It’s election season in Germany—we just elected a new government using pen and paper ballots. For important elections like these, pen and paper —or at least a system with a strong paper audit trail—is the way to go.
But not every election should be as complex or resource-intensive as a government election of a major country.
In addition to federal elections, this is also the time of year that Germans vote for our schools’ and kindergarten’s parent councils, which are somewhat similar to parent-teacher associations in the United States. Nonprofits throughout the country are also electing Boards of Directors.
Some of these non-government elections are handling their elections a bit differently: outside of my day job as SecurID Global Cloud Identity Architect, I also chair a nonprofit called “abstimmen.online e.V.” (‘abstimmen’ is the German word for ‘vote’). As you can probably guess by the name, our non-profit helps associations, schools, universities and more to hold online elections.
Originally, the idea behind abstimmen.online was to replace in-person elections. If you’ve ever been involved in a parent council or non-profit organization’s election, then you’ve likely experienced low voter turnout and participation: the worst-case participation rates I’ve seen remain in the single digits.
Our thinking was that online voting could simplify the voting process and increase turnout by giving everyone a very convenient way of making their voice heard. We’ve seen organizations that use abstimmen.online for online voting increase their turnout by 50% and more—an astronomically high rate for volunteer elections, and a major turnaround for certain organizations.
Obviously, things have changed since we launched abstimmen.online four years ago. There are additional incentives to voting online today: crowding into restaurants and bars to hold elections for volunteer positions became a non-starter after COVID-19. Moreover, even running for a position became unpopular: in the wake of the coronavirus, asking someone to start a process that would eventually end in a crowded election seemed unsafe.
To help secure abstimmen.online, SecurID graciously stepped in. Since 2019, abstimmen.online has been using a SecurID product tenant in the EU to secure the infrastructure that provides free online voting and polling systems for nonprofits, schools universities, unions, political parties and other organizations. Yes, we offer our service free of charge. We are purely funded by donations.
I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, particularly in the COVID era. Since our humble beginnings in 2018, more than 650 organizations—representing more than 160,000 eligible voters—have used abstimmen.online to cast a vote. I expect another 20,000 to 30,000 more votes still to come this year.
SecurID is a big part of the process: roughly a third of abstimmen.online’s ‘customers’ use SecurID to secure access for polling and voting organizers. Every non-profit (including abstimmen.online) must comply with GDPR and protect the personal information about the candidates contained within the ballots and voting systems. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) provided by SecurID is part of the technical controls we put into place to secure our systems and meet GDPR regulations. The voters then use unique vote-codes to enable them to vote once without revealing any personal information.
That means that tens of thousands of people across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy are voting with a system secured by SecurID. It works for different users, in German and English (but if you want to help translate our ballots into other languages, then please let me know) and with different electoral processes—because that’s what it’s built to do.
I’m proud of what abstimmen.online has been able to accomplish and I’m grateful that SecurID is helping us protect the voting process and increase voter turnout: both abstimmen.online and SecurID are doing their part to help organizations—and the people who rely on them—adapt to new challenges and thrive in the digital era.