Dominican Republic primary elections plagued with fraud and automated system flaws

The new voting system developed by the Central Electoral Board (JCE, for Junta Central Electoral) of the Dominican Republic had a premiere full of flaws and complaints about irregularities. After this blunder, the great expectations the JCE had raised vanished, and today what is looming is an electoral crisis.

The platform designed by the electoral authorities, premiered at the official primaries of October 6, brought forth more doubts than certainties. Issues range from late voting, plus lack of information for using the technology, up to fraud allegations by presidential candidate Leonel Fernández, of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).

At a press conference, Leonel Fernández warned that there were irregularities with the automated system software’ source code, and that the equipment used during the primaries was supposed to be audited in January but such activity was never carried out.

“What our technicians are witnessing is that an algorithm was installed in the software source code that tampered with the results, that is why in order to anticipate that situation we had repeatedly insisted that the matching of physical votes vs. electronic votes should have been carried out, as it’s done everywhere in the world”, he stated.

In view of this situation, the mission of electoral observers of the Permanent Conference of Political Parties for Latin America and the Caribbean formally requested the Central Electoral Board to increase the manual counting of votes up to 50%.

In addition, they recommended performing this manual audit in view of the fact that a brand-new automated system was used. They considered that it was necessary to raise the percentage of audited votes and to halt the dissemination of preliminary results until there was a significant percentage of the voting centers already counted.

Listín Diario reported that there were inconsistencies in the data supplied by the Central Electoral Board  at the municipal voting level in municipal districts, between the total numbers of people registered in electoral demarcations and the valid votes registered in the voting system.

Apart from the denunciations by presidential candidate Leonel Fernández, some voters warned about flaws and poor elector education for these primaries.

Long lines of voters were observed in several polling stations in the country, which according to complaints collected by the media, were a result of the flaws in the automated system, and in some cases resulted because the JCE sent too few devices to voting centers.

On the other hand, elderly adults had to ask the electoral operators for assistance in order to vote, because they “did not know what automated voting consists of ”, so they asked the JCE to make more information available about electronic voting for the 2020 elections.

For now, while the Central Electoral Board declared that the system had worked well “during a day of pride for the country”, Candidate Leonel Fernandez said he will request the annulment of the elections and that he will call for peaceful demonstrations in the country to denounce the fraud.

The electoral future of the Dominican Republic looks gloomy, without greater transparency or actions aimed at correcting the flaws that appear when an automated voting model is implemented with poor or no planning, and disregarding the successful models of other countries.

Mexico and India: one progresses in automation and the other establishes itself as a reference for electronic voting

Asymmetries in the use and application of electoral technology are obvious among some countries; a clear example is represented by Mexico and India. While the first has just decided to advance a process of voting automation for its nationals residing abroad. the second achieved a new Election Day where almost a billion people were called to vote.

In the Mexican case, a project is currently being promoted that will facilitate the suffrage of nationals abroad. The National Electoral Institute (INE) announced it has approved the guidelines that must be followed to guarantee the implementation of an automated remote voting model.

The authorities established that the Internet E-Voting System —as it is called— must include stages and key elements such as cryptographic key, voter authentication, monitoring, decryption and counting of votes, and measures to safeguard and preserve the information.

In addition to these factors, the INE resolved that the system must be auditable in all its stages, so that the parties involved in the elections participate in the audits, namely, independent parties and candidates, in addition to the electoral authorities.

The electoral body has warned that although it expects to implement the new system as soon as possible, the are no guarantees that it will be ready for application in the upcoming 2021 elections.

However, it was pointed out that as a legal mandate it will be fulfilled, because the most recent migratory data reveals that some 11,700,000 Mexicans are residing in other nations, and the idea is to guarantee their political rights.

In view of this project, Mexico could assess what has been attained by Estonia, a country that since 2005 has implemented online voting, and in last March elections at least 44% of the voters could vote using this online system.

 Opposite Sides of the World

While Mexico is just now taking its first steps in automation, between April and May India accomplished the most populous electronic elections in the world.

Official data indicate that the census encompassed more than 900 million voters, of which 67% voted along 38 days, divided into seven different stages completed between April 11 and May 19. These figures, which are not comparable with any other electoral process, explain by themselves why Indian authorities worked to automate the voting system. Only with the help of technology could the suffrage be guaranteed under the same conditions for the whole country.

In that sense, the many geographic and population-based complexities led this nation to become a pioneer in the implementation of electronic voting. Actual adoption began in 1998 and was consolidated in 2004 when electronic voting machines (EVMs) became the only means of voting.

The Indian automated model is based on an electronic device or tablet displaying the list of candidates aligned with an array of switches at the sides. The voter selects his favorite candidates using such switches and casts the vote. The devices are manufactured by two local companies, Electronic Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Limited.

The Dominican Republic nears another electoral blunder

Dominican Republic

Successfully implementing electronic voting is not an easy task. The countries that have efficiently achieved it have done so after extensive planning, involving numerous intermediate steps and significant expert technical advice. Unfortunately, there are other countries that despite skipping steps, stages and key requirements imposed by the process, still expect to bring such an endeavor to fruition. One such country is the Dominican Republic.

By October 6, the date of the mandatory primaries prior to the 2020 General Elections, this Caribbean nation will use an automated election model unrelated to the specialized technology currently used in the world, and that in countries with ample experience, such as Brazil, Estonia, or some counties in the United States, delivers transparent and solid, secure results.

The information offered by the Central Electoral Board (JCE) proper, shows that the nation has decided to advance in automation without taking the necessary technical, logistical and security provisions, so it could again err in the use of electoral technology.

As may be recalled, in the 2016 General Elections, failures occurred that questioned the credibility of the results, inflicted a patrimonial damage and affected democratic institutions.

However, it is now known that the Dominican Republic will debut in electronic voting using software and hardware that was not designed to automate elections. For example, while the computer program was developed by the JCE without performing tests that guarantee its operation, the equipment acquired through an express tender —conveniently described as urgent— are not fit for specialized use in voting. According to what has been leaked in the local press, they seem to be commercial use machines not meeting the proper specifications for an election.

Finding the most appropriate automated model for a country can be arduous. Nonetheless Democracy is worth it. The criteria that prevails must lead to the acquisition of a system that guarantees the security, secrecy and transparency of the vote. Also, the advantages of electronic voting must be provided for: safety, swiftness and auditability.

To comply with this requirement, it is vital to advance a tender in accordance with the highest standards. Namely, it pays to consider an international summons to elections technology providers, have them prove their experience in the field and their ability to offer a flexible electronic voting model adjusted to the legal, technical, financial and even idiosyncratic needs of the nation.

To this, it must be added that the equipment to be purchased must be designed exclusively for voting and tallying purposes.

Apparently, the Dominican Republic, instead of focusing its efforts and resources toward providing its electorate with the best possible electronic voting, has opted for a technology that places it just around the corner of a new electoral mishap.