Six mandatory steps for successful electoral automation

There is currently a group of countries in South America focused on the automation of their voting systems.  This measure, a transcendental one for any democratic nation, calls for decisions that will determine the success or failure of the technology. Therefore, it is very important for authorities to consider a few vital steps to overcome the challenges of revamping an entire voting system.

Among these countries we find Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. They all are in different stages and are following their own rules. However, it is worth it to review the best practices available to revamp a voting system with as few problems as possible, or at least, without any costly ones.

In different successful instances of voting automation around the world, the authorities have taken precautions in choosing the electoral technology that best fits the system already in place. There is no such thing as “too many safeguards”. Quite the opposite; being thorough is what will make an electronic voting model bullet-proof.

Some of the experts’ recommendations include the following:

1.- To secure trust in the new system, it is mandatory that an open process takes place for every stage (creating the legal regulatory framework, selecting the system, testing, bidding, etc.). The implementation of the new system must also be gradual and go hand in hand with an extensive information and training campaign.

2.- It is vital to conduct a bidding process that meets the highest standards, that is, one which considers an international call for electoral technology vendors, who must be able to prove their experience in the subject and offer a flexible e-voting model that is tailored to the legal, technical and financial needs of the nation, even to its idiosyncrasies.  Running an election implies lining up countless variables, and a company with no previous experience is the wrong choice for mission critical projects.

3.- When starting the search and comparison of offers in the market, it is fundamental to evaluate the local infrastructure and every potential limiting factor in it (power grid, phone and data services, communication lines, etc.). The sustainability of the automated model over time must also be considered.  It must be understood that the success of automation calls for more than technology alone. The services available in the country will be determining factors to guarantee good performance.

4.- The selection must answer to the interest of acquiring a system that guarantees the security, secrecy and transparency of voting, as well as providing the advantages characteristic to e-voting: safety, speed and auditability.

5.- Together with the need to carry out pilot runs that test the reliability and adaptation of the model to the country’s characteristics, verification of the system’s auditability is mandatory.  There are several kinds of technology that can be audited exhaustively during every phase: software, electoral infrastructure, servers, security protocols, firewalls; all can be reviewed. Reviews can be done by technicians, political figures and organizations, and most importantly, by the voters themselves.  Such a scenario is possible when using voting machines capable of printing voting vouchers, since these can be reviewed on the spot and tell whether the vote recorded is the same as the vote printed.

6.- When designing a voting model, authorities must strive to make voting easier, adapting a technology that suits the nation’s characteristics.  For instance, in Brazil, where people are used to associating candidates with numbers, the machines reflect this fact: they have a numeric keypad used to mark choices, analogous to the writing of numbers on traditional ballots.

These six suggestions are not the only ones, but they are the most important for an optimal application of electronic voting.  Technology can be used to make any step of an election easier, but its proper and massive use will be what makes the difference between automated and manual processes.

Peru obligated to review its electoral system

History repeats itself, and it seems there is no will for it to change.  This is one of the concussions drawn from the second voting round of the Peruvian presidential election carried out on June 5th, after which the country plunged into uncertainty due to a common enough scenario in any election: a close margin.

Although the final vote tally showed that the difference between Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peruanos por el Kambio (PPK) and Keiko Fujimori from Fuerza Popular was only 42,697 votes, that is only 0.48% of the total, the reality is that this minuscule difference that granted victory to the PPK has been seen before and will be seen again anywhere else in the world. That is because the people’s will is a variable capable of generating truly improbable results.

However, the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) was not prepared to answer to a highly polarized nation.  Not only did the office not started counting as soon as the polls closed, but it also took them four days to publish a report with an irreversible count, and a whole week to deliver final results.

Peru is therefore obligated to review its electoral system Although the country has legislation in place to modernize voting and has even designed an electronic vote model which has been undergoing testing for years, the electoral authorities have not been up to the challenges that come from implementing technology that would let them handle any election or result.

For instance, instead of moving onwards with voting machines and strengthening the corresponding security features, during the first round of voting on April 10th the number of voting circuits using automation had to be reduced, while the results for these elections and for those in June were negative.

The reasons for the misuse of e-voting in Peru are rooted in the ONPE, which despite following the best practices in the region during the design of their electronic voting system, have neglected its improvement. They have also neglected the logistics and preparation work for the elections; this was made clear in the last elections, when the insufficient or inexistent information given to the voters and poll workers made the voting significantly more cumbersome.

Recent facts force the Inca nation to improve their voting system. The risks associated with delaying the announcement of electoral results due to the inefficiency of the system must be calculated, so that the nation can go on a correction course and safeguard their electoral future.

The Dominican Republic awaits answers after electoral technology failures

After the May 15 general elections in the Dominican Republic, the nation once more has witnessed examples of malpractice in the implementation of electoral technology.

Following elections where irregularities where listed by local and foreign organizations, and where the failures and vices were of such magnitude that Central Electoral Board (JCE) member Eddy Olivares filed a complaint against the board, hoping to clear what happened and open a space for rectification.

For this last process, the JCE hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology. Logistic, technical and operational errors found in both the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines, were alarming.

Facing this situation, Olivares asked by means of a letter for all electronic counting devices purchased from Indra which failed during the voting to be audited so a case can be constructed against the Spanish company, to have it answer for the significant damage done to the integrity of elections, the JCE’s reputation and the electoral system.

Olivares’ letter includes what the Organization of American States (OAS) stated: “…that the main fragility of the day was the use of the [voting] devices, given they were missing from several polling centres or had connectivity or operation problems, and in some other cases tech support technicians did not show up”; while the Unsaur claimed that “the material for automated voting and voter identification was, in many cases, absent, incomplete and/or defective”.

Although there were plenty of issues raised, the JCE underestimated the accusations and has not replied to Olivares, but it is clear that the board must heed the demands that several political parties have made and establish responsibilities, because what is at stake is the integrity of the nation’s electoral system and therefore its democracy.