Electoral safeguards are tools that allow a State and its voters to rely on secure voting processes. Being aware that these are not always available or sufficient, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) set to the task of creating a guide to auditing elections that have just taken place.
The document states that since allegations of voter fraud are common in many nations, it is necessary to reach an agreement upon the rules that must be applied when evaluating the need to audit an election, as well as those governing the audit itself.
In principle, IFES clarifies that an audit is not the same as a recount; the latter implies counting the votes a second time, while the former is performed to investigate alleged instances of faulty procedures, negligence or fraud which may lead to a recount, but it is also an analysis of the logistics, the voter registry, the technology used, and other aspects of the election.
After studying the vital conditions for a post-voting audit, IFES lists the following guidelines to design a suitable legal and technical platform:
1.- The Foundation states that an audit of electoral results must take place “only in limited circumstances”, that is, in response to allegations backed with solid evidence.
2.- One of the most important considerations is that the agency in charge of carrying out elections must also be in charge of audits. The Foundation warns that if this entity lacks enough credibility or capacity, international technical support will be necessary.
3.- The norms and procedures must be previously defined, in order for the process to take place in strict adherence to the rules. The Foundation states that procedures must be developed and shared with all interested parties.
4.- IFES affirms that the audit must be handled according to the same principles as those governing any other fraud investigation as proofs are cencerned. The electoral system must adhere to the strictest chain of custody of the electoral materials, which could become evidence later on. “Investigative bodies, including auditors, have the burden to prove that every step in the process of collecting, using, and preserving evidence complies with internationally accepted best practices”.
5.- The Foundation encourages including the right to appeal the results of audits in order to protect the plaintiffs against arbitrary decisions, and to guarantee that final rulings are based on the results of credible evaluations.
- The Foundation recommends to activate all formulas to prevent, identify and mitigate voter fraud and bad electoral practices. It is suggested to introduce revisions before the elections. For example, in Venezuela, the country’s electoral practice has generated a battery of over 20 audits in all stages of the election, which has succeeded in avoiding controversies mainly because all political actors take part in every revision.
- The audit should not begin if training and conduct codes for the staff have not been established.
8.- The Foundation warns that an audit can be a standard component of the electoral certification process. For instance, in elections that use e-voting equipment, a manual count could be necessary in a given percentage of polling stations. This requirement is already met in some nations like Venezuela, where voting machines with paper trails are used, and where after the polls, those paper trails are counted for over 50% of the polling stations.
After defining these guidelines, IFES advocates that every country defines a set of parameters for post-voting audits, making sure they meet the conditions for transparency. The Foundation states that for democracy to be successful, the legal framework of elections must be respected; electoral bodies must be strong, independent and impartial, and political parties and candidates must stand behind the results of the process.