The development of this new BRIDGE module responds to the new reality that election administrations are facing worldwide at the beginning of every electoral cycle and even more in preparation of specific electoral events: decide on the most appropriate level of new technology to make the electoral process more effective. Given the speed with which new technology applications become available on the market, “new technology” is very much a relative concept. What is new in one specific country or context might well seem rather old- fashioned in a different country.
In this module we try to offer an overview of what the current state of the art is in terms of technology applied to electoral processes, and we stimulate the participants to consider how the use of technology is already a reality in all the various segments of the electoral process. Such reality however does not always correspond to a demand coming from the stakeholders or the entire electorate at large. Sometimes the technological upgrades are imposed by the electoral authority in the hope to solve problems that might have different origins, sometimes are required by legal provisions that politicians introduce under influence of powerful vendors that might present certain technological solutions as the panacea against all fraud-related problems and logistical troubles.
On the other hand, there are contexts where the introduction of useful technological applications is rejected simply due to mere ignorance and disbelief in what is unknown. This is a central aspect that we would like the participants to reflect upon by sharing their own different experiences. Through role-plays, we stimulate the participants to consider that technology is a powerful means but can never be an end in itself and it is crucial to follow certain key guiding principles for its practical introduction. To make an example, technology can help in preventing wide-spread frauds but can also favour the occurrence of them.
Some of the key understandings underpinning this module are in fact based on the central assumption that it is sterile to battle against technology changes, but it is more appropriate to learn better what a certain IT application can add to the electoral process. In this module we take the approach that the most appropriate degree of technology for a given country is directly proportional to the degree of trust enjoyed by its EMB and not just to the level of computer-literacy of its population. This is explored through activities that will require of the participant to prepare proposals for the introduction of specific technological upgrades and through some case studies.
Special focus in this module is given to the emergence of electronic voting, or e-voting. This is a subject of growing attention and fascinating debates in many established democracies as well as in many developing countries. While various forms of electronic voting in non political elections are already widely customary in modern society, the use of electronic voting systems for general national elections and referenda is instead more controversial and bound to remain so for various years. Nevertheless, e-voting is already fully implemented in some very large democracies and there are more than 40 countries worldwide that are testing its possible countrywide introduction. This module component attempts to explore the crucial aspects of the two main categories of e-voting (e-voting in controlled environment and uncontrolled environment), discuss if they can bring any concrete benefit to disadvantaged categories and asks the participants to discuss the main reasons for and against them, taking in account also how different contexts favor the development of one model of e-voting over another. One might as well argue that this topic deserves a module of its own; however, we believe that many issues that are very central to the diffusion of e-voting are also central to the introduction of other technologies in other segments the electoral process, chief among these, security and transparency.
The module then concentrates on providing suggestions for a sound management approach in introducing new technologies and asks the participants to look at those suggestions in the light of the general principles that underlie all properly run elections (impartiality, accountability and transparency), while drawing some examples of different practical approaches from many different countries. We take the view that some crucial aspects that must be taken into account when adopting new technological solutions have to do with appropriate planning, sustainability, timing of the introduction and of course, securing the financial means for such technological upgrades and their maintenance. Through the usual participative approach, we aim to demonstrate that the basic principles underpinning the practical introduction of a new technology application in elections do not differ much by traditional sound management techniques applied for any major strategy change in corporate business management.
As mentioned before, there is adequate attention in the module to the aspects of security and transparency, the two most heavily debated topics about any technology applications in elections. This module component offers the participants an overview of the key aspects to take into consideration in terms of security, and asks them to debate over the notion of transparency, and how different societies can value it differently. Observation is also considered as a means to bring additional transparency to high-tech elections.
The final component of the module we take a leap in the future, launching a discussion in which the participants are asked to imagine how future elections will look like in the light of the changes in the electoral rituals that they experimented in their recent past. Two are the visions that we would like to offer to their consideration, one very likely and immediate, that concerns the sharp development of digital voter registration and its synergies with civil registration, and the second one, a bit further down the road, about the development of e-democracy and how this could change the traditional and rather passive relationship between citizens and the institutions.
Like all BRIDGE modules, Electoral Technology encourages participants to learn from the diverse examples presented. Participants are stimulated to share their experiences and opinions in a non-threatening environment. As it also BRIDGE praxis, the following cross-cutting themes are addressed in this module: