A digital voting solution for the Knesset in Israel during the Covid-19 pandemic

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The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to adjust the parliamentary work. We’ve taken several actions and we produced different technological initiatives and tools in order to continue this work. My name is Oz Cohen and I’m the Deputy CIO in the Knesset, the Parliament of Israel.


In this article I’ll review the main adjustment we’ve done in the parliamentary area. We have launched several initiatives and technological tools in the past and for that we had some guidelines. The first one was the continuity of the institution, meaning the parliament’s work should continue as close to as usual as possible. 


The second one was that parliamentary work should remain transparent, by means of live broadcast. It should still take place in all the different channels and the public should have access as usual to the work that is done in the parliament. 


Other guidelines were in keeping the public health instructions, such as restrictions on gathering. 


The next step was to do as many countries did, the social distancing and we had to follow these instructions. One of the main challenges that we had was the remote voting, however now it’s possible to vote in both the plenary and the committees. We did adjustments in the committees. In a typical session of the committees of the council before of covid 19, participants and MPs are located in the same room. All of the attendees, the participants that are not MPs take part in the discussion as well. 


After Covid-19, we’ve done a few adjustments. According to the guidelines, not more than 10 people can attend in one room of the Knesset, so we had to split each session in two rooms in simultaneously and we connected these rooms with the videoconference and Zoom equipment, so the discussion will be simultaneous in both of the rooms and each one can see the other room on real time.


The external participants to the discussion were not allowed in-person, so they were taking part in Zoom. The feeds from both rooms and the Zoom application were integrated using the Knesset TV channel into a single broadcast field. This field was broadcasted to different media channels. These actions are focused on the committees.


Now I’ll share the changes that we’ve done in the plenary. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the plenary floor had 120 MPs added to the knesset staff and technical staff. At the upper floor, there are guests and the public that can take part and attend the plenary sessions. 


During Covid-19, we had to adjust in order to be able to keep the social distance, so we had to reposition all the voting systems from the plenary floor into other locations, such as the upper level. About half of MPs were sitting in the lower level of the plenary and the other half were repositioned to sit in the upper level of the plenary. 


In order to achieve that, we had to do very extreme preparations. We installed a new communication and electricity network, we had to do some adjustment in hardware and the software in order for the systems to work in a place that was not planned originally. We had to add new microphones in the upper level, for the use of the MPs, so they will not have to go up and down in order to take part of the discussion. 


These were the main adjustments that we’ve done for the parliamentary work in order to allow the parliament to continue its work with the disruption as we can during this time of covid-19.


The difficulties with the digitalisation wasn’t a technological issue, it was actually a legal issue. There was no technological limitation in fact, we have prepared a solution for remote voting. 


We’ve tested a remote deliberation solution and it worked fine and in case it’s decided we can activate, it’s a matter of decision. 


So there was no technological aspect that was related to that distinction. Regarding the division between the two floors or reallocating, it was decided by the Speaker and the Knesset secretary. It was proportional and there were no discrimination of party, it was proportional, everybody had its representation both in the upper and lower level. 


In the lower level the ministers were sitting, so the number of seats that remained to the other MPs was limited and based on that they were relocated. There was a digital voting team but all of the stations were located at the lower level and part of the adjustment we had to do was to take half of the stations and relocate them at the upper level.


Therefore, with Covid-19, there was a massive disruption in the way we live, work and communicate and, here at the Knesset, we use technology as an enabler to maintain the democratic life. During this challenging time, the technology had a key part in keeping the parliament active, transparent and connected to the public.


[header image source: unsplash] 

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