E-voting a distant reality

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 17 Mar 2009

South Africans should not expect online voting until the system proves successful internationally, says the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

The electoral body re-iterates it will not introduce online voting for the 22 April elections, or the 2011 local government elections - but that it will “get there one day”.

It adds that, while the increasing adoption of technology in election processes is encouraging, online voting will not be successful locally until more established electoral systems get it right.

According to the IEC, electronic voting is too costly and the absence of paper records in voting and verification systems would result in a complete loss of hundreds or thousands of votes. It says that until it could be verified that e-voting machines are recording votes as intended, and election officials could conduct recounts, SA could not implement electronic voting.

While the IEC will spend R200 million on technology for the general elections next month, it has no plans to introduce online voting. The budget will go towards the purchasing of 30 000 voter registration scanners and ICT solutions.

Waiting for the world

According to Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, e-voting systems have not yet gained global acceptance as part of electoral systems and, until they do, SA should not be in a hurry to implement the technology.

Goldstuck says SA has to begin by solving security and access issues. The country is noted for its low Internet penetration rates, with only 9.5% of the population having access to the Internet. Goldstuck says that, until those issues are solved, Internet ballots as a primary form of voting will not benefit the country.

Internet voting will allow for freer elections.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD, World Wide Worx

He notes that if the system were to be implemented now, it would prove chaotic due to the high potential for voter fraud and the work required with safeguards, which would need to be built into hardware.

E-voting is used for party primaries in the US and there are instances of hybrid solutions where touch-screens are used in voting booths - but it needs to be a standard which is approved in major electoral systems, says Goldstuck.

Freer and fairer

He adds that, over time, “Internet voting will allow for freer elections” - where the rights to privacy and protection from coercion are successfully upheld. Internet voting takes the voter away from the activity which happens in the vicinity of booths, says Goldstuck. He adds that, in cases where voters experience high levels of intimidation, online voting can provide great value.

Goldstuck says there are areas where it can positively contribute to the lives of citizens. An example, he says, is in the case of disabled voters, who would no longer experience physical access restrictions.

Ballot counting would be more accurate as the votes would be automatically counted, eliminating human error, he adds.

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