E-voting, key in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections


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Venezuelans vote using touchscreen machines and electronic ballots.

Venezuela voted this 6 December to renew all 167 seats in the National Assembly (AN). In spite of the deep political unrest that has dragged on for years, the elections were conducted normally and the results were accepted immediately by losing candidates.

One of the keys to the calm with which the process unfolded lies in the automated voting system, which allowed for accurate and verifiable results for all polling centers.

In some districts the election outcome was very close. As can be seen on the National Electoral Council’s website, in the Circuit 3 Aragua state constituency, opposition candidate Karin Salanova won by a bare 83 votes over Rosa León, the government’s candidate. Despite this narrow margin (0.06%), the losing candidate accepted defeat without major fanfare, a fact which represents unequivocal proof of the accuracy and transparency of the automated system.

The results from the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the subsequent statements of political actors show that the e-voting model the country uses since 2004, provided by Smartmatic, enables securing the people’s intent, regardless of the political position taken. Notably, during the 11 years the system has been used, candidates and proposals of all positions have won and lost.

From the opposition, the executive secretary of the Bureau for Unity, Jesús Torrealba, and one of the elected candidates, Delsa Solórzano, indicated that the CNE provided data that acknowledges the results as reflected in the precinct reports that each party holds; the Government also validated the computations delivered. The head of the campaign command for Chavismo, Jorge Rodriguez, said that despite the adverse result the movement accepts the information from the automated count.

The Venezuelan technology platform was examined, as is a tradition in the electoral timetable, through various audits, all certified by political organizations before, during, and after the elections. Besides those revisions, the same night of the election, a public citizen inspection was performed in 54% of the polling stations. This test confirmed that the will of the voters expressed in the physical vouchers of the votes matched what was reflected on the precinct count printed by the machine.

International observers have also shown a positive opinion about the system and the elections in general. The secretary general of Unasur, Ernesto Samper, celebrated the process. “These elections were very transparent, almost flawless in terms of episodes that could tamper with them”, he said. According to Samper, “it has been confirmed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system provides additional protection for the electoral system, with further proof provided by the printed ballot that is deposited in the ballot box, which makes it perhaps one of the strongest systems in Latin America.”

The broad scope of performing reviews to e-voting was also addressed by Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic. “Along with voters, universities, NGOs, political parties and electoral authorities around the world, we have built the only voting system that is fully verifiable from beginning to end,” he said.

After 14 national elections since 2004, more than 120 audits in 11 years, politicians from both sides winning and losing with the same voting machines, Venezuela confirms that e-voting was and is key to the success of elections in this country.

Elections in Venezuela: How are ballots cast? How are votes safeguarded?


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In Venezuela, voting is 100% automated, and it includes voting machines and electronic ballots. Photo: Mercadeo y Negocios.

Next December 6th, 19,496,296 Venezuelans will exert their right to vote to elect 167 deputies to the National Assembly. Although voters in this country already have 12 years of experience in e-voting, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with the voting process and electoral guarantees for this occasion.

This time, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has activated 14,515 polling centers, in which 40,601 polling stations with voting machines and biometric identification devices will be used.

Venezuela’s electoral process is 100% automatic. Voting, tallying, and aggregation are carried out through electronic means. Besides, results are encrypted and transmitted through a network provided by CANTV, the state telecommunication company.

Six steps will take place in each polling station to complete the voting process:

 

  1. Information

Polling centers with three or more polling stations will have a Voter Information Station. In it, an operator will provide each voter with information about his or her polling station number after checking his or her ID. Also, information will be provided about the page and line in the voting registry where the voter will need to sign and stamp his or her fingerprint.

  1. Voter verification

Throughout the country, 40,601 machines will be deployed for validating voters’ fingerprints. Upon arrival, each voter will have to produce his or her ID document to a polling station member, who will record the ID data into the Integrated Authentication System (SAI), which includes the biometric device. The device will then capture the voter’s fingerprint to verify his or her identity and activate the voting machine.

  1. Voting

After the identity verification phase is finished, the voter will go to the voting booth, which houses the voting machine and the electronic ballot. The voter must press on sectors corresponding to the choices he or she must make according to his or her precinct, or press on the “select all” Option. After this process is complete, the vote will be shown on the screen of the voting machine. After verification, and after correction if need be, the voter will press the word “vote” on the touchscreen. Thus, his or her vote will be stored in the machine, and it will also be printed on a paper receipt, which the voter must deposit in a ballot box. The voter will then sign the vote registry and stamp his or her fingerprint. The process is finished by soaking the voter’s pinky finger in indelible ink.

  1. Tallying

Ballots cast by voters remain stored randomly in the voting machine’s memory. After the voting process is closed (the legal time is 6:00pm, but extensions are allowed), the device will count them. Results will be reflected on the tally report that will be printed. This process is performed in each of the voting machines distributed across the country.

  1. Transmission

After the tallying is completed, and the tally report or minute is printed, the transmission cable is plugged into the voting machine and the encrypted data is transmitted to the National Tabulation Center. This information travels through a network provided by the government-owned communications company. The aggregation system only receives data from machines that have been verified and authorized by the electoral power.

  1. Audit

After the polling stations have been closed, vote receipts deposited in the ballot boxes are counted in 54% of the stations in order to audit the automated results. After information has been transmitted, a new process begins: physical votes (paper receipts printed by the machine) are compared against the results tallied, printed, and transmitted by the same machine.

This audit is part of the set of 23 reviews to which the Venezuelan system is subjected. This system’s technology is provided by the multinational company Smartmatic. The CNE and political actors agreed to execute inspections before, during, and after the elections, thus guaranteeing the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire process.

The audits include a review of the software used by the voting machines and the verification of the devices’ setup file, inspection of the electoral infrastructure and servers (features, database servers, reception, and query), as well as security protocols (firewall, authentication services, file integrity revision), voting registries, and biometric devices.

Besides, new inspections were incorporated into this process: audit of biometric automation incidents, where 1.5% of the polling centers will be subjected to a revision in order to determine if some people voted more than once; total records with possible identity issues on the database, maximum amount of possible double votes, and votes affected by null identity or multiple votes and their impact on election results.

Venezuela is ready for elections. The system is ready to receive voters and deliver the country a new electoral process where results match the people’s intent by 100%.

7 questions about Venezuela’s automated voting system


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Venezuela has a 100% automated voting system.

There are a good many myths and theories about Venezuela’s automated voting system. They include a Russian hacker, a submarine cable, stuffed votes, bi-directionality theory, cap theory, etc.,, in short, there have always been politicians and “experts” trying to explain “the fraud”. Eleven years after the first of several elections was held using this system, and having had winning candidates from both sides, there hasn’t been a single voting minute found in the hands if political witnesses that does not match those published by the National Electoral Council.

But not only Venezuelans are fond of conspiracy theories, especially when it comes to elections. In fact, if you Google “fraud in X elections,” where X equals any country, you are most likely to find multiple articles, each covering some alleged fraud.

However, in Venezuela campaigns against the system usually benefit the Government, because doubt usually confuses its opponents and weakens their intention to vote.

Here you will find seven answers to typical pre-election questions. If you doubt that your vote will count, remember that after you cast it, nobody can change it or eliminate it. Every vote registered counts.

  1. How is each vote verified?
    At the moment of casting a vote, each voter has two chances to verify it : 1) First, when interacting with the electronic ballot by touching on an icon and/or name of the option selected, a light will turn on indicating the selection. This same option will appear on the touchscreen on the voting machine. This visual verification which takes place before emitting the vote enables the voter to change the option if he or she so desires. 2) Once this verification is done, in order to cast the ballot the voter presses the VOTE button on the touchscreen. A vote receipt is then printed. This paper trail is intended to be verified by the voter before depositing it in the ballot box.
  2. How is it possible to verify that the results printed by the machine at the end of the process are correct?
    Once the voting process is over at each voting station, the machine tallies the votes and prints the tally minute with the results. After the minute is printed, with copies for all witnesses present, and after transmitting results, a raffle takes place to decide which ballot boxes will be opened for vote receipts to be manually counted before witnesses in order to verify that the machine’s results are correct. These audits have always confirmed the accuracy of the voting system.
  3. How do we know that a person cannot vote more than once on a machine?
    The integrated verification system (SAI) compares the voter’s fingerprint with stored data in order to verify his/her identity. Additionally, it compares the voter’s fingerprint with the fingerprints of all the voters that have already voted on that particular machine. Thus, the device would discover if the person has already cast a ballot, and therefore cannot do it again.
  4. What if a person goes to another polling station to try to vote again? How does the system prevent them from voting again if fingerprint verification is not done online?
    Two sets of identical fingerprints (from the same person) cannot be on two different machines, because before loading voter’s roster information on the machines (done just before the election), the national database is checked for duplicates. Therefore, it would be impossible for two sets of fingerprints having a single duplicate ID number to be found on two machines asssigned to two polling stations. This is audited and validated by technicians from the two political sides. Besides, when a voter presents his/her ID card to the polling station staff, the staff verifies that the person is the same voter registered on the SAI system. However, if all the polling station members and witnesses present agreed on allowing identity theft, and let someone with bogus credentials to vote, this would be recorded on the machine’s log.
  5. How is it guaranteed that votes are not stuffed into the machine?
    The machines are set up according to the voting centers and polling stations where they are deployed. That is, the machine only “expects” those voters registered to vote at that specific polling station.

For this election, up to four “no-match” people will be enabled to vote. If this number is exceeded, the head of the polling station must enter a password to unlock the machine (in 2013, the number was seven). Additionally, two people without upper limbs cannot vote consecutively unless the head of the polling station enters a password to unlock the machine (in 2013, the number was four people). Finally, the number of voters without registered fingerprints who may vote was also reduced for this occation, but the number varies according to the voters with missing fingerprints registered at the voting machine.

If the number of no-match people, or people without upper limbs, or people without registered fingerprints exceeded the allowable number for the second time, the machine would be blocked again, but this time it would require a password from the National Support Center. Often times, along with this password, an officer from the electoral entity arrives in order to understand what is happening at that polling station.

These measures reduce identity theft and multiple votes significantly, and reinforce the “one voter, one vote” premise. The system is set up this way in order to safeguard the right to vote, consecrated by the Constitution.

  1. What happens if the information is manipulated after being received and aggregated and the published results weren’t the real ones?
    The results are published by state, municipality, parish, centers, and stations. They may be compared, minute by minute, with the minutes emitted by each machine in order to verify that they match completely. Even if they were not released at this level of detail, the different political actors could add up the copies of minutes in their power and verify that the final results are correct.

 

  1. I’ve been told there are “phantom” machines, that no one knows where they are, and that they could transmit “fraudulent results” on Election Day. Couldn’t this inflate final results in favor of an option?
    The information of all the polling stations is public and is available to download from the website of the National Electoral Council. It is known as “polling station chart.” The file contains information from all of the country’s polling stations, and each polling station has one voting machine assigned to it. If that theory were true, there would be minutes from polling stations that are not on the official list. Therefore, any irregularity can be easily detected.

* Information taken from decodingthevote.org and press releases sent by Smartmatic.