eVoting lies in the heart of eParticipation initiatives as it is related to the citizen’s most fundamental right, the right to vote.
Although significant eVoting initiatives have taken place in several countries (e.g. national elections in Estonia, Switzerland, etc.), eVoting is far from being fully accepted. It is still a highly controversial issue in the minds of politicians and citizens, raising a lot of critique, while several incidents of misconduct (e.g. in USA or in UK) further harm citizens’ trust and increase wariness.
On the other hand, other critical eGovernment applications (such as tax payment applications or financial transactions) seem to be well established and accepted by the public, despite the fact that they also involve sensitive personal data and that they are supported by similar underlying technologies.
Further research on this diverse degree of acceptance of the two electronic services could provide valuable insight on the factors that affect eVoting acceptance and could reveal new approaches towards successful initiatives. This research would be multidisciplinary, involving areas of technology, political sciences, sociology, psychology, etc. Some thoughts are presented here as a starting point for further discussion.
eGovernment applications cover everyday needs of citizens, returning immediate and tangible benefits (time saving, ease of use). As a result, citizens are highly motivated to use them, even putting aside their potential reluctance. On the other hand, in the case of eVoting, the benefits are mostly for the government (cost saving) or the society in general (increased participation), thus only indirectly affecting the citizen.
What is more, eGovernment applications are longer established, more mature, and people are more familiar with them.
Cautiousness against voting (and hence eVoting) procedures is further increased when considering their global impact, affecting the society as a whole and not only individuals.
Another influential factor is that voting procedures occur less frequently and attract huge attention (by people, politicians, media). Cases of misconduct are also highly publicized. On the contrary, eGovernment transactions occur on a daily basis and are smaller-scale by nature.
After all, maybe in the minds of citizens, their vote is more critical and sensitive than financial data.
Bearing these considerations in mind, some approaches towards increasing eVoting acceptance could involve:
- Wide promotion and dissemination of the proven technological excellence of a system as well as the organizational procedure foreseen, in order to convince the public for the sound operation and running of the whole voting procedure.
- Emphasis on specific aspects of an e-service that seem to affect the users’ trust, for example clear presentation of privacy protection policy or possibility of direct contact with person responsible.
- Awareness raising, with a two-fold aim:
- Familiarization with the concepts of participation in common matters.
- Familiarization with existing tools and technologies but also existing risks and ways of protection. A first step could involve familiarization with the plethora of eVoting or e-participation tools that are available online.
To conclude, one of the major challenges of successful eVoting initiatives, apart from working on technological solutions to meet voting requirements, is to increase public trust and acceptance. To this end, a gradual and multi-faceted approach should be followed.
by Anastasia Panagiotaki, eGov Sector, Computer Technology Institute