Using a Web application could help reduce the abstention rate at elections. But there are still security issues to be sorted out before such a system can be implemented for real.

In order to reduce the abstention rate at elections, researchers at RiceUniversitypropose using a tool that is nowadays being carried around by more and more people: the smartphone. According to these American researchers, this would enable voters to use a familiar – and mobile – technology that should also help cut down on the kind of errors and problems that came to light in several US States during the 2000 Presidential elections. So they tested their idea by setting up a fictitious election in which a panel of 55 people took part, 44% of whom were smartphone owners. The volunteers were asked to use both traditional USvoting tools (electronic voting machine or the old-fashioned punched card system), and a smartphone application. The mobile voting system used an application which allowed separate voting for each election.

Similar error rates

Obviously the voters needed to be able to view all the candidates contesting a particular election in order to make their choice. At the end of the process, the voter’s choice was underlined in orange and the voter could go back and change his/her vote at any time. The study findings show that the general error rate (e.g. selection error, no vote recorded, etc) was pretty much the same from one system to the other: 2.6% on the mobile application and 2.4 % using the traditional tools. The study did show that regular smartphone users made far fewer mistakes with the mobile voting system than with the electronic voting machine or the punched cards (0.2 % mistakes compared with 1.6 %). However, for those volunteers who didn’t own a latest generation phone the results were the opposite: (2.4 % on the mobile application and 0.8 % for the other voting methods).

Mobilevoting slower, but not necessarily less efficient 

On average, the volunteer voters took 90 seconds longer to complete their ballot on a mobile phone than using the traditional methods. However, the researchers point out that this doesn’t mean the system is any less efficient, since this time loss is more than compensated for by not having to travel to the voting station and line up at the booth. And we can also add on the positive side the potentially significant cost savings for the State administration. There are, of course, many other problems that still have to be resolved, such as the security needed for a voting process via a mobile device.