Lefterie Luzi has been the chair of the Central Election Commission in the period from 2012 until 2016. She has monitored the implementation of two pilot projects: the one on the electronic identification of voters in Tirana and electronic ballot counting in Fier. Both projects have failed While the debate on electronic voting has started, the former chair of CEC, who knows this process very well, says that electronic voting system is likely to fail.
Interviewed for Albanian Free Press by Alket Aliu
What does electronic voting mean and is the electronic identification of voters included in this process?
Political parties must be precise in what they demand through this process. There are different ways of electronic voting and electronic ballot counting. So, political parties must be clear as to which methods they will choose to apply in Albania. They are the ones who will determine if the electronic identification of voters will be included in it.
Are you in favor or against such voting?
First of all, I would say that we must be realistic when we refer to the voting process and electronic counting and I cannot say beforehand if I’m in favor or against. We need to take into account Albania’s specific problems and realize that we cannot be compared to other countries by saying: see how good the electronic voting went in Belgium or India, for instance, and decide to implement it here as well.
We cannot compare to any other country because we have a very small number of voters compared to other countries. We have around 3,4 million eligible voters and only 48 to 50% of them vote, which means, the number of those who vote is around 1,5 million. Do you think it’s necessary to apply electronic voting for 1,5 million voters at a time India, the Philippines and Brazil have hundreds of millions of voters? If these countries counted their ballots manually, then it would take years for them to count them. Under these circumstances, they accept the flaws of these machineries, as it was shown by the most recent case in India, where there were problems in the electronic voting system. But in India, no political party contested these problems, because they had no other option but to use electronic voting. So, in this case, political parties have come to an agreement to accept the result yielded by the electronic system without contesting it.
You say that there must be trust between political parties in order to implement the electronic system, while the parties are demanding this electronic system due to the lack of trust on one another. Are we in a vicious circle?
As it happens in every family, even in politics, trust is the most important thing in order to build healthy relations. And this is even truer when it comes to the elections. There must be a lot of trust in the elections, especially in the use of technology.
So, if the sides trust each other, then there’s nothing impossible. But, I am under the impression that this system is being requested due to the lack of trust. In this case, the solution may not work out.
We must not choose electronic voting due to the lack of trust that we have in the elections, but the opposite. We must trust each other in order to choose electronic voting. If we are skeptic at the very start on electronic voting, then the project would be a failed one. One of the causes that led to the failure of both pilot projects, besides technical causes, was the fact that the sides did not have faith on the process, at a time when they, themselves, built the process.
But there are also other reasons why the system may not work out. We may look at the technical side of things. In 2013, the ballot paper with 66 parties in it could not be scanned and in the meantime, Albania has 128 parties.
Let us talk about the costs. How much are we going to have to pay for this new method of voting?
The cost is very high. Millions of euros were the cost of the pilot projects and millions of more will be spent if the project will expand throughout the country. This sort of system has a significant cost in other countries of the world too and not only in Albania.
We cannot determine beforehand for a particular cost, because this depends on the system that we choose. It also depends on whether the state will purchase all equipment and will be the one to build the system or whether it will outsource the service to a private company. However, in any case, the cost is high, much higher than the method that is being applied today, manual voting.
The high cost doesn’t justify the small number of voters and not top of this, the sides would still not have faith in it. What would this lead us to? The losing party would claim that it had lost as a result of the system or the company that was in charge of the system.
The risk of high costs is even bigger if we add the possibility of failure, because on top of it, there will also be the cost of solving the problem. This means that the process will need to go back to the manual voting system, because people must vote.
So, you’re saying that we will spend tens of millions of euros to establish a system which will not guarantee the mission for which it was introduced?
Precisely. I don’t think electronic voting is a solution when there’s a lack of trust. Let us refer to the latest agreement that political parties made prior to the elections. Where did it lead to? It lead to the elections being more quiet than the previous ones. So, the sides reached the agreement based on trust and this had an impact on the elections. Of course, there are problems, but if we compare these elections to previous years in terms of what the political parties brought, they were better than other elections.