Interviewed for Albanian Free Press by Alket Aliu
Mr. Hasa, the Democratic Party has imposed one condition: Electronic voting. How was this idea born and what are some of the problems of previous elections, which, in your opinion, may be avoided through electronic voting?
Yes, it’s true that the Democratic Party has started a debate on the use of a number of technological instruments in the voting system. The use of technology in the elections in Albania is not a taboo. Let us start with the issue of biometric identification, which is an integral part of it and which we consider as electronic voting.
Biometric identification would solve many problems which have been encountered in previous elections. There are a number of different issues, starting with the ink, which has also been pointed in the last report of OSCE/ODIHR. At the moment when a voter is identified biometrically, through the finger prints, this discussion ends here.
But we all have ID cards or passports…
The biometric identification that we’re talking about has got nothing to do with the use of the ID card. The identity card was introduced in 2009 and it was a big leap compared to the birth certificates. The possibility to forge a certificate was big. The use of the card minimized this. But there have also been debates on the use of cards. Does the commissioner verify all the security elements of a card? Does he take a good look at the photo? Meanwhile, the machine does not make mistakes while performing a biometric identification.
But what are the problems that will be avoided through biometric identification?
Even in the case of the voting, technology allows an identity check and makes sure that a person doesn’t vote twice. If someone attempts to do it, the system will not allow it, but even if that someone attempts to do it, it’s very easy to prosecute him. On the other hand, this identification avoids other problems: It avoids family voting and group voting. These are problems which have often been pointed out in international reports, but they are also things which we have encountered on the ground.
Let us go back to the problems of the process. So far we’ve talked about the part concerning identification…
Yes, let us move to the part concerning the voting process. Besides the fact that it facilitates the process afterwards–because, when voting takes place electronically, the ballot counting process is much simpler– electronic voting in itself visually simplifies the ballot paper. Today, it would be a nightmare if a referendum is held. If we have an easy technology of voting, referendums and public consultations are easier to be organized.
Another problem which will be prevented is the so called “carousel” effect, when a voter comes out with a ballot paper from one polling station and this ballot paper continues to circulate by being filled beforehand. The voter takes the filled ballot paper, inserts it in the box and takes the blank ballot paper which will be filled by another voter. This problem is avoided through electronic voting, because there are no ballot papers.
We also avoid an extra cost which relates to the ballot papers, but also the endless infrastructure with commissioners, because machines eliminate the need for people.
In previous elections, the DP identified the sale of vote as a major problem. But this is a problem which takes place outside polling stations. Does the electronic system have a role in this case?
With the right technology, we eliminate the problem of the photographing of the vote and pressure exerted upon the voter. If pressure is avoided by not allowing the vote to be photographed, then the issue of the sale of vote is tackled.
It seems that there is a clash in principle: DP is demanding voting to take place in the polling stations, while the SP wants migrant workers to be given the right of vote. Can the issue of migrant workers turn into a source of conflict between majority and opposition?
These are issues which must be discussed on the table. The same technology that we propose enables the voting of migrant workers. We can install several machines in polling stations abroad. We can apply electronic voting in distance through the internet, but only for the MPs of the Diaspora. At the moment the technology is in place, it enables you to discuss other issues of the Electoral Code.
Experts say that the level of security will highly depends on the method that will be selected to vote electronically. There are systems that print the ballot paper or systems which do not print it and this can have an impact on voters. How do you propose to solve this issue?
In order for the voter to have more faith on his vote, we have proposed that the vote be printed by the machine. Machines must have a system of visual printing. I think that this is an important point which hasn’t been given the necessary importance in this debate. In other words, after voting his favorite candidate or political party, the person sees the printed vote through the glass and then the vote falls inside a box within the voting machine. This way, the voter leaves the process fully convinced that his will was reflected on the ballot paper. This boosts the faith of the sides in the process, because so far we spoke about the faith of the voter on the process. At the end of the ballot counting, once the result has come out and before the result is certified, the sides may choose to open up the ballot box in a random polling station and the ballots will be counted manually. Even the counting in this case is fast and simple, because the will of the voter is clearly expressed in the printed paper.
What about the cost of this technology, is it high?
Ten years ago, it would be more expensive, but today it is something entirely different. The massive development and use of technology have reduced these costs. The sooner we decide, the more time we have to select a technology at a suitable price.
Experts say that electronic voting has had problems in different countries of the world, where it is being applied. There have been problems with the hardware and the software. Are we to trust this machine?
The printing of the ballot paper solves this problem. This is the novelty that we want to apply to avoid technology errors. This has not been done by those countries where errors have been identified. Someone can see who he has voted for and if the machinery has made any mistakes. If this is the case, it will be identified in the morning and it will be repaired. In countries where these errors have been identified, they have been identified at the end of the process, once the result has come out.