Elections in the age of Coronavirus


evoting

How to hold an election during a pandemic is surely the only question that electoral commissions around the world are asking themselves right now. This is because in many countries there are elections in the coming months, so having options to answer these questions is not absurd at all, if we want citizens to vote. Some countries have suspended their elections, while others have continued after taking sanitary measures.

In the case of France, which held critical municipal elections across the country last Sunday, voter turnout reached less than 39%, almost 16 percent lower than in the same elections from 2014.

Under these circumstances, authorities around the world must work as soon as possible on bills or initiatives that offer voters more and better voting methods. A robust electoral system must include at least two voting alternatives: face-to-face and remote (online). Online voting should be one of the channels available for the electorate to cast their votes conveniently and securely. In turn, this reduces voter attendance at polling places, which would help with “social distancing,” the most recommended measure to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

If there is a country in the world where elections do not add up to another problem caused by the coronavirus, it is Estonia. A secure online voting platform, like Estonia’s, allows voters to cast their ballot from anywhere in the country or the world without going to a polling place. According to studies conducted by researchers from the Estonian University of Tallinn, this lowers election costs significantly, while increasing voter turnout.

Los Angeles County is also a success story election commissions should take into consideration. Its new voting system has many characteristics that could be considered as safeguards against the coronavirus. For example, voters had the option to select their candidates at their homes, and then go to the voting center to only register the vote via a QR code. Voters also had the option to deposit a mail-in-ballot at multiple collection sites distributed throughout the city. Although these measures were mainly implemented to facilitate the vote of all citizens, they end up being appropriate to foster social distancing.

When we talk about online voting, we are talking about offering the voter the convenience and flexibility of casting their vote online, from their own digital device (smartphone, laptop, tablet) and from a remote location, rather than a controlled environment such as voting centers, consulates or embassies.

The danger and exponential impact of disinformation in electoral processes 


Fake_newsPhoto by: Robin Worral. Available in Unsplash

By Yolanda Del Castillo*

How many times our decision power has been influenced by a story which later turned out to be false? Or by a video or a meme that by just watching it has automatically made us doubt and even stop consuming our favorite brand for years? Surely this has also happened to us in the previous stage of some electoral process, where viral campaigns carried out in order to obtain or subtract votes may have significantly affected our decisions, including our perception of candidates or the electoral process itself.

Technological advances and excessive consumption of information through digital media have made elections a perfect space to disseminate false information and generate chaos, thus confusing millions of voters with erroneous information, discrediting political parties, candidates and media of communication and even making false preliminary results viral.

This is how our prejudices and doubts when sharing information remain in the hands of the strategists and executors of those disinformation campaigns, who strive to influence our behavior, reactions and even decisions when we choose a candidate and believe in the results.

Tracking and verifying information are not enough

Fake_News_Photo by: Bank Phrom. Available in Unsplash

In recent elections —in many countries— websites have been known that were presented as “information media”, but were dedicated only to publishing false information. Then, many of the social networks shared false information published by those websites, and made it viral, even relying on messaging systems such as Instant Messenger and even WhatsApp. Thus, many become multipliers of those disinformation campaigns —a term known as “fake news”— bringing with it serious consequences against the stability and credibility of electoral processes.

To fight against the propagation of false information that undermines electoral processes, smart monitoring strategies are constantly being sought and developed, based on the generation of truthful content using state-of-the-art software and working comprehensively with highly qualified human teams. Examples of this are tools to control spam, limit the number of resends, tag offenders, delete bogus accounts, and constant improvements and upgrades to various platforms seeking to protect information privacy.

What is the most important -and also most complex- thing to do is to halt in its tracks false information effectively and on time. For this purpose, it is advisable to have close alliances with the main social media platforms and cultivate a constant communication channel with recognized media and their teams of “fact checkers”. Unfortunately, the strategies and advances in which social media platforms currently work manage to reduce the spread of disinformation only by a small fraction. Although fake news items can be effectively detected, it is impossible to prevent them from reaching large audiences.

In addition to all these efforts, there are other factors that influence the capacity with which false information can be propagated, for example, age: due to the lack of skills and training in digital media, the tendency is for people over 65 to be much more likely to consume and share fake news through social networks and instant messaging platforms. Another factor that has some influence is the country where the electoral process takes place, as the penetration of social networks and instant messaging varies greatly from one country to another. In the Philippines, users spend more daily time on social networks, with an average of 241 minutes; and in Latin America the average daily time is 212 minutes. With such average times of social media use, users are likely to get fake information items daily.

The recommendation continues to be to always confirm the origin of any news before sharing it, verifying it at least in three reliable sources, even in the case of images and videos. You can also resort to well-known “fact-checkers”, which are media that have journalists dedicated exclusively to the verification of data for fact checking.

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* Yolanda Del Castillo

Digital Marketing Strategist and Business Transformation Consultant with over 23 years of experience creating and managing digital property for global brands.

Bolivia and why transparency in an election is the key to almost everything


Photo By: Los Tiempos

In Politics, transparency is an essential quality that processes and actions must have in order to pass through public scrutiny with flying colors. In recent events in Bolivia, the impact of this condition on politics and elections was evident.

This South American country went to the polls on October 20 to renew the Republic’s presidency, and although the day was completed without major incidents, at the end of the process the legality and legitimacy of elected authorities, as well as those of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) were hindered by lack of transparency.

Specifically, after closing the polls and while rapid counting, that is, the Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results (TREP) was being carried out, the process took a 180-degree turn, because the TSE suspended the provisional counting for almost a day, without any explanation.

Bolivian nationals and the world saw how with almost 84% of the ballots already verified, a second-round scenario was raised between President Evo Morales and his main adversary, ex-president Carlos Mesa; 23 hours later, when the TREP was resumed and with 95% counted, the ballotage, or runoff voting, was no longer possible.

Doubts and suspicions led Mesa to cry fraud, and also led the observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) to report irregularities. Despite this, the TSE confirmed —five days later— that Morales would not require a second round, and authorized an audit.

This verification of the tally is in process and has also suffered obscure events, such as the resignation of the leader of the OAS team that must review the election and the intense protests that have burst in various regions of the country. When the results of an election are riddled with doubt, the tranquility and peace of a country are affected.

What has happened shows that the decision —clueless until now— of the authorities to suspend the diffusion of the TREP, caused a break in the transparency of the process, which further blatantly shows that Bolivia is deep into a crisis caused by the lack of a swift and secure tallying system. And even more important, a tallying system that allows auditing in real time the count reports received and processed.

The country lags an enormous distance behind some of its Latin American peers, where automated systems are in force safeguarding the most important phases of their elections.

For example, while Brazil took only a few hours to complete the count in the second round of the 2014 presidential elections, which results were also very narrow; in Argentina, on October 27, thanks to the new logistics and technological platform implemented, the results of the preliminary count were published just three hours after the voting was closed, with 70% of the reports already processed.

The evils shown during the latest electoral processes seem to indicate that there is no longer room for indecision in Bolivia, and it is time to advance in the modernization of their system before distrust on the part of the electorate undermines participation and Democracy.