The arrival of the coronavirus is changing some things, others continue as before. Now we know that perhaps our summer holidays are made in Spain, that the sales will be online or they will not be and that the physical distance will have to conflict with the massification of the beaches. Electoral processes are added to the long list of changes and revisions of massive events. Because a concert can be postponed, but some votes have a deadline. Under these circumstances, is there a ray of hope for an online election?
It seems that online is a trend for this “new normal”. Telework with its pluses and minuses, the online school with more less than more. Telemedicine, online shopping, gymnastics through the screen and digital parties come together. The short answer, when it comes to an online election, is that there are still many years ahead. The long one is that, actually and even if we want to, we are not prepared for it.
Despite everything, politics is not in a hurry for online elections
In the new normal, at least for now, there is no room for elections. The reality is that we will have to wait for the situation to calm down to start the electoral machine.
Because occasions are not lacking. Already in March, the Basque Country and Galicia were considering a date change for the autonomous communities – advanced due to lack of agreements – in their respective regions. Catalonia announced the same decision days later due to the impossibility of maneuvering. The arrival of the Alarm State was decisive.
Outside the country, France ventured into a first round for the municipal elections in mid-March. Never before has the Gallic country registered such low voting rates. The second round, needless to say, has been postponed.
And on the other side of the Atlantic, the elections for the Presidency of the United States hang by a thread. Elections that, incidentally, are watched with contained breath from the rest of the world. The re-election of Donald Trump is at stake and that, precisely because of the coronavirus crisis, could be compromised.
The truth is that politicians are to other things and the interest of voting right now is at the tail of their problems
Against this background, some might think that – out of pure political interest – there would be a certain approach to review the pending task in the drawer of the sector: an online election.
“This has generated more noise and more visibility, since a situation like this can happen to you at any time. A situation like this can happen to you at any time. The truth is that this will generate more interest for the future and pressure from voters to analyze different voting models. Another thing is how politicians react “, explains Jordi Puiggalí, from Scytl – a Spanish company dedicated to the digitization of electoral processes. At the moment, the truth is that the politicians are to other things and voting interest right now is at the tail end of their problems. And, they add from Scytl, the relationship of the need for online elections with a pandemic could be negative.
Far is the digital world of Switzerland where they have been voting digitally for many years; Estonia and the Netherlands recently joined. Although it is also true that in the case of Switzerland, citizen participation for minor decisions in referendums is much greater. Without an online elections model, collaboration would be much less. And despite this, as early as 2019, this type of voting was suspended in several cantons due to security problems.
The new normalcy rescues the old lack of security of online elections
The truth is that technology exists. Another thing is that it can be used with the current regulatory framework and that there is the necessary confidence to access them.
Starting from the idea that online elections would not be exclusive, which would maintain the ordinary vote, the dilemma of the digital divide is solved. “There is no process of substituting technology in electoral processes to eliminate, but to complement,” explains Puiggalí.
But this situation would not solve the delicate question of privacy. However advanced the technological electoral processes may be, the truth is that there is still no way to compare it to the analog experience. “In electronic voting you know that something happens inside the computer and how you know that it is doing well. On paper, that does not happen because people are very clear about the processes,” they explain from Scytl.
Today, the figure of the observer has more evidence than an algorithm; And voters need to be clear on this. Although it is possible to ensure that cheating has not been done, keeping the vote secret, it is not so easy to understand the process.
So things are going to remain as they have been for a long time: the new normal inherits things from the old. Simona Levi, a digital rights activist, is clear on this issue: “as of today there is no sign that a digital election is secure.” In fact, they are so blunt at this point that, until there are no changes at this point, they have not looked too closely at this topic either. For the organization led by Levi, not a pandemic that confines us for two months – if there are no relapses – will change the political agenda regarding the elections.
The rise of the vote by mail?
The last two electoral processes in Spain, corresponding to the general elections, resulted in an increase in requests for voting by mail. The one on April 28, in fact, deserved the second place in number of highest requests in history.
However, the vote by mail remains the big question of the elections. What happens when you leave the envelope with your vote in emails and is delivered to the electoral college? How do we ensure that there is no change in the votes or if they arrive? For Scytl, the doubts that general electronic voting would be in the same line as the open fronts that remain in the vote by mail.
“There are many people who are afraid that they may spy on them at home, which can also happen in the vote by mail,” they explain. And despite everything, the promotion of voting by mail could be one of the first solutions to the current situation.