Protection of voter lists must be priority

The voter list is a critical item in any election. It is needed for the enforcement of basic principles, such as only allowing valid voters to participate and preventing those who are not from taking part in the election.

As an answer to the risks involved with citizen enrolment and the protection of their information, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has announced that they will design a tool that will allow electoral bodies to improve the digital security of their registries, in turn protecting the privacy of the data they contain.

IFES is promoting this initiative after the recent leaks of the voter lists of the American states of Arizona and Illinois.  According to local press, the databases compromised by the hackers contained “Personally Identifiable Information (PII)”, that is, names addresses, biometric and gender info on the voters.

Other leaks have taken place in Turkey and Mexico.  In the former, the data of  50 million citizens, was hacked; 1.5 GB of compromised files were posted online, containing information such as the identity number, dates of birth, and addresses of these individuals. In the Latin American country, the information of every single eligible Mexican voter (93.4 million) was also posted online.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems stated this information “must be protected through robust data security measures”, and that they will conduct an “in-depth analysis of Electoral Management Bodies (EMB) digital security practices and develop a diagnostic tool to help EMBs practice better digital security”.

For now, they urge these bodies to make digital security a top priority.  The foundation considers that the sharing of voter list data “must have stronger protocols for secure data transfer and guaranteed anonymity of individuals”.

It also recommended to update data privacy laws, and for government authorities to channel more resources to understanding the relationship between open data and digital privacy, including voter information.


Guide for the adoption and use of biometrics in elections

The illegal action of voting with someone else’s identity or voting multiple times has altered electoral results in many nations, reducing citizen trust in the system and forcing the authorities to find solutions.  One of the alternatives gaining ground to fight these kinds of practices is the use of biometric technology.

Better known as biometric ID –the scanning of fingerprints to corroborate personal identity – this tool went from being widely used in the corporate sector (to control staff access privileges, for instance), to being adopted by electoral management bodies.

Answering this need, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has developed a guide to “improve the understanding of biometric technologies”, and is also offering a series of recommendations aiming to secure their adoption and use.

In the document, IDEA states that “there is broad agreement on the need for [biometric technology] application” for the prevention of electoral crimes uniquely associated to double voting and identity theft. However, they claim the commitment by the electoral authorities to create a clean voter registry (without deceased individuals, minors, or those disqualified to vote) is vital to uphold the electoral guarantees provided by voter lists.

Starting from this distinction, the organization compiled a series of recommendations for a secure adoption of biometrics, tailored to each country’s demands.  The text starts by suggesting a diagnostic test to determine the problems and characteristics of the voting and ID systems, in order to choose the right biometric technology to solve the issues.

IDEA calls attention on the need not to add barriers to the voter registration process.  They state that biometrics aim to fix problems and irregularities at the time of voting, not to improve the rate of voter enrolment. Therefore, the obstacles preventing citizens to enrol must be eliminated separately.

To minimize risks in the use of biometric identification, the Institute warns that, just like with any other voter technology, trials are required, together with information and training campaigns, and the tailoring of the system to the nation’s needs.

“Biometric technology may malfunction, especially in difficult physical and environmental conditions, or where the necessary infrastructure is limited” they claim. They also advise to test the technology and take as much time as it needed to learn it, which is fundamental for its secure and optimal adoption.  A gradual introduction is generally the best option.

IDEA also writes about the necessity of considering not only acquisition but also maintenance costs, in order to avoid financial imbalances and the loss of trust in electoral management bodies.

Pondering IDEA’s proposal, it is worth mentioning that many countries can serve as examples to the nations lacking tools for identity validation. There are companies in the electoral technology sector that have designed devices or voting machines that can enforce the “one voter, one vote” premise.

Two good examples in the region are Brazil and Venezuela, countries which lead the use of electoral technology in Latin America, by having e-voting models that include biometric identification.

The South American giant has machines with numerical keypads that register the user’s fingerprints before the voting takes place, while Venezuelans have the Integral Authentication System (SAI), fingerprint capture machines that unblock the voting machines only in the case of successful biometric authentication.

The use of technology makes it crystal clear: protecting voter identity is protecting the vote.

27 elections to take place before the year’s end, four in Latin America

Despite September being just around the corner, the electoral calendar is still quite full, including 27 elections in four continents.  Four Latin American countries will go to the polls before the end of 2017.

This list was compiled by the Election Observers Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, who inform that in the hectic electoral schedule for the rest of 2017 there will be 10 presidential and seven legislative elections, while the rest will be primaries and municipal elections.

Some of the events will take place simultaneously in several countries in the same month; four of these countries are Latin American.  Argentina will hold elections in August and October; Chile and Honduras will have theirs in November, and Venezuela will have them in July and December. Additionally, the American states of Virgina and New Jersey will also vote.

Electoral preparations already began in Argentina, where, in the middle of a scandal regarding the award of a contract for the temporary vote count service, marred by suspicions of traffic of influences and a fixed bid,  their primary elections (Simultaneous and Mandatory Primaries, PASO) were moved up to August 13th. Argentina will hold parliamentary elections in October.

Meanwhile, Venezuela will employ electronic voting once more. After calling for elections for the National Constitutional Assembly for July 30th, electoral authorities have announced regional elections for October.

November will see the Chilean presidential elections (on the 19th) and Honduras (set for the 26th).  As for the latter, there is a scandal unveiled by theNational Anti-Corruption Council (CNA), which questioned Mapa Soluciones and other companies involved in the Preliminary Results Transmission System (Trep) and the Integrated Count and Result Broadcast System (Siede) These companies are under investigation due to the irregularities in the award of several contracts, an accusation that also reaches the current board of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

In the case of Chile, the election set for November 19th could be used as a starting point for the renewal of their voting system. The country experiences strong voter apathy at the moment. Abstention hovers around 60%, which has led experts to agree that the nation must strive to modernize its voting mechanisms.

As for the United States, on November 7th two States will test once more the diverse e-voting models at their disposal. The voting in Virginia and New Jersey could show the need for software and hardware renewal (some parts of the country are lagging in updating), but it could also show the advantages in security, ease and speed that come with technology.

In the rest of the world, India began their road to presidential elections on July 25th.  Presidential elections will also be held in Rwanda (August 4th), Kenya (August 8th), Singapore (sometime in September), New Zealand (September 23rd), Liberia (October 10th), Kyrgyzstan (November 19th) and Slovenia (sometime in December).

Each and every one of these elections will be a great chance for electoral technology to shine. While Venezuela and the United States will confirm their leading status in e-voting technology, other nations will need to keep pushing for modernization, and for a more transparent selection procedure for the companies they choose to this end.