Vote of Confidence: Countries Looking Forward

A few weeks ago, this series focused on two recent voting events in Kenya and Venezuela that demonstrated how the shortcomings of a traditional electoral process cast results into doubt and erode trust between governments and their constituents. The piece illustrated a dire, but nonetheless salient, side of the global democratic process. And, while these cases serve to demonstrate the true costs of faulty elects, it is also important to spotlight those countries whose electoral systems have been improved the efficacy and trustworthiness of their democracies through substantial reform. These cases not only offer hope for the future of democracy, they offer a blueprint for a range of different country cases.

India is consistently tasked with orchestrating the world’s largest, most complex elections. 800 million citizens participated in the 2014 General Elections in which Narendra Modi and his BJP party took a decisive and historic victory, winning nearly 32% of the seats in the in the 16th Lok Sabha (India’s Parliament), the lowest percentage to win a majority in India’s modern history. What was more remarkable than the victory, however, is how smoothly the election was conducted. Despite the fact that more than 10% of the global population participated in the election, there were virtually no hiccups. A large part of India’s electoral success comes from an understated piece of equipment called an Election Voting Machine (EVM). This small electronic device, deployed around the country by the Election Commission of India, are completely uniform and easy to use. In a country where there are 1,652 recognized languages, carefully thought symbols make every command clear for all participants — regardless of rate of literacy. Unlike in most countries, the election lasted for over a month, giving constituents ample time to vote in person.

Estonia, a country that is unlike India in nearly every way, has also taken drastic measures to ensure the greatest turnout rate possible for its elections. Since 2005, Estonia has given its citizens the option to cast their votes in nationwide elections online via a secure platform. Votes can be cast as many times as is necessary, with only the final vote being counted. This process prevents voter coercion during a single, in-person cast. Voters who typically have issues with access can vote from the convenience of their homes. Over the past years the option has become a popular option for Estonians. In the most recent election, 30% of the Estonian public opted to vote online instead of making their way to their local polling places. While it still isn’t the sole option for voters, e-voting has offered a viable option for those who cannot vote otherwise and, as a result, voter turnout is trending upwards and the overall cost of running elections has decreased.

These cases don’t to serve as the perfect prescription for the rest of the world, but they do demonstrate how certain countries have made their voting processes a priority for the betterment of their democracies. India and Estonia could not be more different, arguably the most diverse country on earth and the most homogenous respectively, but both have found ways to improve their elections based on their constituencies. All countries have the capability to hone their electoral process, it is simply a matter of prioritization. Our hope is that more countries make the financial and civic commitment required to make the requisite changes to facilitate an improved voting process for their citizens.

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