Issues with implementing e-voting in Indonesia – A brief overview

In one of my papers I indicate that the claim on how Indonesia is ready for e-voting comes from the assumption that implementing e-voting would be similar to implementing e-banking, e-commerce, and most recently e-procurement. Several published papers on e-voting in Indonesia concerned only about technical terms and parameters, such as: how encryption can be applied on digital votes and how the architecture of the system should be. They failed, however, to look at the bigger picture of how e-voting is different from the other electronic transactions and how implementing the technology requires a more comprehensive study in, not only technical, but also social, political and cultural fields. It seems the proponents of e-voting for Indonesia’s presidential election have neglected the fact that e- voting is classified as a Safety Critical System. E-voting has a different philosophy and applies different sets of rules. For instance, e-banking provides a certain level of tolerance for any errors that may come from frauds, system faulties and dysfunctionalities, or from exploits on known system’s weaknesses. This is not the case with e-voting. Errors and non-accomplishments in vote casting, calculation and tabulation, however insignificant, may be used politically to cause losses of public confidence in the voting system and the result. This situation may lead to a public initiative for a re-election, which means increases in social and political costs. Continual losses of confidence may further affect public trust in the election organizer and in the running government, which at the end may cause social, political, economic and cultural unrests that would threaten the running of the country and endanger the life of its citizens.

The idea of applying e-voting technology in Indonesia is still debatable. Adam Schmidt of IFES, for instance, stressed on the importance of thorough assessment over e-voting applicability before jumping into conclusion that Indonesia is ready for the technology. He further stated that a failure to do so means the decision to use e-voting is ill- advised and premature. Similar notion was issued by Wardhani of Puskapol UI who suggested that Indonesia would need more proper preparations, in terms of supporting regulations, infrastructures and human resources, before deciding whether or not to use the technology.

Bruce Schneier, as quoted by Rebecca Mercuri, argued that flaws in e-voting systems mainly originate from its underlying technology, the internet. The use of the internet for e-voting system makes it highly vulnerable. The holes through which attackers could penetrate and cause malfunctions to systems connected to the internet are there to exploit, and they are known to the world. A design methodology that fully relies on obscurity or lacks transparency, thus, should be avoided. A proposed e-voting system has to be publicly assessed and verified, which unfortunately has not been the case in Indonesia. Despite the euphoria, there are very few papers about e-voting in Indonesia and none of them emphasizes on the importance of public observations and reviews.

Additionally, the reports of e-voting simulations held in Bantaeng and Boyolali strongly suggest that the technology should be used for elections at national level. One of the arguments presented is that most of the surveyed voters agreed the system is easy-to-use and worthy of trust. However, the reports inhibit impartial judgment as the respondents might have very little knowledge about e-voting. Indeed, more than 80% of the respondents were less-educated and never went to high schools. It is also said that the system provided high-level privacy as it did not store any record of the voters. Yet, they failed to realize that it may further introduce another problem, such as the absence of verifiability. The reports shows very little, if any, relevant empirical evidence to support the claim on Indonesia’s readiness to implement e-voting technology. However, the simulation in Bantaeng brought about some recommendations for future simulations, e.g. 1)strengthening legal advocation; 2)preparing certification bodies; and 3)educating voters, election officials and political parties.

I have been proposing a solution model I call E-Voting Indonesia (Hapsara, M. (2013). E-Voting Indonesia: A safety-critical-systems model towards standard and framework for Indonesia’s presidential election). The model suggests that to address issues with implementing e-voting, Indonesia needs to, firstly, have a firm understanding of the problems lingering its presidential election. It is important to map what e-voting systems have to offer as solutions to the real problems. Aspects to consider include evaluating the previous elections. Secondly, the country needs to know if they are ready with e-voting technology. This requires a thorough assessment of infrastructure readiness, examining socio-technology gap, evaluating policies and regulations, as well as assessing the availability of standards and frameworks. Last but not least, the country needs to make sure that the proposed e-voting system is well-designed. It should study whether a proposed e-voting system has been designed using Safety Critical System approach, whether the protocol has been formally assessed and verified, and whether the hardware can support the protocol. This is an on-going development study, and I really hope the result would place a firm foundation for a better democracy in my beloved country, Indonesia.

Author: Manik Hapsara

E-Voting Researcher University of New South Wales Canberra

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