What will elections be like in the future?
Bogota, August 14th, 2011.- Voting automation is nowadays a worldwide trend. It is expected that sooner or later all democracies around the globe will migrate to electronic systems, within a timeframe of 20 years. This is a subject that generates lively debates in several Latin American countries since this process should be undertaken gradually (ideally, at least), until the series of combined practices that shape the voting of tomorrow are finally adopted.
This implies not only a journey through the different stages of adoption of the technology, but also educating the electorate about the fight against electoral vices, since it is these vices that will come into the spotlight when the voting system is changed. This path of action ultimately leads to transparency and the rule of law.
Brazil is leading this worldwide trend for automation. In 1982 (almost 30 years ago) the country had its first experiences with automated voting. In 1985, electronic vote tallying became a national procedure. In 1996, the first electronic voting machines were introduced; this implementation was gradual, reaching one third of the electorate in 1996, two thirds by 1998 and a hundred percent in the year 2000. During the 2010 elections, 106,606,214 votes were cast and tallied during the second voting round, in which current President Dilma Roussef was elected.
Currently, Brazil and Venezuela are the only Latin American countries with automated voting in all their polling stations. These experiences show the need, both of the citizens and the electoral authorities, of having a clear vision of all the stages necessary for automation, and secondly, a vision of which vulnerabilities of the voting process will be fixed by it. The aim is to have transparency and enough information to drive the point home: it is convenient for Latin American countries to migrate towards automated voting systems.
All these stages put together are what constitute a fully automated electoral process. The only countries in Latin America to have embraced this technology so far are Brazil and Venezuela. Other countries such as Argentina and Mexico have carried out small attempts in the last years.
Why do we talk about the "elections of the future"?
Because the majority of the world's democracies are considerably behind when it comes to adopting technology in electoral processes. Manual voting systems are still in place; these increase the risks of manipulation, error, human intervention and delays in the counting, which are factors that aggravate the doubts of the electorate about the transparency of results.
In the future, automation will focus on safer, more efficient systems that require less human and monetary capital, and have lesser exposure to external factors. These processes, which imply changes in infrastructure and in the way citizens think, will allow democracy to become a stronger institution thanks to technology, and it will increase the trust of citizens in their governments.
The electoral authorities of each country and the political will of their institutions are the factors that will ultimately let this future become a reality sooner than later. Meanwhile, the technology for this future is already available today.