eVoting: acceptance and challenges

5. September 2008 – 15:42 by CTI

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

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  1. 4 Responses to “eVoting: acceptance and challenges”

  2. By Amanda on Sep 5, 2008

    I think a first thing to improve acceptance on e-voting is to have a clear message on what the point of e-voting is.

    Otherwise, it seems like e-voting is a project led by a minority of people such as technology lovers (geeks) or groups that would make money with the implementation of e-voting.

    I would see increase of participation as the main interest of e-Voting, but do the the existing experiences (including the ones mentioned in the text) show irrefutable results regarding increase of participation? NOT REALLY. Consensus on this correlation (e-voting = more participation) is far from being reached based, with no strong empirical evidence.

    In that case, before setting an agenda on “increasing eVoting acceptance”, I believe it would be better to find evidence that e-voting is useful to something.

    Simply making voting easier does not seem (to me) enough reason to deploy all the efforts that were proposed in this post.

  3. By Sirkov, Lyubomir on Sep 6, 2008

    Sorry, but eVoting is NOT “in the heart of eParticipation initiatives” - eVoting is only one small component in the array of eParticipation initiatives.

    The act of voting (icluding eVoting) is only the final, conclusive (for the particular public issue or office) stage in the political participation of a citizen.
    This act (voting) may look like “the decisive stage” in the whole political process - but it is not. The act of voting is only the RESULT of a complex range of predated - and, for that matter, more important, formative - participatory actions by a citizen (e.g. including, but not limited to: getting information on the issues, developing a personal viewpoint, expressing this personal viewpoint publicly, getting a response/feedback from other active citizens reviewing and/or reformulating one’s personal opinion as a result of this feedback, making a decision to support/oppose a candidate and or a political entity, finding other citizens likely to support/oppose the same candidate/entity, establishing some kind of relationship with them - formal or informal, and possibly even donating money for a candidate, or helping his/her compaign in some other way - and each and every of these participatory activities can and should be performed in a modern way - including in an “eWay”, through the various available modern eParticipation channels (which may not have been designed as such, but nevertheless could function as such.)

    And only after all these activities, and on top of them, comes eVoting - which, among all the other eParticipatory activities, of course, is the most difficult to implement, because of rather obvious and predictable legal obstacles (not so unsurmountable in the case of any of the other elements of eParticipation, some of them cited above).

  4. By CTI on Sep 12, 2008

    The area of eParticipation is indeed very broad including many different types of actions that support different stages and forms of political processes. And of course eVoting is just one part of this. However, taking into account that it is already a reality in some countries and considering the great challenges it presents (legal, organizational, technical), it forms an interesting area on its own for further research and investigation within eGovernment and eParticipation.

    Regarding the “usefulness” of eVoting, trying to make it better and increase its acceptance will hopefully lead to higher participation rates, thus making it more “useful” as a participation tool.

  5. By Amanda on Sep 13, 2008

    Considering some statements made in the first post concerning e-voting, I forgot to point out the following:

    “(…) the benefits are mostly for the government (cost saving)”

    This statement is highly questionable, but I would like to know what systematic evidence there is for such a claim.

    Considering statements in the third post (CTI)

    “However, taking into account that it is already a reality in some countries and considering the great challenges it presents (legal, organizational, technical), it forms an interesting area on its own for further research and investigation”

    I fully agree with the fact that e-voting has a research domain of its own and researchers should look at it. Nonetheless, one thing is to carry out research on a domain that is a reality, another thing is to have a normative agenda towards the observed phenomenon, looking for “approaches towards increasing eVoting acceptance”. In that case it seems that there is an underlying assumption: e-voting is a good idea and the only problem is that people do not accept it. I do not need to spell out the implications of that for a scientific research.

    “Regarding the “usefulness” of eVoting, trying to make it better and increase its acceptance will hopefully lead to higher participation rates, thus making it more “useful” as a participation tool.”

    If there is evidence that “trust” is a determinant factor for voters to cast their votes on the Internet, there is no evidence whatsoever that increasing acceptance will lead to a higher number of voters taking part in the ballots. It might be that only those who normally vote by other means will shift to voting on the Internet. Evidence suggests that voters decide whether to vote or not before they decide how to vote.

    I strongly agree that scientists should look at e-voting experiences that take place, and not doing so would be a great negligence. Nonetheless, starting a research with a clear normative agenda in mind and “hoping” that e-voting will increase turnout does not seem very appropriate.

    Finally, I think that before looking at ways to increase peoples’ acceptance of e-voting, I believe that more research should be done on “why” more and more people choose not to vote at all.

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