Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Primitive Voting



As I voted at a ballot box in Beit Shemesh for Israel's municipal elections yesterday, I recalled the voting jetons (pictured above) I saw recently in an archaeological museum in Athens. 

In 500 BCE, Athenian citizens used these jetons to cast their ballots for political candidates.

It is astounding how little has changed since then.

In Israel, we have a wide array of voting slips displayed at the voting booth (example above), and one needs to match up the name of the party with the large letter symbols on the slips, and place one of them in the envelope. You then put the envelope in the ballot box. For local elections you get two votes, and so do this procedure again for mayoral candidates. 

It can get somewhat confusing - for example in the Beit Shemesh elections, Eli Cohen, (unsuccessfully - more about that when the pain subsides..) running for mayor,  also headed a list of candidates for the city council. The code letters for that party were טב. 

Meanwhile, a moderate chareidi party was also running, called Tov (טוב), whose symbol letters were עד.

The confusion of טב with טוב was easy to make. 

Along with that, there are strict rules about not tearing or folding one's paper slips, which invalidates the vote. And unscrupulous folks steal, fold or tear unliked parties' slips from the piles (believe it or not) so the next voter loses that option. (People were caught doing this in Beit Shemesh yesterday)

And then there's the vote counting process, which consists of multiple counts of these paper slips, which is labour intensive (by people who only do this once every several years) and means that election results only become clear about five hours after the end of voting.

The mini-industry of exit polls has therefore filled the vacuum, fed by public interest, between the end of the vote, and the announcement of the actual results. 

The antiquated voting system is in part to blame for low turn out, even of the hyper-politically-aware Israelis; in these elections the national average was about 40% participation. 

In other words, the majority vote (60%) and clear winner was the I-Can't-Be-Bothered-Party.

And national elections are a national holiday, effectively closing the country down for 24 hours, for the election process to unfold. Whereas this is nice for employees, it is a huge economic cost - employees are paid, nothing is earned, taxes are not paid, etc. 

Surely, in 2013, the start-up nation can come up with an improved voting method which encourages participation (the first rule of democracy?), avoids as much confusion as possible, gives clear and close-to-instant results when the voting is completed and doesn't cost the country a full work day. 

In an era where I can transfer money from my bank account, access my medical files, make credit card purchases, safely and conveniently on-line - surely it should be technically possible to vote, from the comfort of my home. 

We would not be the first country to go this route - in 2005 Estonia became the first country to use the internet for elections. 

Many other countries have gone the lesser route of electronic voting machines, which are physically located at the polling stations (ie not remote systems). 

There's more information on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_voting_examples

We are due to have the next general elections in Israel in 2017.

Plenty of time to have a pilot on-line voting system up-and-running...!

5 comments:

  1. I'm game, as long as I can program the system. I wouldn't trust any system that any other programmer wrote, and they shouldn't trust me, either. It is next to impossible to audit the code to ensure that there are no sneaky little trapdoors built in to skew the vote one way or another. This is one area where I think technology would actually make fraud easier to perpetrate and mask, albeit confined to a smaller group of potential fraudsters.

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  2. If workers get a paid vacation, they are paying taxes.

    Internet elections would have made Eli Cohen win, because most of Abutbol's voters don't have Internet, unless there is a low-tech option for the low-tech crowd.

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  3. Somehow I would tie in a TZ with a finger print and then use Finger Print technology to prove it is you on the TZ. Then you have a touch Screen with options in English, Hebrew & Russian so you can fully understand your choices. Two clicks, save and your out of there.

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  4. Almost all electronic voting systems (whether they involve touch screens or not) are susceptible to tampering, Many such systems are closed code (meaning that outside bodies cannot check whether there's any "funny business" going on). Other systems (e.g. internet based) may be susceptible to interception/modification while the vote is being transmitted to the tallying center. If the voting device does not provide a printed output (that can be checked by the voter and then placed in a closed box for the purpose of recounts), then there is no guarantee that the votes cast are the same as the votes counted. Many computer experts suggest that lo-tech is, in fact, the way to go.

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  5. Shalom David,

    As I posted on Rafi's Life in Israel blogspot (http://lifeinisrael.blogspot.co.il/) recently about this issue, we should be very wary of moving to any "vote from your home computer" option for additional reasons as well:

    A friend of mine pointed out recently that if E-voting is allowed from one's home, this could open up the door to all sorts of easy ways for employers/party bosses/union leaders/plain old crooks to unfairly pressure people to vote for their man.

    Imagine if the strong man (who may be able to get you fired from your job, or influence your life in some other way [throw your kids out of Talmud Torah?]) in your area tells you that since you will vote from your own computer, you had better not vote until his representative comes by your house to "supervise" how you vote online!

    With everyone having to go behind the screen (where no one can see which voting slip we have picked), at least no one can force us to vote his way by being with us when we actually vote.

    We should move up to a more modern way of voting (voting machines/computers) at the polling places, but I think that my friend is right that E-ballots for voting at your home computer should be avoided.

    Bivrachah,
    Catriel Lev

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