“Meaningful Observation of Electronic Voting Processes"
First of all, I would like to express how pleased I am to be here and to have the opportunity to listen to and participate in this discussion about e-voting which is of great interest to OSCE/ODIHR.
As part of its overall mandate to assist participating States in the conduct of democratic elections in line with OSCE commitments, the OSCE/ODIHR has a distinct interest to follow and contribute to the development of electronic voting standards, and to make sure that such standards are compatible with the holding of free and democratic elections. These OSCE commitments are primarily outlined in the landmark 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document, which sets out criteria for democratic elections in the form of commitment that have been agreed to by all OSCE participating States. Of particular relevance to the use of electronic voting is paragraph 7.4 which requires that votes are cast by secret ballot or equivalent free voting procedure and that they are counted and reported honestly with the official results made public. Therefore OSCE/ODIHR works towards ensuring that electronic voting does not become an obstacle to the conduct of democratic elections, but instead can potentially enhance democratic election processes and procedures.
The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers “e-voting” recommendation of 2004 is an internationally agreed reference in the area of e-voting, and the OSCE/ODIHR looks forward to close co-operation with the Council of Europe in this field. OSCE/ODIHR highlights the fundamental point prescribed in the recommendation, namely that “e-voting shall respect all the principles of democratic elections and referendums. E-voting shall be as reliable and secure as democratic elections and referendums which do not involve the use of electronic means”.
As is the case with conventional elections, in order to assess whether e-enabled elections are genuinely democratic, the e-voting technologies used must allow meaningful observation of the process – in other words, election monitoring. The OSCE Copenhagen Document states that the presence of observers, both foreign and domestic, can enhance the integrity of the election process and contains a standing invitation for observation that is the basis for ODIHR election observation activities. In view of the potential challenges presented by the use of new technologies to the integrity, transparency and accountability of election processes, the OSCE/ODIHR is pursuing a project to develop guidelines on observation of new voting technologies.
As one of the leading organisations conducting election observation, it is only natural that OSCE/ODIHR is taking the lead in developing such guidelines for how to accommodate observation of electronic voting in any overall election observation efforts. To this end, OSCE/ODIHR has hosted expert meetings on the observation of electronic voting. It should be noted that the work on these guidelines is far from an isolated academic or theoretical exercise. The OSCE/ODIHR has since 2005 sent e-voting experts, as part of its standard election observation (or assessment) missions, to assess e-voting in Belgium, Estonia, France, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, and the United States of America. Including in its election observation activities such experts who possess an understanding of information technology used in e-voting systems, while at the same time having a thorough understanding of principles of democratic elections, has allowed the OSCE/ODIHR to make credible observations and recommendations to a number of OSCE participating States regarding electronic voting issues.
Moreover, just last weekend representatives of OSCE/ODIHR, on the invitation of the Russian authorities, followed the conduct of an e-voting system test in a location outside Moscow, which might allow e-voting pilots in subsequent real elections. Furthermore, OSCE/ODIHR will be participating in a seminar at the end of this month on electronic voting, organized by the current Finnish OSCE Chairmanship.
The current presentation will examine some of the main questions OSCE/ODIHR election observers would focus on in an election observation context.
As a result of producing guidelines for the observation of new voting technologies, minimum conditions for electronic voting become further articulated. In the second part of this presentation, these emerging minimum conditions will be discussed in some more detail.
ELEMENTS OF MEANINGFUL OBSERVATION OF E-VOTING
Like any election process, electronic voting is not a one-day event, and there are a number of important elements of an electronic voting process for which observers can provide assessments, given appropriate access to documentation and to the relevant election officials and technicians. There are several questions that should be considered when observing electronic voting, including the following:
· the background leading to the decision for electronic voting and comparison with the system being replaced.
Out of the considerations just listed in connection with the observation of electronic voting, certain minimum conditions for e-voting logically emerge. In a moment I shall discuss some of these minimum conditions, which in OSCE/ODIHR’s view need to be fulfilled by any model for conducting e-enabled elections.
MINIMUM CONDITIONS FOR E-VOTING
In accordance with fundamental principles for democratic elections, any e-voting system must be transparent and accountable and must enjoy public confidence. Moreover, it is a prerequisite to the use of any election system that there be broad public confidence in the system.
Among the additional considerations or minimum conditions for e-voting systems are the following:
· Inclusive and transparent certification of the electronic voting system by a qualified independent body and access of relevant external individuals or groups to conduct comprehensive and periodic reviews;
Regarding the introduction of e-voting, overall confidence in the election administration as a whole, and ample public discussion of e-voting, are also important conditions. Moreover, thoughtful and incremental introduction of the system to voters can greatly enhance transparency and facilitate confidence.
When voting is conducted remotely in an uncontrolled environment, careful implementation is needed to ensure that risks to the integrity of the election process, in particular the secrecy of the ballot, are minimized. There should be a clear reflection of the fundamental principles enshrined in the OSCE commitments in conducting remote voting, including via internet or other means. This is an issue that needs further consideration, as harnessing new technologies in the electoral context is only advantageous if the same guarantees attributable to traditional voting methods can be guaranteed beyond any doubt.
In conclusion the OSCE/ODIHR recognises the potential of electronic voting for enhancing election processes and procedures and will continue to closely follow the development of such new technologies. However, the expression of the will of the people, as the foundation for democratic governance, must not be compromised by any premature introduction of voting technologies that may not be able to assure transparency and accountability and to maintain broad public confidence.