Convincing a country to migrate from manual to electronic voting is not an easy task. The mission is complicated when the target nation is an archipelago composed of more than 7000 islands. However, after five years of exploring and working the area, Smartmatic led by Cesar Flores, president of the company in Asia, managed to run the first automated election in the Philippines a few weeks ago.
To unravel the logistical, technical, infrastructure and human resources difficulties, which qre needed to accomplish the task, could take dozens of post, but some clues are revealed by the man who commanded the electronic voting held alongside the Philippines, so that the country could establish a system where results were known within 24 hours, and allowed to limit the political violence that marred the country for years.
1. How long have you been working the automation in Asia?
My first trips to Asia were in 2005, exploring the legal status of the electronic vote. Few countries in the world have a legislation that allows the deployment of electronic voting.
Since then, Smartmatic has been paying close attention to the needs of the Asian Market, in electoral matters and biometric registration.
Before the automation of the vote in the Philippines, it took weeks to know the results of an election, which gave rise to social tensions, accusations of fraud and violence to the final results. In fact, since the delay of the election of 2004, greater transparency was demanded in the electoral process. The Philippine Congress in 2007 enacted the law RA 9369 which made it compulsory for the automation of elections in May 2010. The Electoral Commission, meeting this mandate, selected a vendor to guarantee a successful project using a technology that allows a fast and effective counting of votes.
This electoral process to the people of Philippines has become an opportunity to have reliable, fast and legitimate results, a large task because of the geographical and political conditions. The ease of auditing the results was instrumental in this process and the electoral benefits of our solution were corroborated with multiple field trials in the months before the election.
2. How was the preparation for automated elections with around 50 million voters?
We must recognize that this is the biggest electoral process conducted by a private company, Smartmatic. Elections in India and Brazil, as projects are larger, but there the State assumes the logistic implementation of the project. In addition, the geography of the Philippines is a key factor in understanding the complexity of the logistics for this election: 7107 islands shape the archipelago.
Smartmatic has developed a unique methodology for management of complex projects to ensure successful elections. The project in the Philippines included thousands of variables and tasks that must be implemented in coordination, more than 48,000 people and dozens of sub-contractors, who had to work in an organized manner with defined goals and specific in time, and hundreds of contractors who supported the project. Also, it demanded a high level of technical, logistical, technological, managerial, communication, social and political mastery. This method of management of complex projects is based on best practice and ISO9000, which allows Smartmatic to ensure project success and customer satisfaction.
3. What are the challenges for automated elections for 50 million voters?
Beyond the number of voters, there are multiple challenges in the areas of infrastructure with more than 1,700 servers and national electric generators, telecommunications (installation of over 40,000 modems and 50,000 sim cards, 5,500 satellite antennas for the transmission of results) selection, training and provision of personnel (about 50 thousand technicians), a call center with over 600 operators, configuration and testing of voting machines, and logistics coordination and deployment of 82.200 machines, urns, and battery backup.
The automated elections are very particular projects in the technology industry. They do not admit delay, and also the platform is only online during one day. This brings many challenges in the areas of testing and quality control.
In the Philippines, 82 200 voting machines operated for more than 50 million voters.
4. What kinds of actions were necessary for the voters to become familiar with electronic voting?
The training campaign in the Philippines, conducted by the Elections Commission, with support from Smartmatic, began four months before the election. It included a combination of sample ballots, radio and television commercials, and thousands of shows performed in cities and provinces. The main challenge was the change of ballots, from a ballot with blank spaces on which voters had to write the names of 35 candidates, to a ballot with pre-printed names, where you only had to fill in the corresponding ovals. The interaction with technology was minimal, since voters only had to insert the ballot into the machine. In the end, turnout was about 80%, demonstrating that citizens felt ready to vote with technology.
5. How was the behavior of political and social actors involved in the elections towards the shift to automation?
In general there has been great acceptance to the automated process. The fact that for the first time the results were known within 24 hours following the closure of the elections day, has made a huge difference from previous processes. The possibility of auditing results has given confidence to the process, a number of about 17,000 candidates elected, only fewer than 100 have protested. In fact, for the first time, a large number of applicants accepted and conceded defeat even before the electoral body proclaimed the official winners.
However, especially when a nation moves from manual to automated election, there are always groups and individuals who resist change. From day one, there were several opponents of automation, including a case that was filed before the Supreme Court, but was quickly rejected. The important thing is that even in the face of doubt; technology always allows the realization of deep counts and audits. Over time, most end up accepting the benefits of technology.