Trusting e-voting amidst experiences of electoral malpractice: The case of Indian elections

This paper constructs explanatory theory on trust in e-voting, a term that refers to the use of stand-alone IT artefacts in voting stations. We study e-voting as a techno-organisational arrangement embedded in the process of elections and the broader socio-economic context of a country. Following a critical realist approach, we apply retroduction and retrodiction principles to build theory by complementing existing studies of e-voting with insights from an in-depth case study of elections in India. First, we seek evidence of trust in e-voting in the responses of the public to the announcement of election results. Then we derive the following four mechanisms of trust creation or loss: the association of e-voting with the production of positive democratic effects; the making of e-voting part of the mission and identity of electoral authorities; the cultivation of a positive public attitude to IT with policies for IT-driven socio-economic development; and, in countries with turbulent political cultures, a clear distinction between the experience of voting as orderly and experiences of malpractice in other election tasks. We suggest that these mechanisms explain the different experience with e-voting of different countries. Attention to them helps in assessing the potential of electoral technologies in countries that are currently adopting them, especially fragile democracies embarking upon e-voting.