Peaceful, transparent and credible elections: A key event for the Democratic Republic of Congo


Angolan UNITA presidential candidate Isaias Samakuva campaignImagen: ISS Today

In recent months, political tensions and insecurity have increased in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), due to demonstrations against the continuousness of Joseph Kabila in power. And although the political attention, both national and international, continues to focus on confidence-building measures and on the advances toward the electoral process on December 23, credibility in the authorities and in the electoral process continues to deteriorate.

Note: This blog always is in favor of the implementation of technology aimed at improving elections, but such a crucial endeavor must follow certain rules and be done correctly from the start. Experience teaches us that when such a project starts from a slanted or rigged selection or tender, results are never satisfactory.

Issues such as having electoral registration data manipulated, excuses of alleged difficulties in registering the Congolese living abroad, and the hiring –with no previous bidding-  of voting machines from South Korean Miru System Ltd, a company without any significant and verifiable experience, are some of the concerns that the main opposition leaders have recently denounced, casting doubts over carrying out a transparent electoral process, which has been twice postponed since 2016, and was again postponed in 2017.

In February Nikki Haley, the US ambassador before the United Nations, declared: “Introducing an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk”, referring to the introduction of voting machines from the South Korean company Miru, which have not been used in previous elections in other countries. In addition, the company is under investigation by its own country’s authorities for alleged cases of bribery through the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB). According to several notes in countries where A-WEB operates, this association disguises the sale of voting machines provided by Miru under supposed training and consulting services to electoral commissions.

In the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the National Election Commission of South Korea (NEC) itself expressed concern over the use of Miru’s voting machines during the December presidential elections. In a statement to the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante , CENI), NEC voiced serious concerns about the introduction (of these machines), stating that the unstable political situation and a vulnerable environment, which includes a high illiteracy rate, a weak electrical infrastructure, and deplorable road conditions, can lead to machine malfunctions.

As a result, the political opposition of the Democratic Republic of Congo has requested South Korea and the USA the suspension of the contract that links the Independent National Electoral Commission of the DRC with Miru System, and the blocking of its bank accounts.

The DRC is one of the most volatile and complex regions of Africa, however, achieving peace and balance could contribute to the stability and development of the African continent, says Said Djinniten, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the region. of Central Africa. The government representatives of countries such as the USA, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and South Korea have also expressed their concerns in recognizing that carrying out peaceful, transparent and credible elections in the DRC represents a key point in the direction of the African continent.

That is why CENI, the DRC electoral commission, must work adroitly to ensure that both voting and counting are carried out smoothly. The implementation of technology could (and should) among other things improve voter registration, allow citizens to vote from abroad, facilitate the voting process, swiftly provide reliable preliminary results, and allow multiple audits that furnish tranquility and confidence to citizens. Let’s hope that the accusations and the fears about Miru are more about the mistakes for their hiring (in several countries already) and not about the performance of their technology.

 

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Scandal hurts the Dominican Republic in their attempt to automate the elections


It was a scandal in the DR and abroad that finally had to be acknowledged by the Central Electoral Board (JCE): during the 2016 general elections there were failures that altered the electronic counts and affected institutions to an extent that is yet unknown.

For these elections, the JCE hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology. The results were clearly negative, given the logistic, technical and operational errors shown both by the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines. Indra’s lack of experience in both tasks, and the shoddy work of the electoral body, had clear consequences.

This blog has reiterated that the success of every automation project begins with a transparent selection process based on technical merits.  When politics outweigh technology, these problems will occur.

The report by the JCE is damning. It states that “improvisation, lack of control, and the lack of a work plan integrated with a strategic plan and the electoral calendar, were evident”. A contract was signed for $40 million (and was later expanded): the voting devices were delivered in such a short time frame that it became impossible to train the staff on their use or test their effectiveness, there were purchases made that were missing from the official budget, most importantly, the hardware and software purchased did not serve their original purpose.

Some examples supporting the claims of the Board’s IT Directorate are the “low performance” of the machines, both during simulations and the elections proper, up to the point where they could not read the choices voters had marked on their ballots, and the fact that “data transmission during the trials did not surpass 74% of the polling centres” and only reached 64% on election day.

Regarding the hardware, there were problems such as the batteries in the biometric ID machines not working properly, USB ports in the voting machines failing, and their “start” buttons not operating.

In the end, all these problems resulted in “a total of 796 polling centres in which some value was replaced”, i.e. with inconsistencies between the automated tally and the manual one amounting to a difference of 9,222 votes.

Several voices came together to demand a thorough investigation of the JCE, and for Indra’s tools not to be used again. This notion is backed by the report, which recommends: “not to use [Indra’s] automated vote registration and count devices for future electoral events”.

This misstep by the Dominican Republic can only be blamed on the authorities in charge of closing deals and making purchases, and the company that bid to offer a service they were in no capacity to provide.  The Frente Amplio de Lucha Popular claimed the contract to be a sham, and requested those responsible to be tried.

This scandalous result makes it clear that the Electoral Board has squandered public trust; the credibility of their mandate is now lost, as it is the system’s.  This debacle also includes the mismanagement of significant public resources that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace; these could have been used to provide the country with a voting system that not only automated some stages of the process, but also added technology and security to the election as a whole.

Venezuelan electoral credibility in freefall after Constituent Assembly


The election of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in Venezuela on July 30th drastically broke the electoral dynamic that had been building in the country since 2004, when the nation automated their voting.

From the way the election of a second ANC (the first one took place in 1999), to the moment in which results were presented, the election was questioned by experts and politicians both inside the country and abroad.

For some, the convocation to vote itself was illegal, since it was done directly by President Nicolás Maduro, without a referendum to consult the nation on whether they wanted a new constitution.

Furthermore, the National Electoral Council approved an electoral schedule that prevented many of the audits that had taken place in every election since 2004.  By skipping two thirds of the battery of 21 audits that are usually conducted, the credibility of the vote was seriously affected.  The Venezuelan National Observatory (OEV) kept a record of these shortcomings in a report, which states 14 audits were skipped, and 70 to a 100 actions that usually precede any election were omitted as well.

Adding to this, the problems were made worse by the decision of the Venezuelan opposition to abstain from participating, since this took away one of the vital aspects needed to guarantee the transparency of the process: having witnesses from the opposing side making sure rules and procedures are respected.

The grave concerns over the way the CNE decided to carry out the voting reached a boiling point 72 hours after the event, when Smartmatic, the company that had supplied Venezuela with voting technology for the past 14 years,   denounced that according to their estimates, “the difference between the numbers announced and those in the system [was] of at least a million voters”.

According to the multinational, while CNE President Tibisay Lucena stated 8,08 million people had voted the company data projected a different number, and they suggested audits to validate the information.

To date, the CNE has not responded to this accusation effectively, and chose to hide behind political rhetoric when the situation called for technical arguments.  Mistrust gained ground: it has been several weeks after the vote and the organism has not yet published electoral results by polling station, as it had done traditionally since 2004, thus withholding the knowledge of how all the voting circuits polled, and preventing confirmation of the results.

The CNE’s decision to hide the electoral data denies any audit of the vote; the tally cannot be corroborated by matching printed election returns with the polling station results.

So not only are there accusations of an alleged tampering of the final results offered by the National Electoral Council (CNE), but we can add that more than 30 days the vote, no official detailed results have been made public.

The delicate nature of the situation has been discussed by national and international specialists. Former Carter Center representative, Jennifer McCoy, anticipates that what happened will “strongly influence the trust of Venezuelans when it comes to participating in future elections”.

It is in the hands of the authorities to restore proper lawful procedures, and in the hands of political actors to press so that Venezuelans can recover their voting system, which took years of work and investments.