The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, short EBRD, voted with POLYAS for the first time in October 2020. Marija Linartaite, Associate Shareholder Relations, and Thomas Gale, active in purchasing, take stock in the customer interview with POLYAS.
Thank you Marija Linartaite and Thomas Gale to take the time to answer a couple of questions about your experience with POLYAS. Why did the EBRD decide to vote online and who made this decision?
Marija Linartaite: The EBRD presidential elections usually take place during our Annual Meetings. Last year due to Covid-19 pandemic, the Annual Meeting was postponed from May to October and consequently the presidential elections were held in October too. It was the Bank shareholders, our Board of Governors, who made the decision to enable an online voting. So eventually, the annual meeting and the presidential elections were held virtually.
How did you vote before online voting?
Marija Linartaite: Before online voting, presidential elections were held in a conventional way, in physical format, which means the closed session of the Board of Governors was held with everyone present, and casting ballots in person.
Did the EBRD have to make legal changes to be able to vote online?
Marija Linartaite: Yes, it needed to go through our governance process for the adoption of the Board of Governors. The rules for the election of the President were amended, because they did not previously include an option to have virtual elections.
Thomas Gale: I think everyone was looking for quite a lot of reassurance that an electronic voting system could provide the degree of security and anonymity that we were able to manage through a manual process. An important element of the procurement process was the requirement to demonstrate that this worked and was viable.
Marija Linartaite: Yes, we engaged extensively with our Board of Directors. In total, it took us about six months, we started in April and we finalized in September.
In your in your opinion what is the advantage of online voting compared to analog elections? Besides the fact that not everyone needs to be in the same place?
Marija Linartaite: It was an advantage when there was no alternative way to conduct the election. The online procedure allowed a very complex, very sensitive and highly confidential election to still take place during the global pandemic. Last year, it was impossible for the Board of Governors, most of whom are finance ministers of our shareholder countries, to travel to London, but virtual elections made it possible.
How was the cooperation with POLYAS? What solutions were discussed for your concerns?
Marija Linartaite: It was excellent – the cooperation worked very, very well. Especially with our Election Manager, we worked really extensively and intensively. We are very happy that POLYAS was successful in complying with our very tight timeline and also in tailoring our platform according to EBRD requirements. POLYAS also provided excellent support during numerous tests and rehearsals as well, because in the end we needed more of those than it was previously envisaged.
One of the main concerns for us was ensuring that only eligible voters could connect to the voting platform. We discussed that with POLYAS and they addressed our concerns by introducing two factor authentication. Our rules also specify the requirement of confidentiality and anonymity. POLYAS tailored the platform by introducing encrypted settings and connection.
Your two factor authentication was via Text message, so all the eligible voters had to get a code by text message in order to vote?
Marija Linartaite: Yes, voters were supposed to receive personalised code, in order to access the platform. Generally it worked well, though, not perfectly. However, the issues were very quickly addressed by the POLYAS support team. Some people didn’t receive the SMS code, so a message was sent bilaterally through a secure channel of communication that we agreed on before the election. Voters who experienced this SMS issue were mostly in countries outside Europe. We saw this issue coming during rehearsals and tests, and having the Plan B was an important measure.
What feedback did you receive from the eligible voters and how was the voter turn out?
Marija Linartaite: From the conversations that I and my colleagues had, the feedback was generally very positive. The turnout was very good. It was remarkable that the governors voted from every part of the world at the same time.
Do you think EBRD will going to continue to manage voting online in the future?
Marija Linartaite: This time we chose to hold virtual elections because of the pandemic. What we do in the future will be discussed by shareholders and management in due course. We are just very pleased that we had our first successful virtual elections last year. In such challenging circumstances as we experienced in 2020, it’s an option to consider.