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Forum History

 

The Forum was established by the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe  (Warsaw, May 2005), to strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens' participation.

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Forum previous sessions

Forum_Democracy2011

(Limassol, Cyprus, October)

Interdependence of democracy and social cohesion.

New: Proceedings

"Radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable” but  “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”  declared Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland while opening the Cyprus Forum.

2010

(Yerevan, October)

Perspectives 2020 Democracy in Europe - Principles and Challenges

Proceedings

 

''The Council of Europe has a unique strategic role to play in strengthening good democratic governance at all levels in the European space''. Democracy, or rather good democratic governance, is now not only intrinsically linked to the respect of human rights but is also recognised as the most effective form of governance to ensure stability, sustainability and well-being.

 That was the main message of the 2010 Forum.

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2009

(Kyiv, October)

Electoral systems: strengthening democracy in the 21st century

(Proceedings)

 "In a genuine democracy, the citizen is sovereign and the voter decides" - that was the main message of the 2009 Forum, which highlighted the need for greater public involvement, with a view to increasing voter turnout and ensuring that all stages of public life are democratic..

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2008

(Madrid, October)

"E-democracy: who dares?"

 

The discussions addressed the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on democracy.

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2007

(Stockholm, June)

"Power and empowerment - The interdependence of democracy and human rights"

 

This event addressed issues such as the role and responsibilities of the opposition, representative democracy at the local and regional level, empowerment of the individual and non-discrimination, respect for freedom of expression and association for civil society, and fostering democracy, human rights and social networks.

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2006

(Moscow, October)

"The role of political parties in the building of democracy"

 

The Forum reflected on  the role and responsibilities of political parties in finding democratic solutions to contemporary challenges, the interaction between political parties and with other actors in the democratic process, and the building and strengthening of democratic institutions.

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Launch meeting (Warsaw, November 2005)

"Citizens' participation"

 

 

The discussions addressed the state of contemporary democracy in Europe.

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Previous projects

("Making

Democratic institutions work")

 

Mats Lindberg
Election Adviser OSCE/ODIHR

“Meaningful Observation of Electronic Voting Processes"

INTRODUCTION

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.
    · to what extent does the legal framework take full account of the implications of e-voting? This includes issues such as whether paper or electronic records have primacy in the event of a recount and how election disputes can be resolved.
    · certification and testing of the system – Was certification performed by a truly independent body? How comprehensive and transparent were the certification and testing processes?
    · secrecy of the ballot – Does the system does allow the voter to take away any evidence as to how he or she voted? Does it provide for anonymity of the voter? Is the environment controlled or uncontrolled?
    · security of the entire system and its functioning – internal and external safety: is a proper division of duties in place to avoid internal manipulation? What about external security to avoid hacker attacks?
    · voter accessibility and education – user friendliness, voter education and accessibility also for minority groups, the elderly, and disabled voters?
    · election administration and training of polling station officials in operating the voting system – how thorough is the training of polling officials, including contingency plans in case of system failure?
    · Does the system produces a permanent voter-verified paper record of votes cast? Is there provision for manual audits? Under what circumstances are audits of the results conducted?
    · Are recounts possible in case of system failure or challenges to the results?
    · Overall transparency: to what extent do political parties and domestic and international observers have access to the entire process, including documentation, results of certification and testing, and source codes?
    · Is there a clear division of responsibilities between vendors, certification agencies and election administrators to fully ensure accountability and an effective response in the case of failure of electronic voting equipment?

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;
    · Comprehensive testing of the system prior to its introduction and periodically thereafter;
    · Access for international observers to the results of the certification process
    · Secrecy of the ballot must be guaranteed (no secrecy guarantee possible with internet voting);
    · The electronic voting system should be secure from external attack and attempts to decipher information, as well as from internal manipulation and technological failure;
    · Access to public documents relating to development and implementation of standards, certification, functioning, and verification of the electronic voting election system, including source codes;
    · The electronic voting system must produce a voter verifiable paper record, or equivalent verification procedure, to ensure that the voter’s choice has been recorded accurately and to create the possibility for observers without technical expertise to observe a re-count;
    · Amendment of the legal framework to adequately provide for sufficient transparency, mandatory audits, possibility for recounts, and legal challenges to election results;
    · Regulations to prevent possible conflicts of interests of vendors, certification agencies and election officials, including a strict code of ethics;
    · Establishment of a clear division of responsibilities between vendors, certification agencies and election administrators to fully ensure accountability and an effective response in the case of system failure.

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.