How does the cloud influence election processes?
Global shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic have escalated calls for sensor-led, as opposed to shovel-ready, projects.
This push has been fuelled by increased awareness of the technological capabilities and social implications of Cloud computing. The preferred mode of working, the products and services being produced, and consumer expectations are changing. With an election imminent in New Zealand the question arises: could the Cloud have implications for engagement with, and management of, the election process?
While most voting mechanisms are not currently connected to the Cloud, there is widespread recognition that Cloud computing has the potential to facilitate voter registration, manage online voting, store data and speed up the delivery of results on election night. Added to this the technological affordances of the Cloud can influence the broader democratic political process.
The Cloud has the potential to provide a more resilient voting system. Traditional on-site servers tend not to have the capacity to handle traffic spikes to election-related websites such as those that provide voting information or election results, or, for example, surges during the election. The Cloud has the capacity to auto-scale bandwidths in order to adapt to increased traffic, enabling websites to stay up and running.
Reliable, cheap data storage is another potential advantage of the Cloud. Traditional forms of storage of election data can be expensive. Cloud storage tends to cost less than traditional data systems because Cloud computing is providing storage services on a larger scale. Public and hybrid Clouds options provide even lower cost solutions.
Security is a major concern for election related data, with some cybersecurity experts advising against using online voting mechanisms or apps because they leave no paper trail. In particular, there is concern that Cloud based data systems could undermine the reliability of election results, and in turn undermine the democratic process. On the other hand, Cloud computing can securely store voter registration and voting data with more up-to-date and robust security systems, and allow for more frequent audits. Sensitive data can be reliably shielded from external scrutiny in a locally managed system, yet restricted access can be granted through the public Cloud, but with highly levels of discretion.
There is no doubt that the Cloud can offer options for increased voter accessibility. Throughout the world governments have begun to investigate Cloud capabilities in order to manage the voting process, particularly as a result of the current public health crisis. This is leading to increased consumer acceptance that Cloud computing will play an essential role in post-Covid democratic processes.
The cloud creates new paradigms for the technologies that support the business. These new paradigms also change how those technologies are adopted, managed, and governed. When entire datacenters can be virtually torn down and rebuilt with one line of code executed by an unattended process, we have to rethink traditional approaches. This is especially true for governance. Cloud governance is an iterative process. For organizations with existing policies that govern on-premises IT environments, cloud governance should complement those policies. The level of corporate policy integration between on-premises and the cloud varies depending on cloud governance maturity and a digital estate in the cloud. As the cloud estate changes over time, so do cloud governance processes and policies.