Evaluating New Voting Technologies in Latin America

Working Paper No.: 
93
Date Published: 
12/14/2009
Author(s): 
R. Michael Alvarez
Caltech
Gabriel Katz

Having remained virtually unchanged since the enactment of universal and secret suffrage at the end of the nineteenth century, voting procedures are undergoing a radical transformation in many countries through the introduction of electronic methods of voting. Almost 30 countries around the world are currently in process of testing or implementing electronic voting, and in at least 10 countries e-voting is the main method used to elect national representatives (Alvarez and Hall 2008; Pomares 2009). Although it might be assumed that electronic voting would be more likely to arise in established democracies, e-voting has disseminated rapidly and extensively in the developing world. Two of the most populous democracies in the world, Brazil and India, are among the pioneers in switching to electronic voting (e.g., Rodrigues-Filho et al. 2006; Kumar 2008). Furthermore, one third of the countries testing electronic voting are in Latin America. What explains both of these trends?
Our argument is that new technologies offer a potential tool to mitigate electoral fraud and increase public trust in the efficacy and transparency of electoral processes in the region (Avgerou et al. 2009; Barrat 2006). In fact, this has been an important determinant for the adoption of electronic voting in the two countries of the region that currently use e-voting for all official elections, Brazil and Venezuela. For example, acording to the rapporteur to the Special Committee on the Security of Electronic Voting established by the Brazilian chamber of Deputies in 2007, “voting through voting machines began in Brazil in 1996 motivated particularly by the need to combat fraud.” (p. 4, original in Portuguese). Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the lack of trust in the fairness and legitimacy of elections was also an important concern of Venezuelan authorities when switching to voting machines.
But more than a decade after the introduction of electronic voting in Latin America, there is scant research on voters’ opinions about e-voting along these dimensions and no analysis of their policy implications. This paper provides a first attempt to address these issues from a comparative perspective, using survey data from recent e-voting pilots conducted in Argentina and Colombia in which several different e-voting devices were tested. The data collected during the two field experiments allows us to study voters' assessments of electronic voting and their determinants, with special emphasis on the analysis of their opinions about the usability and reliability of the new voting technologies. In view of the opposing arguments about the convenience of implementing electronic voting systems in Latin America (Rezende 2003; Rodrigues-Filho et al. 2006) and the lack of empirical evidence informing this debate, our research can provide valuable insights about the implications of adopting the new voting technologies and their potential to enhance the quality of electoral processes in the region. The randomized experimental design used in the two pilots analyzed mitigates some of the problems that have plagued previous studies in this area, such as endogenous adoption of voting technologies and self-selection into different voting devices (Saltman, 2006; Herron and Wand 2007; Herron, Mebane and Wand 2008, Stein et al. 2008), while allowing for a more realistic and representative environment than laboratory experiments (Harrison and List 2004).

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