Brazil extends the use of Biometrics to protect votes


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After 11 years of having incorporated Biometrics technology into their election systems –fingerprint scanning for identity verification– Brazil is preparing to close the cycle, expanding its use. The plan is to advance the plan seeking that the majority of the 148 million registered voters in this nation have access to the devices that ensure the identification of voters.

Better known as biometric identification, this tool has gone from a widespread use in the corporate and industrial world –for instance, for personnel Access Control– to enjoy adoption by electoral bodies. The measure of expanding Biometrics coverage to elections is turning Brazil into one of its greatest exponents.

In Brazil, the electoral platform is in charge of the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), meaning that voting machine manufacture, and management of the voting and tallying system enabling today’s 100% automated voting, are the responsibility of this agency. This includes electoral equipment featuring numeric keyboards that capture fingerprints prior to casting votes.

According to TSE sources, the decision to employ Biometrics stemmed from the necessity to eliminate wrongdoings associated just to double voting and identity impersonation, which are persistent irregularities in Latin America.

In order to face such challenge, in 2008 fingerprint gathering machines were put in use prior to casting votes, and gradually TSE increased their use. For example, while in 2014 Biometrics covered just 16.4% of the registry or 23.3 million voters, in 2018 it covered 50% of the electorate, which then amounted to 147.2 million people.

In order to further expand these figures, in several regions the electoral authority has ruled the mandatory taking fingerprints at the regional offices. An example is Sao Paulo, where since February voters are urged to have their fingerprints taken, a step that enables them to vote in the upcoming 2020 elections.

As may be recalled, the Brazilian electronic voting model mandatorily requires each voter to produce his/her ID document on arrival at the voting station, but in the case the voting takes place in a city already having biometric identity checking, a voter may proceed directly to a device that checks his/her identity, instead of searching names in old-style voter listings.

In this fashion, illegally voting impersonating another voter or voting several times, something that has muddled results in many countries and cramped citizen’s trust in the system, is being successfully defeated in Brazil, by allowing biometric technology to greatly advance the electoral endeavor. By using technology, it is obvious that protecting the identity of voters, their votes are getting more secure.

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Mexico resumes its overseas automated voting project


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Recent migratory data from a research effort by Mexico’s National Population Council (Consejo Nacional de Población) reveal there are close to 11,700,000 Mexicans living abroad –97% of which reside in the United States– and a sizable chunk of that population will benefit from an eventual move to automate the voting in foreign countries, which is being pondered by the Mexican state.

Expatriate voting often brings heated debates, not only because several nations’ legislations thwart political rights like this one, but also because the logistics needed to support the access implied have in many cases made voting from abroad unfeasible.

Mexico is one of the countries in the region that have shown ambivalent stances about modernizing elections. While at the federal scale the voting system has been studied intensively, the country has forsaken any decisions aimed at advancing toward this goal. In parallel, a relative interest has been kept up about modernizing the vote from abroad.

This latter alternative has now returned to public attention, since the National Electoral Institute (INE) has announced its intention to work toward overturning the way expatriates exert their suffrage.

In 2017 it was informed that the vote of nationals residing abroad was going to be automated for the 2018 elections, but later on the decision was reverted due to insufficient time and budget.

Nevertheless, there is information that among the various voting models available, the electoral authority is evaluating Internet Voting as the most convenient option to replace the outdated vote-by-mail used here to by Mexicans living abroad, hence giving way to modern technology.

Enrique Andrade, INE’s Counsel, has stated that a revision of the Mexican electoral model is in order –both the system and the paperwork procedures for residents abroad– in order to augment turnout.

“It is evident that the postal vote has reached its limits, and new methods should be considered, such as electronic voting. However, to that end safeguards and mechanisms to attain transparency and lawfulness must be contemplated”, he said.

With the initiative already in full development, we foresee that the path Mexico must follow in order to implement a modern, effective and transparent election system will not be easy, since first it will be required that the fledging Law gets approved to enable automation, and then to make more flexible the current requirements to allow voters to actually exercise their right to vote. In addition, it will be necessary that the electoral agency be provided with sufficient budget to comply with the possible scope of the ensuing legal mandate.

Faced with the challenge of implementing the necessary changes, it suffices to wait until authorities and politicians reach an agreement to pave the way for Mexico to modernize its electoral system, first of all benefiting the residents abroad.

 

On the interim presidency and the usurpation of power in Venezuela


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Venezuela is experiencing a tragedy that is admitted around the world, and that in formal terms is cataloged as a complex humanitarian emergency. This crisis keeps citizens subdued by the impossibility of supplying their basic needs and rights, while political confrontation rages on and the outcome is uncertain.

Currently, the president of the National Assembly (AN), Juan Guaidó, is exercising the interim presidency of Venezuela after declaring the usurpation of the presidency of Venezuela by Nicolás Maduro. According to the National Assembly and the international community, the election of Maduro in May 2018 lacked any legitimacy, while the provisional presidency of Guaidó has been recognized by more than 50 countries.

The reason why some elections have been recognized by the international community as legitimate, while others have not received such a blessing, lies in the way in which such electoral processes were managed.

Guaidó, along with 166 other AN deputies, was elected in December 2015 in what is now regarded as the last legitimate election held in Venezuela. All previous elections held in the country since 2004 were based on the automated voting model that allowed this nation, mired in bloody political unrest for 20 years, to hold more than a dozen successful elections without any numerical inconsistencies, overcoming doubts about their results.

The results of those 2015 parliamentary elections were unquestionable. It is precisely this legitimacy of origin that allows Juan Guaidó to try to rescue Venezuela, following institutional guidelines.

In the case of the election of the “National Constituent Assembly” (ANC) of 2017, a body with no constitutional backing, the electoral process broke away from the dynamics that had been built in the country. The actions adopted by the CNE were questioned by experts and politicians inside and outside the nation. Even Smartmatic, the company that for 14 years had provided the electoral technology, publicly denounced that the CNE announced different results than those arrived at by the automated voting system. After this denunciation, and after having assisted the electoral authorities in 15 elections, in February 2018 the company ceased operations in Venezuela, closed its offices, and did not participate in any further elections in the country.

Subsequently, during the elections of governors held in October 2017, many other irregularities were committed and denounced. The Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV), in addition to ruling that the CNE “acted in the interests of the Government’s political interests”, also inventoried the anomalies detected before Election Day and during the voting proper. A lapidary case was that of State Bolivar, where the authorities refused to have the system transmit the results, and proceeded to manually alter the tally. For the first time in an automated election, records were found printed by the voting machines that did not match the totals published through the tabulation system.

All these irregularities have caused a deep damage to the Venezuelan electoral system, furnishing ample reasons why the confidence in the electoral institution has decreased sharply. Added to this, the complaint made by the Smartmatic company marked a milestone in the country’s electoral processes. Subsequent elections such as those of the ANC in July 2017 and the election of May 20, 2018 in which Nicolas Maduro was re-elected have been dismissed by the nation at large, and also by a great number of countries.

In the framework of discussions for the restoration of democracy, some political analysts have mentioned that elections must be held that meet the parameters established by law. In order to accomplish this, a series of actions are required, such as: the appointment of new electoral authorities, a key element of the discussion; the purging of the voter registry; the updating of the whole database of Venezuelan citizenry; and to reinstate at least 19 audits to the automated electoral system.

It will depend on the joint effort of authorities, political actors and voters that Venezuela once again enjoys reliable, functional and safe elections that make it impossible that the schemes of May 20, 2018 or July 30, 2017 get repeated.

In the midst of this bleak outlook, more and more countries are joining the chorus of nations calling for an electoral solution, one which really guarantees fair competitiveness and the alternation in power of political actors. It is opportune to weigh how the use of electoral technology, with full audit capabilities that apply to the entire automated process, could be used as part of an eventual solution to the grave situation in Venezuela.