E-Voting and Indonesia’s Elections

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By: Ikhsan Darmawan

A local election was recently (April 17) held in Bantaeng regency, South Sulawesi. The election was important and interesting as in some parts of the regency an electronic voting (e-voting) system was implemented as part of a pilot project. A simulation of e-voting was put on trial at 42 of a total 361 polling stations.

The simulation has apparently received positive responses from various quarters. Idrus Paturusi, rector of Hasanuddin University, said the implementation of e-voting was proven to be more effective and efficient if compared with the manual system, with a greater level of accuracy. Idrus, who is also chairman of the Rectors Forum, said he would put forward the results of the simulation to the House of Representatives’ Commission II as a reference for the 2014 election system.

Chairman of the Election Supervisory Committee (Bawaslu), Muhammad Alhamid, shared Idrus’ opinion, saying that e-voting would reduce the budget spent on the organization of local elections and eliminate potential violations during ballot counting.

The question now is whether e-voting will be equally effective, efficient and reliable if implemented nationwide and whether Indonesia is ready for the system.

In 2010, I, along with three colleagues, did research on e-voting in Jembrana regency, Bali. The system was put on trial in an election of a community head in the regency. The results showed that along with its strengths, e-voting also had weaknesses.

One important weakness is the minimal level of trust the voters of Jembrana had in the system. They expressed caution that government or election committee officials could easily manipulate their votes via the system.

A second weakness was the problem with e-voting technological illiteracy, especially for older voters. The same thing also happened in Jembrana. Moreover, as the older voters could not use the voting machine, they then asked for help from duty election officials. As a consequence, the election lost its element of secrecy.

The third weakness is the question of whether the e-voting system is truly efficient or not. It is true that if we only calculate the actual spending on the establishment of e-voting in an election, especially local elections, the total spending for the purchase of e-voting equipment is cheaper than conventional voting. Nevertheless, if we include the budget for system maintenance, we might be surprised that the total spending is bigger than using the conventional method.

The fourth weakness is legitimacy of the election. If election officials do not have excellent knowledge of e-voting, the legitimacy of the election will suffer.

As those problems were found in Jembrana, it is not impossible that they might also have happened in Bantaeng. Researchers have also found similar problems in other countries.

So, before we make a decision on e-voting, we must consider at least four aspects. First is voter behavior, second is technology, third is budget availability and last but not least, necessary regulation on e-voting in the election law as the legal umbrella for its implementation.

Now, what is the possibility of using e-voting in Indonesia? It is clear that all the above-mentioned aspects must be taken into consideration prior to deciding on e-voting. The government, as the end-user, also has to draw up the blueprint for the e-voting policy, review and prepare the appropriate technology, calculate the budget, anticipate security systems and conduct the pilot projects.

As a comparison, the Philippines needed two series of elections before they decided to implement the e-voting system. Argentina, Belarus, Bulgaria, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland and Italy are among the countries that have conducted pilot-testing on e-voting.

To summarize, the government needs to consider all aspects and the results of what has been implemented in Bantaeng in the pilot project. Then the government needs to conduct other projects, particularly to massively disseminate the e-voting system in an attempt to gain the electorate’s support for and trust in the system. Should the nation eventually agree with the system, there would be a period of five to 10 years of preparation before we would be completely ready to implement the e-voting system in our national and regional elections.

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Footnote: This opinion article has been displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday, 28th April 2013; and in Paper Edition, it was available at Page: 4. The original and full article is also available at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/04/28/e-voting-and-indonesia-s-elections.html [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 29 April 2013].

The writer is a lecturer at the department of political science, University of Indonesia.

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