Indonesian E-voting: A ticking time-bomb

Manik Hapsara

E-voting Researcher @ UNSW ADFA

Disclaimer: This article is taken from my latest publication entitled “Beyond Organizational Motives of e-Government Adoption: The case of e-Voting initiative in Indonesian villages”, which has been modified to fit this blog. It tells a story of e-voting adoption for village-level elections in one regency in Indonesia, and the quotes presented are authentic.  However, to comply with the imposed research ethics, all links to the actual setting are coded. If you are interested in the full paper, please contact me at the above email.

It has been proposed that the main (intellectual) motives for launching e-government projects, such as e-voting, are to accelerate business-processes and improve services; an argument developed to accommodate efficiency-oriented rationales, mainly cost savings. Moreover, performance-related motives have also been associated with increasing the range of services, reducing service delivery-time while coping up with the ’24/7 concept’ of public service provision, reacting to competitive pressure, and addressing customer demands. The underlying idea is that e-governments promotes efficiency, while at the same time trying to improve citizen satisfaction by responding to their demands for new and better services.

The thing is, in the case of Indonesia, lower-level governments are often under a significant pressure to adopt e-voting shortly and may have been given only a small window of opportunity to properly evaluate the technology; let alone to examine how it can contribute to increasing efficiency, and to improving operation and service delivery. In terms of electoral costs, for lower-level government leaders, e-voting is not considered cheaper per se when compared to the paper-based system. One village leader stated the following when being asked whether he would like buy e-voting machines for future uses:

“… that, we do not know yet, because previously it was municipality’s program… if it has to come from our own budget, we cannot afford it. Because the computerized system did not come cheap, our village cannot afford it… it was all from the municipality government, all the devices came from there, not from the election organizer here… ”

It is noteworthy that such e-voting initiative had received very little support from the election commission and had induced arguments over its legitimacy in the parliament. The village governments, however, seem content with the condition where election logistics and the provision of the voting machines were no longer their responsibilities; because, for them, it means lower electoral costs. Ironically, did the then incumbents lose in the elections, they would have questioned the legitimacy of e-voting and result.

“… I was happy (with e-voting), because at that time I was happy I won (the election). But if at that time I did not get the number of votes I expected, I would have not been happy. Because I was happy, I did not have any problem with e-voting… so, those who got good results, they must have been satisfied with the system; but those who did not, I am sure e-voting were to blame, making it a scapegoat. So, it all depends on the perspective. Because this is a political matter, (whether or not e-voting is legitimate) is relative… ”

Should there be any occurrences of circumstances giving rise to electoral disputes, therefore, the introduction of voting technology will likely jeopardize democratic practices in Indonesia and simply toss the considerably large investment the government make in the new system into the bin. Just like a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode.

Author: Manik Hapsara

E-Voting Researcher University of New South Wales Canberra

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