US elections will be defined by technological novelties

The United States will hold their Presidential election next November. With little more than a month to go to these elections, we can highlight two new technological novelties: the growing influence of social network in political participation, and how Internet processes make it easier for voters to connect with the electoral system.

The first case is related to a Facebook experiment that took place during the 2010 elections. An message regarding the elections was sent to a part of the site’s users, which generated a series of interactions and raised interest on the election, having a positive effect on turnout.

Due to these results, the social network with the most users on the planet, announced that together with Instagram (a photo- and video-sharing social network) they would launch a new feature: a registration button to their News Feed. This would let users now who in their circle of friends voted, get information on the elections and view results.

Facebook states that in 2010 their message reminding users that it was election day, with vital information on the process, encouraged 340 thousand people to go to the polls.

The second novelty is that 21 states in the country, that is to say almost half of the United States, have tools that allow citizens to register online to vote.

The Elections Performance Index published by The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that voters in states like Georgia, New York and California have the possibility to go online to update their voting info or register to vote remotely; two states, Ohio and Michigan, only offer online updates, and 26 states simply do not offer this kind of support.

An important finding of the document is that the use of this technology has increased: in 2012 only 13 states allowed the online registration of voters.

This organization considers that remote methods not only save time and money when compared to in-person, paper based processes, but also engage voters by making their registration easier.

Technology is not only an important tool to guarantee transparent elections where every stage is automated (voter identification, voting, counting, tallying and results transmission), but has also become a platform to encourage voter participation.


International Foundation for Electoral Systems sets auditing guidelines

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Honduras moves past electoral malpractice



Honduras is one of the democracies in Latin America that has a large number of violence related problems.  The national authorities, in addition to presenting plans to lower the crime rate, have also focused on offering the country more and better electoral guarantees, knowing that transparent elections are a synonym of peace and trust on democracy.

After two years of announcements, the Congress of Honduras finally began discussion rounds with the country’s 10 political parties to initiate an electoral reform facing the 2017 general elections.

In light of these debates, the nation is aiming for ambitious changes, given that the modifications being discussed are all on a large scale: setting limits to presidential re-election, getting citizens involved to work at the polls; controlling campaign financing through a Law for Financing, Transparency and Control; establishing a second voting round, approving the election of deputies by district, and expanding the representation of political parties at the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) and the National People Registry.

These aspects are not the only ones; adding to the topics of organization, control and logistics, the parties have expressed that the nation must modernize its voting system through e-voting.

The request comes from the fact that Hondurans have had to endure and resign themselves to failures during almost every past voting event, as well as the vices characteristic to manual voting: delays in the delivery of results, numerical inconsistencies, flaws in the statements of vote, double voting, etc. These anomalies have plagued even the latest presidential elections.

Three years ago, the Supreme Electoral Court set in motion a procedure for the transmission of electoral results, but the inadequacy of the selected method did away with its goals, and the delivery of results was delayed yet again, hurting the electorate’s trust.

This scenario does not need to repeat itself if Congress keeps focusing on improving Honduran electoral practices.  Its president Mauricio Oliva stated that after the first debate there was enough information gathered to begin a second round of discussions, where a consensus should be reached.

Although negotiations still have a long way to go, it is a positive fact that this nation can discuss the options offered by technology to anchor democratic stability through a modern voting system. Electronic voting has been useful to resolve highly polarized elections, and has been remarkably successful in cases of demanding elections, e.g. with a complex infrastructure, close results and hundreds of simultaneous races, while delivering results that are proven beyond doubt.