telephone. However, remote e-voting will not be generally deployed in 2004. (see www.minbzk.nl )

UK (polling place e-voting, remote e-voting)

In 1997, a government working party set up to examine and review electoral procedures, recommended that pilot schemes of innovative electoral procedures should be used to evaluate their effectiveness. The recommendations of the working party were given effect by the Representation of the People Act 2000, which allowed local authorities to run electoral pilot schemes at local elections in England and Wales.

Election pilots have taken place in a number of English local authorities in May 2000, May 2002 and May 2003. In May 2000, 32 local councils ran a total of 38 experimental voting arrangements, including electronic voting and counting. In May 2002, 30 local authorities piloted a total of 36 innovative voting procedures, amongst others remote e-voting using telephones, the Internet and mobile phone text messaging.

In May 2003, pilot schemes to test innovative voting and counting methods took place in 59 local authorities across England. Approximately 6.4 million people were eligible to vote in these pilot areas – over 14% of the English electorate. 17 schemes offered electors the chance to cast a vote electronically through a variety of channels – on the Internet, by telephone, via text messaging and for the first time through interactive digital television.

In its report on the 2003 pilot projects , the UK Electoral Commission recommends that technical requirements for future e-enabled elections should be further developed. The Government accepts this recommendation in its response to the Electoral Commission's report .

It was expected that the UK would extend the e-voting pilots at the 2004 EP election to a few million electors. In its recommendation for the electoral pilots at the 2004 elections , the Electoral Commission did not recommend that an e-enabled element be included in any pilot schemes, as no region was ready for such an innovation.

USA (polling place e-voting, remote e-voting)

Polling place e-voting will affect nearly one-third of American voters (PDF file) when it comes to the 2004 election of the next president. However, widespread reports of voting terminal failures, and growing concern about the security of these machines, are giving raise to a debate over how to ensure the integrity of the presidential elections. An important part of this discussion has focused on whether to equip direct recording electronic (DRE) voting terminals with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT). Seven states have directives or laws requiring VVPAT, and 14 others have introduced similar legislation. Federal legislators are considering reforms that would mandate a VVPAT for DREs. (see the EFF's E-Vote White Paper (PDF file))

A broad discussion about the feasibility of remote e-voting has evolved after the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment SERVE (the website is no longer online.) designed for expatriates participation in the US presidential elections of November 2004, was stopped in spring 2004 based upon a report of four members of a review group financed by the Department of Defence. They recommended shutting down the development of SERVE immediately because they considered the Internet and the PC as insufficiently secure to cast a vote (see www.servesecurityreport.org .) The SERVE system was planned for deployment in the 2004 primary and general elections, and would have allowed the voters overseas and military personnel to vote entirely electronically via the Internet, from anywhere in the world. It was expected that up to 100,000 votes would be cast electronically.

Initial findings of a national survey of election technology applications in the United States can be found at IFES' Election Technology Survey

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