Published in Linkedin, 19.11.2021
On October 24 “Nea Demokratia” (New Democracy), Greece’s governing centre-right party, held its intra-party elections. Because of the pandemic, they were held in a hybrid format, both in-person, in specifically designated polling stations, and electronically, online, through the use of a specific e-voting system.
The elections were generally considered a success, with both high voter turnout and candidates’ participation. The electronic system operated seamlessly alongside its real-world equivalent. However, these elections being an unprecedented (on a national scale) electronic voting event in Greece and the pandemic conditions affecting them, this article will briefly present a few preliminary findings at the cross-section of off-line and on-line intra-party elections. The hope is that, no matter how unique (hopefully) the conditions, they will prove useful to future similar undertakings. (However, this article will not discuss intra-party elections’ theory in general, a distinct field of political studies that falls outside the boundaries of this short presentation.)
Ι. Voter registrations
The elections were held only among registered party members, they were therefore not open either to the general public or to the Party’s “friends”. Voter registrations reached a particularly high level: a total of 135.000 Party members registered to vote. Similarly, the elections gathered increased interest by candidates: A total of 7.000 people competed for various party assignments around Greece (including the posts of delegates in the Party’s forthcoming 14th National Conference, to be held in early December 2021).
The Party applied a system whereby those interested in voting electronically would have to state their wish ten days before the elections. This would allow the Party to draft its voting lists in a timely manner. In essence, two separate voting lists were created, one for each voting procedure, and voters were not allowed to switch among them after expiration of the cut-off date.
A last point to be noted is the role of the covid-19 pandemic: The elections were held during a period when the pandemic was still in full effect around Europe. While no confinement measures were imposed in Greece at the time that the elections took place, extraordinary measures similar to those applied in the rest of Europe were taken, and public concern among Greeks reached similar levels.
Nevertheless, in spite of the pandemic, only 20% of voters registered to vote electronically. All others opted to visit the brick-and-mortar polling stations, an exercise that required a considerable effort by the Party in view of the additional covid-19 measures applicable at the time. In the same context, men were disproportionately more eager to vote than women: Out of the total number of registered voters, 71% were men and only 29% women.
II. Gender and age differences in electronic voting
Among the around 25.000 voters who opted to vote electronically, gender did not seem to occupy an important dividing line: 41% of the e-voters were women and 59% men. This finding seems to confirm scientific findings that technology adoption and use does not present significant differences between genders. Accordingly, this 20% difference can perhaps be attributed to the novelty of e-voting in Greece, this being an unprecedented exercise at national level, that required some willingness to experiment with new online tools and readiness to resolve any technical difficulties on the day of the election.
Nevertheless, age did hold an important role: 40% of the e-voters were up to 35 years old, leaving the remaining 60% to be divided among all other age groups. As perhaps expected, a new technology to replace a traditional, practiced over decades real-world experience, was mostly embraced by those who had voted, relatively, few times in their lifetime.
III. Did e-voting facilitate voting in rural areas?
One of the assumed advantages of electronic voting is increased voter turnout from relatively isolated, rural areas, whose voters have to travel significant distances in order to reach their nearest polling station.
This assumption was effectively confirmed: Of those registered to vote electronically only 24,6% came from Athens. Athens is the country’s capital, accounting for more than half of Greece’s total population. The fact that only one fourth of the total number of e-voters came from Athens shows that voters outside Athens took advantage from the opportunity to vote electronically (admittedly, however, the above percentage needs to be increased through addition of other Greek major cities, most notably Thessaloniki).
IV. Multiple voting – how many times did an e-voter change his/her vote?
An important concern of electronic voting (replicating postal voting shortcomings) is maintaining the secrecy of the vote. In other words, outside polling station conditions, where a voter votes alone behind a closed curtain, how can one be certain that third parties (e.g. employers, family, friends etc.) have not affected his/her vote? How can we know that a voter was not psychologically or physically pressed when voting, or even, that his or her vote was not bought by a third party who voted in his/her place?
To address this issue the Party allowed for multiple electronic voting: An e-vote could be cast as many times as one wishes on the elections’ day, and only the last vote counts. In this way, even if pressure was exercised on the voter at one point during elections’ day, the voter could easily change his/her vote later on, within seconds.
Overall, during the elections e-voters voted 1.5 times on average. Therefore, while the majority cast its e-vote only once, a significant number of e-voters later on the day changed their vote for whatever reason. Taking this finding into account, the Party’s policy option to allow for multiple voting (a technical option of course made possible by the e-voting system) was confirmed.
V. Some preliminary conclusions
Based on member-count, Nea Demokratia is the largest party in Greece and the largest centre-right party in the EU. Therefore, findings on an e-voting intra-party election are significant in the sense that they can be representative. This is further confirmed by the large voter turnout and candidates’ interest during these elections. The hybrid option and the covid-19 conditions make findings also particularly relevant.
Taking the above into account, it would seem that a general option for national elections to be held in a hybrid format makes little sense. If only 20% of voters opted to vote electronically despite the pandemic, then within “normal” circumstances this percentage will presumably be even lower. While not insignificant, it perhaps does not justify the additional resources necessary for hybrid elections.
Having said that, an e-voting system does seem to favour decentralised voting. Voters living in rural areas seem to take advantage of the possibility not to travel to their nearest polling station with more enthusiasm than city dwellers.
Finally, while gender seems to hold a minor role in voter selection (to be presumably evened out if the relevant technology becomes mainstream), age does seem to be important, with young people (up to 35yo) opting disproportionately in favour of e-voting than their parents. Based on that finding alone an assumption can be made that, although for now electronic elections may not seem relevant, in the future, once this age group reaches parenthood, it may decide to impose them to the, at that time, political parties.