Posted on 4. August 2017 · Posted in

This dissertation’s aim is to contribute to the research that addresses the challenge of ensuring effective participation in decision-making procedures using information and communication technologies (ICT) in twenty-first century democracies, which are assumed to be the best form of government available (UN 1945; EU 1993). The use of ICT in elections, also often called electronic voting (hereinafter: e-voting), touches upon core principles in the governance of the contemporary democratic state. One might go as far as to say that the mechanisms of elections are not only methods through which societies may express their opinions but also indicators of how they use technology in general. Numerous elections throughout history have made use of emerging technologies in one way or another.
Today, ICT is a widespread, common phenomenon, so technology-based electoral procedures seem almost inevitable. Nevertheless, the field lacks holistic research about e-voting that integrates these multidisciplinary perspectives with theoretical and practical approaches, and gives an insight into the motivating and influencing factors for using voting
technology in elections.
The research in this dissertation stems from more than nine years of extensive theoretical and practical research while working in Austria, Germany and Poland. The study was finalized in Estonia, which served as the ideal setting for research on Internet voting. The theoretical framework of this dissertation draws mainly on literature in algorithm research, electoral law and democracy theory, and was mainly undertaken during the first half of the research period. During the second half, the focus was put on practical work especially in Austria, with additional insights gleaned through discussions and analyses of various forms of e-voting in Albania, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Norway, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, the United States and Venezuela.
This thesis comprises original articles that focus on ICT (II, IV), the information society (I), electronic democracy (I, III), and the policy implications of voting technology (I, II, IV; V) in Austria (III), the EU (II), and Council of Europe member states, as well as OSCE participating states (IV).
This dissertation contributes to four research topics, (1) how ICT affects democracy, (2) how to analyze the application of ICT in elections, (3) how the use of ICT in elections evolved; and (4) what the factors are that motivate stakeholders to introduce ICT, as follows:
First, this transformation process offers and enables more and different social interaction possibilities from very remote places and with people whom we hardly know. As such, it will naturally affect the way a democratic system works and will challenge existing paradigms, such as the concept of representation. The use of ICT in elections will provide for more possibilities to participate and will ideally be used in a context of constant dialogue between
representatives and voters.
Second, the use of voting technologies is in no way easy. Discussions tend to lose focus due to the complexity and interdisciplinary nature of the topic. This inherent complexity can only be addressed with a conceptual model, such as the e-voting mirabilis that describes the influence factors of technology, law, politics and society and that describes the electoral process that is affected by e-voting. Only through such conceptualizations can developers make the discussions around e-voting more transparent and evident to a wider audience.
Third, the development that voting technology has undergone since the appearance of the first concepts of mechanical voting machines some 170 years ago is remarkable. The technology was applied depending on knowledge and availability. In the earliest elections, voting technologies were quite diverse, but this diversity decreased with the appearance of the Australian ballot, which is still the most widely used voting technology today. Shortly after this type of paper ballot became a quasi-standard, the diversification started again. Most parts of the US began to use mechanical voting machines for many decades.
After the Second World War, the use of electronic devices started with the electronic counting of mark-sense enabled ballots, which progressed to punchcards and finally the DRE electronic voting machines.
Last but not least, whereas all of these technologies were more or less designed to reduce fraud and to enhance accuracy and speed, the last invention in the field of voting technology aimed for something completely different. Internet voting, in theory, enables the voters to participate from anywhere in nearly no time at all in the election process of their choice. This technology also comes with the promise to enable more voters to cast their vote and thereby raise the turnout.
The realization of these promises could support the important goal of providing the politicians and representatives with the possibility to appear modern by endorsing a new voting technology for the core process of democracy. Estonia may easily be the best example of this political move.
Overall it can be said that the promises that developers are currently pairing with electronic voting are often too high, because “IT tools are not a panacea to solve existing problems in the elections field. … where there already is lack of trust in the electoral process, its digitalisation will not improve the situation; on the contrary, it may further diminish voter confidence” (Lenarčič 2010).
Nevertheless, e-voting can offer additional functionalities to elections in areas where traditional technologies like paper ballots are limited by trying to raise and/or maintain voter turn-out, counting complicated and large-volume elections, supporting the handicapped, assisting vision-impaired voters, and facilitating remote voters’ participation in elections.
As history has shown, when a government follows a balanced and proportional approach that considers multiple dimensions and undertakes careful preparations, including deciding for a step-by-step approach, it can deploy voting technology that contributes to a better democracy.

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