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the evolution of the
must not come to
a standstill just
challenges lie ahead.
There are only very few countries in Europe that have resisted (so far) the urge
to jump on the e-voting bandwagon—
among those is Denmark, a small country of slightly more than 5. 5 million
people. Denmark has a long history of
democracy in Europe and is top-ranked
according to the information society
index (ISI)—an index often quoted for
comparing countries according to their
ability to access and absorb information and information technology. E-voting is not banned by law, no trials
have been conducted on the national
level to date, citizens generally respect
and trust their government and politicians, and there is an educated electorate with a pervasive desire for fairness,
openness, and equality.
Earlier this year, the Danish Board
of Technology, an advisory committee
to the government, released a report
recommending Denmark to take initial exploratory steps toward research
in and experimentation with e-voting
technology, with the goal to improve
the implementation of constitutional
law. One aspect of the recommendations includes requiring a secret and
free vote for all—not just those who
are able to see, read, write, or visit the
polling station on Election Day. The
report even went so far as to propose
an experimental deployment of mobile networked voting vans, visiting
the elderly and those with disabilities
on Election Day. There is little to disagree with: information technology
can make elections more inclusive,
more lawful, and also more convenient for those who run them.
a standstill just because serious challenges lie ahead.
Denmark has a long tradition of
public control in nationwide elections.
On Election Day, volunteers assume
the role of election observers who oversee the entire voting process from early
morning to late at night. They meet,
look over each others’ shoulders, tally
and recount every vote as required
by law, and by doing so, create much
of the overall trust in the Danish voting process. Unfortunately, the numbers of volunteer election observers
are dwindling, which is problematic
as currently the demand exceeds supply. Denmark’s municipalities do not
expect this trend to change soon, but
hope instead for information technology to complement the smaller corps
of election observers.
Therefore, Denmark will sooner
or later follow its European partners
and jump on the bandwagon—at least
for casting votes. Since 1984, the final
result of an election—the number of
seats awarded to each party in Parliament—is calculated by a computer
program that runs on a Unix workstation located at the Ministry of the Interior and Health. The results computed
that way are legally binding. For casting the vote, on the other hand, Danish
law needs to be changed, because in its
current form, it is prohibitively restrictive. All details are regulated, including
how to design a ballot form and how to
distinguish valid from invalid votes.
Denmark has evolved its voting
laws over many decades. It became a
constitutional democracy in 1849, ballots were made secret in 1901, women
obtained the right to vote in 1915, ballots were allowed to be cast by letter
since 1920, Danes living abroad obtained the right to vote in 1970, and in
1978 the legal voting age was set to 18.
In 2009, the voting law was changed
to require that any visually impaired
voter must be accompanied by an
election observer when casting a vote.
The law will soon evolve to accommodate information technology, and this
will happen in the spirit of the Danish tradition of participatory design.
Decision makers, administrators, and
(computer, social, and political) scientists, will work together in the best
interest of democracy.
In this, I believe, Denmark stands
apart from many other countries that
are currently introducing new voting