Alternative voting methods: benefits and risks, pros and cons. IPN debate

The snap or ordinary parliamentary elections are one of the major themes discussed now in the public sphere. The COVID-19 pandemic is the second theme. Most of the times, the two issues are discussed together.  More exactly, the opponents of the snap elections say these cannot be held as long as we have a serious health crisis, while the elections could worsen the situation further. It is a viable viewpoint, but is not the only one on the issue. The pandemic only brought back into focus and maximally accentuated the necessity of implementing alternative voting methods so that direct contacts of a number of people in particular places could be avoided as the traditional voting method mandatorily implies large crowds of people. What is the current situation concerning alternative voting methods, what are the benefits and risks, positions, arguments and interests of the promoters and opponents of their implementation? These and other issues were discussed by experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Alternative voting methods: benefits and risks, pros and cons” that is the 182nd edition of the project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates”.

Mihai Mogîldea, expert, team leader at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms, said the alternative voting methods refer to any method that differs from the traditional method of exercising the right to vote, which is at the polling station, as the population of the Republic of Moldova has voted during almost 30 years, in a democratic way. Respectively, the alternative voting methods come as an alternative to the traditional method and their goal is to facilitate the voting process by a series of opportunities that are opened up to the voters, regardless of the place where they are and the distance they must cover to the closest polling station, or the time and money spent for being able to vote at a time when this can be done in a much more convenient way.

The history of alternative voting in Moldova is not new. Electronic voting or postal voting has been discussed for many years. A feasibility study of electronic voting was carried out and work was done on a bill that was sent to the CEC and the CEC submitted it to Parliament. Efforts have been made also by the involved players, namely the electoral bodies and civil society that promoted these alternative voting methods.

Elena Druță, adviser to the President of the Republic of Moldova for relations with the diaspora, said electronic voting in Moldova has been considered for years. It appeared together with those migratory flows that made the population to decline and the number of citizens abroad to increase. Moldova didn’t manage to accompany those migratory flows with appropriate guarantees for the constitutional right to vote. Even if the number of polling places abroad is increased, this solution cannot fully satisfy the needs of the Moldovan citizens.

According to Elena Druță, last autumn the elections were held amid an unprecedented pandemic. The situation was dramatic for the citizens and also for the public institutions of Moldova and of other states too. The institutions in the countries that are host to Moldovans acted benevolently and enabled the Moldovans there to exercise their right to vote. Those who oppose the alternative voting methods invoke the involved risks, but the classical method also involves risks, from the transportation of citizens to the pre-filing out of the ballot.

PPPDA MP Igor Munteanu said the norms that should ensure free and fair elections should be modernized and the Electoral Code should be improved. Internal political stability should be ensured as there is internal political consensus for the Moldovans who are affiliated to the realities in Moldova to have the right to vote, no matter where they are – in Europe, America or elsewhere.

According to him, voting through the Internet is a desideratum maintained by the technicians since 2016, when the CEC received a feasibility study of electronic voting and the requirements for the electronic voting to be incorporated into the Electoral Code. After 2016, there was a long period of time during which the CEC didn’t make progress as it focused on other solutions, such as mixed voting. Despite the current political instability, the political class should consider the necessity of amending the Electoral Code and of creating a prototype so as to show the technical possibility of voting from a distance to the citizens. There are technical capacities to achieve this objective and only political opportunity is needed for the purpose.

Victor Guzun, expert in e-transformation and public administration reform at the Laboratory of Initiatives for Development (LDI Moldova), said three are a lot of myths concerning the alternative voting methods and these are based on ignorance or on unwillingness to know them. E-voting or other alternative voting methods are not intended for the diaspora only. They are a realty of our days given that an increasing number of categories of people want to use them. We live in the 21st century, but continue to vote as they voted 2000 years ago, since the paper ballot appeared. The legal framework in Moldova is functional. 17% of the population has digital authentication mechanisms. The Central Election Commission already uses all the interconnection systems for generating the electoral list, for calculating data online and only the voting itself is absent.

Victor Guzun noted in electronic voting, the used homologated digital signature cannot be decrypted in any of the elements of the voting and vote count processes. The system is then copied into two envelopes: there is the vote in one digital envelope that is introduced into another digital envelope that says who the corresponding person is and no one can see how the person voted. When the votes are counted, a series of public digital keys are used and they are distributed to a number of public institutions in Estonia or Switzerland and these are decrypted only together. The existing fears are thus controllable.

The public debate “Alternative voting methods: benefits and risks, pros and cons” is the 182nd edition of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” that is implemented with support from the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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