Digital technologies in elections

New Council of Europe publication

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.


The Study is available in English and in Ukrainian

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E-voting in Switzerland

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.

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2019 developments in Swiss internet voting

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:

Other papers presented at E-Vot-ID 2019, including two interesting contributions on Swiss postal voting and on Swiss electors’ perception of e-voting, can be found here (2019 proceedings).

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An experts’ report and an upcoming consultation on turning e-voting into an ordinary voting channel

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.

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Security in Elections

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).

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Updated European Standards for E-voting – The Council of Europe Recommendation Rec(2017)5 on Standards for E-voting

(Paper abstract)

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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European Standards for Innovative Electoral Services

What are considered “innovative services in electoral processes”? How to regulate them? What are the european standards applicable?

These issues and relative experiences were discussed at the 7th annual meeting of electoral management bodies from Europe, Asia and the Americas, organised by the Georgian Electoral Commission in cooperation with Venice Commission last February.

Find out more in the report I presented at the Conference VENICE COMM_Driza Maurer 20170227 Borjomi

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New Technologies: Inescapable but Challenging

Keynote at the 1st Scientific Electoral Experts Debates

New technologies challenge the way the Parliament, the Government, the judge and the voter think of and deal with elections. The following paper presents an overview of the main preoccupations of the e-voting legislator in the recent past in Switzerland, an early but cautious adopter of internet voting. It shows how political stance on e-voting evolved over the years.

This was a contribution at the First Scientific Electoral Experts Debates – a new Forum – coorganized by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) of the Council of Europe and the Romanian Electoral Authority in Bucharest (12-13 April 2016). The meeting discussed “Electoral Law and New Technologies: Legal Challenges”. The proceedings are now published online. They include a number of presentations from practitioners and scholars throughout Europe.

Download the paper

See also “Legality, Separation of Powers, Stability of Electoral Law: the Impact of New Voting Technologies” paper

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Update of the Council of Europe Recommendation on legal, operational and technical standards for e-voting – A Legal Perspective

The Council of Europe 2004 Recommendation on e-voting (Rec(2004)11) is a soft law instrument containing legal, operational and technical standards for e-voting. An ad-hoc Committee of Experts on E-voting (CAHVE) started work on its update in 2015. This paper focuses on the place of Rec(2004)11 in the regulatory framework for e-voting as well as on issues related to its update. We discuss the main results of the first phase of the update and some specific legal questions related to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in elections. The main challenge for such an instrument is to fully and correctly translate broader principles of the European Electoral Heritage into standards and requirements for e-voting that remain pertinent as technology evolves. Continue reading

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VoteID 2015

A short report by Richard Hill*

The 2015 VoteID conference took place from 2-4 September 2015 in Bern, Switzerland. The conference featured presentations of peer-reviewed papers covering a variety of inter-disciplinary topics related to e-voting, such as a legal challenge to a specific system; security analyses of several specific systems; analysis of the characteristics of Internet voters in several actual votes; and research papers on advanced verification and related techniques. In addition to these papers, invited speakers presented papers on Internet voting in Switzerland; security analysis of the Estonian system; the actual use of Internet voting in Switzerland; and the use of verifiable voting in Victoria, Australia. A half-day session was also devoted to hands-on demonstration of several e-voting systems. Continue reading

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