Little has changed in the way South Africans can register and cast their votes in elections over the past 25 years of democracy. However, its BRICS counterparts Brazil and India have been making use of e-voting for almost two decades.
Experts have also argued that e-voting can strengthen the credibility of elections by reducing the risk of double voting and spoilt ballot papers. But there is also a risk of hacking in which votes can be altered.
E-voting can either take place through direct voting on machines, by voting on paper ballots which are counted electronically by optical scanners, or online. Biometric devices can also be used to register voters when they cast their votes.
Professor Bruce Watson, head of the Department of Information Science at Stellenbosch University, told Fin24 that as a digital society part of the G20, it is only natural that SA should introduce e-voting.
“There is every reason to embrace that (e-voting), and at the same time every reason to learn how it was done overseas and to take cyber risk seriously,” Watson said.
Stellenbosch University is one of five universities part of a research network – the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research, according to Watson the centre has looked into the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in elections. Watson explained that AI could increasingly be used to identify voters at polls through facial recognition.
AI could also be used for security purposes, for example to make sure nothing “strange” is happening in voting booths and can detect if voters are coerced into making certain decisions. AI is also used for data analytics to identify any strange patterns in voting outcomes at a particular station, he explained.
The IEC vice chair Janet Love has said that e-voting technology is not appropriate or cost effective for SA to be using at this time, but the electoral commission is continually evaluating the option and engaging with other countries which have relied on e-voting, News24 reported.
The European Parliamentary Research Service Blog in 2018 mapped out which countries have adopted e-voting and unpacks why some stuck to it and others dropped it.
Which countries use e-voting?
Estonia: The country uses electronic voting nationwide. According to a blog by Microsoft Corporate, the country implemented internet-voting in 2005, but suffered a cyber attack in 2007. Estonia however did not pull back and still makes use of internet voting.
Namibia: The first African country to use voting machines in 2014.
India: The country has been using voting machines since 1998.
Philippines: The island nation has been using voting machines since 2010.
Brazil: National elections have been automated since 2000. BBC News last week reported that voting via touch screen has been trialed in Brazil along with the US, Norway, Estonia, India and Switzerland.
Mongolia: The country has been using voting machines since 2010.
US: The US was the first country to try using electronic voting technology in the 1960s.A mix of optical scanners and direct electronic voting is used in the country. More than 90% of votes in elections are counted electronically, while a few states still rely on manual counting.
Kyrgyzstan: The country counts votes manually but uses optical scanners to double check counts.
Iraq: The country used voting machines for the first time in 2018, but they failed a hacking test. Votes were recounted manually.
DRC: The country planned to use electronic machines in its 2018 elections, but Al Jazeera reported that there were fears it would be used to rig outcomes. The Guardian previously reported that 7000 out of 10 000 voting machines were destroyed by a fire caused by arsonists, just 10 days before voters went to the polls.
Which countries partially use e-voting?
Canada: Voting machines are used in some local elections.
Belgium: Some districts use voting machines.
France: Voting machines are used in some districts. The French government wants to end their use. According to a blog by Microsoft Corporate, France had allowed overseas citizens to vote online but after reports of hacking in the US national elections in 2016 emerged, France announced there would be no e-voting in its 2017 national elections.
Russia: About 10% of Russia’s polling stations were equipped with voting machines in its national elections in 2018.
Iran: In 2017, the country used voting machines for its local elections, but not for its national elections – which were held at the same time.
Argentina: Some districts use electronic voting machines. The voting machines were not considered secure to use them across the country in 2017.
Which countries are testing e-voting?
Indonesia: The country had trialed e-voting ahead of its national elections in 2019, but the country opted for manual voting. According to a Bloomberg report 550 of the country’s electoral officers died of exhaustion following the recently held elections. According to Bloomberg, the Indonesian government is looking into adopting electronic voting machines by studying cases in India and South Korea. A decision to adopt e-voting will require extensive consultation by political parties, communities and the public.
Bangladesh: In 2018 the country trialed voting machines to be used in its national elections, which were ultimately used but at a limited scale, according to local reports.
Bulgaria: The country planned to use electronic machines in 2017, but changed plans because machines could not be delivered on time.
Norway: The country trialed internet votes between 2011 and 2013 but decided not to use it because of public perceptions on the security of the vote, according to a blog by Microsoft Corporate.
Which countries no longer use e-voting?
Ireland: In 2006 the country dropped plans to use the machines because of security concerns.
Paraguay: In the early 2000s, the country had experimented with voting machines which it loaned from Brazil. In 2008 it returned to paper ballots.
Netherlands: In 2007, the country reverted back to paper ballots, after anti e-voting activists showed that it is not secure, using experimental hacking.
Germany: In 2009 the country stopped using voting machines, after a Constitutional Court ruled they were not transparent enough.
Isabel Bosman, an honours student at Wits University who is researching how e-voting can strengthen the election process suggested that if the security concerns related to e-voting are sufficiently addressed, then it is possible these countries could revert to making use of it again.
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