Vices and failures of manual voting set Honduras on fire


On Sunday, November 26th Honduras conducted general elections. Sadly, after nine days of counting, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) has not been able to declare a winner due to several failures in their processing of the votes.

Given the tight margin between the most voted candidates (1.5% of the voter roll) and the great number fraud claims and irregularities (e.g. numerical inconsistencies, problems with loading the tally), the TSE is carrying out a recount that has delayed the process for over a week and triggered a political earthquake.

This episode shows clearly, once again, the obsolescence of the Honduran voting system, and how manual voting can delay the publication in results and hurt the credibility of institutions.

To make matters worse, violence took hold in several regions of the country, leading authorities to decree a curfew. Deaths, looting, vehicles set ablaze, unrest and all forms of protest went on for days, creating a dire prognosis for the stability of Honduran democracy.

A sequence of unfortunate events

The poor performance of manual counting was visible from the early hours of the process on, when the Supreme Electoral Court announced they could not communicate the result of the count because of insufficient information. Immediately after, two of the candidates – president Juan Orlando Hernández and Salvador Nasralla– proclaimed themselves as winners, opening the floodgates.

The first data came almost 48 hours after the voting closed, after a slow count of less than 60% of the ballots which, far from clearing the air, only made matters worse.

In the following days, a series of situations took place casting even more doubt. For instance, after the first bulletin, in which opposition candidate Nasralla had a lead of almost 5 points on Hernández, the TSE page stopped updating for almost 36 hours; when it came back online, the result had reverted.

Right after, another technical failure on the Electoral Court website stopped the publication of results, and from then on, distrust was total for Nasralla, his supporters and a good section of the electorate.

Nasralla accuses the ruling party of having committed fraud, and states that 5,173 polling centre counts show the irregularities that are robbing him of victory. To explain how the count was altered, he requested an audience with the observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS).

This request opens a new chapter for Honduras. Elections are over and the count is too, but the electoral process is still ongoing, waiting for the proclamation of the winner.

For now, the TSE is defending its voting model, but let us remember that some months ago there was a scandal that tarnished the system for Preliminary Results Transmission (Trep) and the Integrated System for Vote Counting and Results Publishing (Siede). The former oversees the telephone transmission of manual counts to a tally centre; the latter allows for the scanning and online transmission of certified voting returns.

Both models have been used for several years: Trep since 2009 and Siade since 2012, presenting several issues and sowing mistrust. However, this year, information came to light about the origin of the contracts subscribed by the TSE and companies such as Mapa Soluciones, Geotech and Corporación Majo, which violate the minimum norms for transparency and legality for the award of public contracts.

In face of the accusations, and after what happened in the November 26th general elections, it is clear that transparency in electoral matters is precarious in Honduras. The country faces a decisive moment: they can either purge the management of their public contracts and transform their voting model, or permanently hurt the credibility of electoral authorities and public trust.

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Argentina sees a new opportunity to modernize their voting


The recent victory of Argentinian president Mauricio Macri in the October legislative elections has given him the political capital to pursue old aspirations, such as an electoral reform that includes e-voting.

The very night the results were made public, Macri announced he would call all the sectors in the country to carry out legal changes of long political, economic and institutional reach.

This interest shown by the president can represent additional momentum, at least in electoral matters, since irregularities were reported during the closing of the election, an evidence of the country’s urgent need for a real modernization of its system.

For instance, in this article published by Leandro Querido, a political scientist specializing in electoral observation, some of these irregularities, faults and shortcomings are described in detail: vote counts made on blackboards, ballot theft, irregular marking of some ballots, certified electoral returns that were handwritten, and irregularities in the delivery of these statements to the tallying centres.

On the other hand, six provinces used biometric ID technology (fingerprint recognition), and this prevented old vices like double voting or identity theft from resurfacing, thus improving transparency in general.

Facing both realities, Argentina suffered in October from shortcomings that are typical to manual voting, but also experienced the benefits of technology, which could favour future debates on the reform.

As to this change in the legislation, it is worth mentioning that the country spent several months in 2016 discussing an amendment, whose axis was the progressive adoption of the Single Electronic Ballot (BUE), but this bill died in the senate.

Newspaper La Nación had an editorial on the topic, stating that, although the government did not generate a proper media climate that urged lawmakers to act, the Senate was also unwilling to discard the “ballot manipulation” allowed by manual voting.

Despite this, and with Macri’s political success, it is taken for granted that this new attempt to embrace e-voting will be successful, and that it will be a real improvement for the country.

In the last bill, together with the clause on gradual adoption of technology, it was mandatory for the country to adopt a Single Electronic Ballot (BUE), i.e. the model employed in Salta, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. The BUE has had a mixed performance; it has worked relatively well in some elections but it has always raised doubts on its capacity so safely reflect the electorate’s will.

These two aspects must be debated. Even though international standards warn about the need to implement voting automation progressively, Argentina has been at the process of adoption for several years already, which makes it contradictory to delay it any further.

As far as the model to be employed, the country will have time to gauge the different types of e-voting variants available in the market, such as those that automate all stages, unlike the BUE, which only automates ballot printing and vote scanning.

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.