Elections commissions from around the world are increasingly adopting technology to improve election administration. According to expert Robert Cook, Worldwide Business Support Vice-President for Smartmatic, biometrics and the Internet are two of the technologies that are making elections more transparent and efficient.
FindBiometrics President Peter O’Neill spoke to Robert Cook about the work this London-based company is doing to help countries run better elections.
FB: Can you please tell us about the background of Smartmatic?
Robert Cook, Worldwide Business Support Vice-President, Smartmatic: Since the year 2000, we’ve been working to create technology and offer services to help countries manage their elections. So far, we have processed over 2.5 billion auditable, secret and secure votes in elections, in five continents.
Our innovative practices to improve electoral management have made us the leader of the electronic voting industry worldwide in terms of product offering, geographical presence and technological advancement. Of the eight countries pioneering in election automation we provide technology and or services to six of them – the US, Belgium, Estonia, the Philippines, Brazil and Venezuela.
We employ over 600 people in the US, UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Mexico, Barbados, Haiti, Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, the Philippines, Indonesia, Dubai, Bulgaria and Taiwan.
FB: What are the latest biometric-related projects you’ve conducted?
Smartmatic: This year we delivered 2,000 enrollment devices to enable Zambia to update its biometric voter register across all 11 provinces. This was the continuation of a project we began in 2010 when the United Nations Development Programme selected Smartmatic to create Zambia’s first biometric voter register.
In Haiti we’re finishing the modernization of the National Civil Registry and ID System. This capacity building initiative entailed the provision of mobile biometric registration units, setting up an identity management solution and transferring all the necessary knowledge so that Haiti can use its state-of-the-art platform independently for years to come.
As Venezuela prepares to elect a new Parliament on December 6, we’re busy configuring the 39,427 biometric voter authentication devices we sold to the elections commission in 2012. Venezuela is the only country in the world that automates elections from end to end; and that implies that every single voter is biometrically authenticated before proceeding to cast a ballot.
FB: The interest in biometric technology is growing in the elections industry. What do you think is in store for the future?
Smartmatic: Over the course of the years, election commissions have realized that a legitimate election begins with a clean voter register. This is why outside of the US there is growing interest in adopting biometrics for the efficient and transparent authentication of voters.
In addition, countries have also realized that once a comprehensive biometric register is available, the information can be used in wide range of crucial government-related projects such as healthcare, financial, social and economic programs.
International organizations are increasingly funding registration projects in Africa and Eastern Europe. In the near future, we’ll probably see more and more countries using biometrics to advance transparency in elections and strengthen their democracies.
FB: Can you speak a little about Internet voting and ID management?
Smartmatic: The Internet has brought great expectations to the elections industry. Currently, election management bodies around the world see Internet voting as a perfect substitute for postal voting; and there is little doubt that the future of elections is digital.
However, as it is the case with any transaction performed online, the authentication of the person in the other side of the connection remains a challenge. This is where ID management and Biometrics are called to play an important role.
Estonia, the only country in the world that has held national elections giving its citizens the option to cast votes online for over a decade, is leading the way. Its entire e-governance model is based on an electronic Identity that is also used for voting. We’re proud to have partnered with Cybernetica, the R&D lab that developed the Estonian i-voting system, to further advance the technology and make it available for countries around the world.
Because not every country has an electronic ID, our engineers are working around the clock to develop new technology to circumvent the challenge of authentication. Biometrics will be at the core of this technology in the near future.
FB: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Robert.
Smartmatic: My pleasure, Peter.