Lessons from some summer votes, when will it be possible to vote online in Spain?
In this opinion article, Javier Natividad, commercial director of Víntegris, reflects on the lessons that the elections on July 23 have taught us regarding voting by mail.
The last general elections have broken at least one historical record: that of people who have exercised their right to vote by mail. From a practical perspective, the elections on July 23rd raised concerns and raised dilemmas for those preparing to enjoy their vacation days or who were away from home. It is unsurprising that close to 2.5 million people in Spain opted for an alternative – the only one available today – to voting in person at the polls. The post-mail figures indicate that the volume of votes admitted is 99.08% more than the total number of votes admitted in the previous general elections held in April 2019. It is not surprising that nearly 20,000 postal service contracts needed reinforcement to meet the demand of the procedure.
Undoubtedly, participation by post has been a solution, but it may fall short for many people, so why not make a vote online a reality? In a society immersed in digital transformation and with the upcoming addition of digital native voters, it seems more necessary than a possibility.
In several countries, including Spain, digitized voting is an issue that has been studied – for decades – and, in some cases, has been introduced through non-binding pilot projects. Thus, for example, the Basque Government developed its own electronic voting system, called Demotek, which was used in various electoral processes, such as the elections at the University of the Basque Country, those of the Athletic Club of Bilbao, and a pilot test in the elections to the Parliament of Catalonia.
However, the project did not prosper due to the lack of support. In different autonomous communities, electronic voting tests have been carried out in the past 20 years using various methodologies: magnetic stripe, touch screen, or even via the Internet, but none of them obtained outstanding results to promote their generalization.
For example, citizens abroad can vote electronically in neighboring countries like France. But the reality is that, in the middle of 2023, Estonia is still the only European country where any voter can exercise this right online. And it does not stop there since the Baltic country also has many other tools to digitally facilitate citizen participation in political life. And it is that the digitization of public life, undoubtedly, can revolutionize how citizens carry out procedures with the administration, and many other daily procedures, more quickly and efficiently.
Until today, we have heard that the technology to make electronic voting a reality in Spain is ready. However, achieving a political consensus at the regulatory level is still necessary, and facing other key challenges such as security and authentication. If before we mentioned the progress of digital transformation in our day-to-day, it can be assumed that more and more procedures, such as exercising the right to vote, that society itself requires to be able to carry out online. Therefore, we must build a secure online environment that allows us to operate with the maximum guarantees both for the correct development of procedures and for protecting our privacy and digital identity.
Do we have the technology capable of guaranteeing that the person casting the vote is truly who they say they are, respecting the secret ballot, and that the results are not manipulated?
The answer is that, for this to happen, we have an inalienable need to have qualified providers of trusted electronic services to manage digital identities and processes.
If today we want to request a vote electronically without going to a Post Mail Office, we must have an electronic ID or a valid digital certificate. Suppose the massive digital voting option is implemented for Spanish citizens. In that case, the need to manage qualified digital identities will be essential and, therefore, the use of qualified trust service providers to offer maximum security. We must have digital, reliable, and secure environments for electronic voting to be a reality.
“The technology is ready, but political consensus is needed. The only European country where it is fully possible is Estonia.”
Trusted Electronic Services
Trusted electronic services, such as Víntegris, are highly regulated services controlled by the EU governments that are related to the identity of individuals and companies. Its main objective is to guarantee the digital interactions among them meet all the technical and security requirements necessary to certify that digital identities and the information shared by electronic means are real, confidential, and reliable.
In Europe, work continues to build a safe and connected digital environment. The eIDAS2 regulation contemplates the creation of our digital identity of the future, which goes through a portfolio or wallet where each person can have their digital certificates and personal history. From educational titles to electronic signatures or timestamps that guarantee the origin and validity of a document or an acquired good.
European regulatory framework
Could this European regulatory framework also mean one more step to bring digital voting closer to citizens? We know that the time to vote online will come. Know when it depends on the collective will at the regulatory and social levels. With the results of the July 23rd Spanish general elections just out of the polls, all scenarios remain open, including possible new elections in the next six months. When they arrive, can we finally say that secure internet voting in Spain is a reality?