Kume: Electronic voting may work out, but not for migrant workers

Kume: Electronic voting may work out, but not for migrant workers
The former chair of Central Election Commission, Prof. Dr. Kristaq Kume, explains electronic voting may be successful in the touch-screen version, but only within the polling station. Why must voting from home, which could benefit to Albanians abroad, not be considered as a possibility in Albania’s conditions?

The former chairman of the Central Election Commission, Prof. Dr. Kristaq Kume is one of the people who has followed since the very beginning the debate on the introduction of the electronic voting system in Albania. Kume is enthusiastic about the use of the technology of information, but only in case of a “closed system”, meaning, within polling stations. According to him, this is the only way to avoid the possibility of hacking information transmitted online, and as a result, rigging the election result.

Interviewed for Albanian Free Press by Alket Aliu

Prof. Kume, it’s been a while now that there are discussions on the election reform and the changes that must be made with the voting system. How do you view this debate between the political sides?

The voting process is one of the simplest processes that can be realized. Nevertheless, it is a very important process, because it is the process which enables voters to elect the people who will govern society. In a society like ours, we all know what it means to have power and as a result, those who run for power use all the instruments at their disposal to attain their goal. This has made the voting process, even in the electoral law of the Republic of Albania, a process filled with procedures. We try our best to draw rules with the aim of controlling each other as much as possible in this process. We believe on the process. The situation that we’re in today is more than bizarre, because we don’t trust our own electoral process.

The electronic voting system is on the table now…

It’s true, the sides are requesting the introduction of information technology. The reason why it is being requested is that politicians don’t trust the administration of this process by people. If people have a tendency to steal, as they say, then let us turn to something inanimate, which is technology. But here, they intentionally ignore something else: Information technology is not a way to build trust between the sides. It is not a way to restore trust on the process and on the result of the process, if you don’t have faith on the use of this technology.  

So, trust between the sides is a prerequisite for the system to work out…

Yes, by all means. If you don’t have faith in it, then you should not take an unknown route, from which it will be impossible to escape.

You have followed the efforts for this process since the very begging, when there were talks for a pilot project. Can you offer a definition of this process?

If we take into account the manuals that refer to these kinds of problems, the term “electronic voting” implies the possibility offered to the voter to vote without showing up at the polling station, meaning, they would vote from home by exploiting internet. Therefore, this is why I have often insisted that there should be a clear definition. If it implies what I just said above, not only this should not be part of the discussion, but nobody should ever think about experimenting this process in Albania’s conditions.

International experiences have shown that this process is prone to hacking and attacks. The problems that it has created led to the German Constitutional Court to rule them unconstitutional, while Holland has rejected them. So, this way of voting is highly exposed to interventions.

But it has also been suggested to use this technology in order to enable the voting of Albanian migrant workers…

If we justify the request for electronic voting with the fact that migrant workers living abroad will have more chances to vote, is absurd. I repeat, nobody should ever thing to experiment such thing in Albania.

How can this technology be used then?

I think that we should understand what opportunities information technology offers in the management of the voting system, which means: Can this technology be used to identify voters through biometric identification, as it happened with the pilot project that started in Tirana and failed? If this technology is used, then this method doesn’t allow people to vote with someone else’s ID card and it doesn’t allow for repeated voting.  But this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of buying the votes. This phenomenon has nothing to do with the process and cannot be addressed within the process.

So, in essence, you’re against the use of electronic voting?

If, in essence, we agree on using this possibility that technology offers, through the electronic biometric identification of voters in polling stations and then touch-screen voting, all of this, in my opinion, should be realized as a closed process in the polling station. This means that the polling center must not have online access, because if there is online access, then there’s a higher risk of hacking the system. Not only we’re unprepared of preventing this, but even if this doesn’t happen, tomorrow, the party losing the elections may use this to claim that this is not the genuine result because the result was hacked. If this method is strictly applied inside the polling station, than this technology may be successful and it should only be used once it’s tested.

Today, we can test this method in the local government elections and then, judging by the election outcome, we may look into the possibility of applying it in general elections.

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