Last month, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address.
His speech focused on the nation's most pressing issues, including strengthening democracy. Before Congress, guests and the American people President Obama called for making voting easier, not harder, for all Americans.
In a little noticed part of his speech, the President made clear that one of his priorities in his final year would be to push to upgrade America's voting system and "modernize it for the way we live now." In doing so, he acknowledged that the current system is outdated, and he demonstrated a bold commitment to ensuring that the same level of daily modernity, security and convenience enjoyed by US citizens would be reflected in the manner in which they exercise one of their most treasured rights.
President Obama believes that the US can, and should, adopt a more contemporary approach to its election technology. And I couldn't agree with this proposed reform more. As chairman of Smartmatic I have seen how incorporating modern tools into a nation's election process benefits citizens and governments, and it is a practice all nations (not just the US) should adopt. Doing so makes elections more efficient, transparent, accountable and accessible from registration to voting and ultimately helps to strengthen democracy.
Among the many benefits, newer, updated systems reduce polling lines, granting more freedom to people who must leave work to vote. They allow handicapped voters to hear ballot options, voters to select language preferences, election commissions to audit polling stations, and offices to speed up ballot counting. Most important, perhaps, these systems are more secure and more reliable than the outdated machines they should replace.
Regardless of the specific technology, its benefits, and where it's adopted, the type of modern and accessible voting system called for by the President must be founded on several core principles.
Its technology must be simple and easy-to-use both by voters and polling officials alike; it must make life easier for election officials through logistical and management efficiencies; it must provide transparency to third-party validators; and it must be impenetrably secure and affordable to local election bodies and, ultimately, the taxpayer. It may sound novel, but it's not.
Today, systems like these exist and are being used successfully in select nations around the world.
Belgium, for example, adopted a system using stand-alone voting machines that use screens to provide a user-friendly voter experience. With this technology, Belgium conducted the first ever EU Parliamentary elections with paper trail in 2014, helping to ensure greater transparency.
In Brazil, during their last election two years ago, over 141 million voters elected 1,709 officials from 26,131 candidates by way of electronic voting. Doing so, resulted in its national elections registering the lowest cost per vote the country has seen in 16 years.
Belgium and Brazil represent just two of the many countries taking steps to advance efficiencies within their democracy. Adopting electronic and internet voting systems has helped numerous other countries such as the Philippines and Estonia increase voter participation, audit their elections, conduct elections efficiently and affordably and build confidence in their government.
President Obama's call shows a desire to maintain America as the indisputable innovator in democracy. The US--the country that produced Silicon Valley, Google and Facebook--cannot afford a repeat of the infamous "hanging chad" affair of 2000 as such incidents serve to undermine its democratic standing in the world.