The Institute of European Democrats (IED), a Brussels-based independent Research Institute, has published the outcome of an external research project titled “The Future of democracy in the European Context”. It features four papers which look at very different aspects of democracy.
My contribution is about the future of voting, namely how to approach a possible digital future while making sure it complies with the principles of free and democratic elections. It can be downloaded here.
Together with Justin Nettmann and Rafik Grigoryan we presented this paper to the 2021 E-Vote-ID Conference. We were honoured to receive the Best Paper Award in the Elections and Practical Experiences track.
The paper was prepared with permission from UNDP following the Feasibility Study on Innovative Technologies for Electoral Processes in Armenia, produced in the framework of “Electoral Support Project in Armenia” funded by the Government of Japan and implemented by UNDP. The authors of this paper are the main authors of the feasibility study. The views expressed in the paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UNDP.
La consultation concernant la révision partielle de l’ordonnance sur les droits politiques (ODP) et la révision totale de l’Ordonnance de la Chancellerie fédérale sur le vote électronique (OVotE) vient de se terminer. L’invitation à contribuer était étendue aux milieux de la recherche. Ci-dessous, ma contribution. Elle se limite à soulever des questions et à formuler des suggestions. La conformité constitutionnelle du projet mériterait une évaluation plus approfondie.
D’un point de vue juridique, le canal de vote électronique par internet (VE) – en tant que canal complémentaire de vote – a comme objectif principal la mise en œuvre optimale des exigences découlant des principes constitutionnels régissant l’expression du vote : suffrage universel, égal, libre, secret et direct, inclus dans le concept plus large de liberté de vote (article 34 al. 2 Cst). D’autres principes constitutionnels, tels que l’organisation fédéraliste des droits politiques, l’état de droit et ses éléments, en particulier la légalité, relèvent également des principes applicables. Les exigences découlant des principes constitutionnels sont autant d’objectifs à atteindre et de limites à respecter par le VE.
Dans les lignes qui suivent nous interrogeons la conformité avec les principes supérieurs de certains aspects du VE, proposés dans le projet. Nous nous limitons à soulever des questions et à formuler des suggestions. La conformité constitutionnelle du projet mérite, à notre avis, une évaluation plus approfondie. L’examen juridique devrait, par ailleurs, précéder et guider le développement technique.
Caractère expérimental de la réglementation proposée ?
L’objectif du Conseil fédéral (CF) est de permettre aux cantons de reprendre des essais limités de VE sur de nouvelles bases, comprenant des exigences de sécurité plus précises, des règles de transparence plus rigoureuses, une collaboration plus étroite avec des experts indépendants et un contrôle efficace effectué sur mandat de la Confédération (rapport, chiffre 2.1). L’amélioration de la réglementation des essais, le renforcement de la sécurité et la collaboration avec la recherche sont à saluer.
Digital solutions are already used in elections and increasingly discussed. Their security, i.e. compliance with constitutional principles even in the presence of attacks or system failures, has attracted attention in the recent years as it impacts the integrity of elections. Under article 3 of the additional Protocol to the ECHR the legislator has the important burden to introduce regulations that ensure that only digital solutions which comply with constitutional principles can be used in elections. This is not an easy task as the field is still experimental. The two studies presented here raise legal questions about the use of some digital technologies in the electoral cycle. They draw upon past experiences in several countries and suggest possible approaches. A checklist to the attention of the legislator is to be found at the end of the first study (conclusions).
The two studies were prepared to the attention of the Council of Europe. The first one (Developing a regulatory framework) was conducted upon request of the Central Election Commission of Ukraine with the support of the Council of Europe project on “Supporting the transparency, inclusiveness and integrity of electoral practice in Ukraine”. The second study (Overview of digital technologies used in the electoral cycle) was initially presented to the European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG) of the Council of Europe who has been given the specific task of developing standards on the use of new technologies in the different stages of the electoral process.
Master students in Public and Nonprofit Management at the Luzern University of Applied Sciences and Arts organized a podium discussion on the topic “E-voting in Switzerland”. Initially due to take place on 21 April, the event was cancelled because of COVID19 restrictions. My foreseen input talk took the form of a written interview. I received thought provoking questions by the students, ranging from constitutional compliance of e-voting to its relevance in corona crisis times. Here is the full written interview.
Would e-voting in Switzerland comply with the principles of free and fair elections and would you see it consistent with our democratic principles?
A. Driza Maurer – What I find interesting about the use of digital technologies in elections is that such use questions our understanding of the constitutional principles. It’s not just e-voting, but also e-counting, the use of biometrics or blockchain that raise questions about the exact meaning of the basic principles of free and fair elections and their application to the technology.
Since our last post, internet voting in Switzerland has gone through some important developments. A draft federal law was put into consultation and an innovative transparency exercise took place at the beginning of 2019 : the publication of the source code of the Swiss Post/Scytl internet voting system and a public intrusion test on this very same system (from 25 Feb. to 24 March 2019).
The ultimate aim of these developments was to achieve the transformation of e-voting into an ordinary voting channel and to validate, after public examination, the suitability of the Swiss Post/Scytl internet voting system to offer internet voting for up to 100% of the electorate.
It is to be highlighted that this was the best example worldwide so far of achieving a high degree of transparency of an internet voting system used in elections. The Federal Chancellery and the Swiss Cantons have thus set a high transparency standard.
The results however were not the expected ones. Yet, the exercise yielded valuable insights into issues that need to be overcome before internet voting could realistically become an ordinary voting channel.
In a paper presented at E-Vot-ID 2019, I discuss some of these issues:
The Swiss federal Government approved yesterday the future steps in e-voting development on the basis of a report of a group of experts (see press conference). The modification of the federal act on political rights to introduce e-voting as a third regular voting channel (it’s currently used in a limited manner) next to voting at the polling station and postal voting is planned. A proposal will be extended to parliament in autumn 2018.
More information and related documents, including the group of experts’ report are to be found here: in German, in French and in Italian.
All countries in the Council of Europe region use some kind of digital technology in elections. They may use digital solutions for purposes such as voter registration, the administration of voters’ list, vote tallying, the transmission of results, voting in polling stations (e-voting machines) or from home (internet voting). Some of the digital solutions work off-line (e.g. scanners to count ballots), others make use of the internet (e.g. online accessible voters’ registers, internet-based results’ transmission or voting systems, etc.).
The 15th European Conference of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) that took place in Oslo (19-20 April 2018) dealt with the issue of security in elections. Electoral security was approached from different perspectives with a focus on secure use of digital technologies. I discussed “The contribution of the Council of Europe in establishing international norms and standards to ensure secure use of new technologies in elections” (see first plennary session, link to the presentation).
The Council of Europe is the only international organization to have issued recommendations on the regulation of the use of e-voting. The 2004 Recommendation to member States, Rec(2004)11 and the two 2010 Guidelines on certification and on transparency were recently repealed and replaced by Rec(2017)5 on Standards for e-voting and the associated Guidelines on its implementation.
In this paper (published at peer reviewed E-Vot-ID 2017 LNCS) we discuss the 2017 Recommendation and the main novelties introduced by it. The Recommendation extends the definition of e-voting to include pure e-counting. It enlists 49 standards which set objectives that e-voting should fulfill to comply with the principles and conditions for democratic elections of the European electoral heritage.
Detailed guidelines for the implementation of the objectives are collected in a lower level document, the Guidelines on the implementation of the provisions of Rec(2017)5. The guidelines are expected to be completed through further work. The main differences between the old and the new Council of Europe standards on e-voting are outlined. Correlations are illustrated. The expected use, impact and evolution of the Recommendation and Guidelines are briefly explained… (continue reading)
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