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.

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Recap of 2016 electoral events


Foto: tolteca-guillermomarin.blogspot.com

2016 was a banner year for elections with over 30 countries in all continents carrying out a total of 133 elections.  Total voter turnout amounted to some 757.6 million people.

In the Americas, 2016 was a particularly busy year with two most populated countries (Brazil and the USA) going to the polls.

The contrast between manual and electronic elections was made more evident as  e-voting pioneers Brazil and the USA underscored the immense benefits of technology while countries like Peru, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Ecuador held out, stubbornly refusing to modernize and thereby, as in the case of DR, imperiling its very democracy.

Let us take a more detailed look at events.

United States

US voters elected their new leaders on November 8.  Despite all the noise about the possibility of hackers tampering with the vote, the elections went smoothly.

The unabated proliferation of fake news took everyone by surprise and yet the voting itself experienced no problems.  In the state of Wisconsin, where a recount took place, it was proved that when technology is properly implemented, the risks of the people’s will being tampered with are minimal, if not null.

Brazil

In October, Brazil deployed its huge e-voting platform boasting of some 450k voting machines. These were used for municipal elections where over 5,500 offices were to be elected.

Despite the enormous political turmoil the country is experiencing, the country took a step forward in its political recovery with these elections.

Peru

The political tension which arose from the close results of the Peruvian presidential elections made the final push for automation an imperative.

The July 5th polls saw a neck and neck contest between the top contenders and revealed how ill-prepared the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) was in dealing  with a highly polarized nation. Although the country already has legislation to modernize voting, and has even designed an electronic vote model that has been under testing for years, the electoral authorities have been dragging its feet in rolling out e-voting.

Dominican Republic

2016 proved to be a rocky year for the DR. Its Central Electoral Board hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology for the May 15 polls.

Unfortunately, technical and operational errors plagued the implementation of both the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines.  The problem was so bad that the Organization of American States (OAS) was prompted to say  that “the weakest point of the day was the use of voting machines, since they were missing from several polling centres or had connectivity or operation problems.”

The poll body has recommended to review and audit the entire platform.

Haiti

The November 20th Haitian elections showed that the country is still heavily dependent on international aid to mount elections. Although it managed, however barely, to pull off the last general election (whose final results were delayed for weeks, triggering accusations of fraud), the experience made it clear that the country should lose no time modernizing its polls.

Ecuador

After piloting an e-voting system where 100% automated models showed their superiority over those that only automate vote counts, The Ecuadorian National Electoral Council (CNE) surprised everyone by abandoning the initiative.  Even more baffling, it declared the two bidding processes scheduled to purchase results transmission technology to be “deserted”.

Instead, the poll body decided to accept a donation from the government of South Korea of 2,000 digitalization and transmission devices of precinct counts. To date, little is known about the systems on which the broadcast of results will be relying. What we do know is that the technology will merely scan and digitize manually filled out precinct counts.

The Dominican Republic fails in their attempt to modernize their voting system


The Dominican Republic have failed in their attempt to partially automate their voting system during the general elections  carried out on May 15th.

Different voices inside and outside the country have pointed out that non-compliance of internationally followed standards doomed this attempt at modernizing the vote.

For their most recent voting process, the Central Electoral Board hired the Spain-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology.  Results were clearly negative, given the logistic, technical and operational errors found both in the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines.  Regrettably, the company’s lack of experience in biometric voter authentication and electronic vote counting was all too clear.

NGO Participación Ciudadana published a report stating the several problems encountered during the election, highlighting they included delays in opening polling centres due to issues with and the lack of biometric ID and counting units.   There were anomalies in 62.4% of the circuits with the vote counting machines, and in 40.4% of them with voter verification, while “30.7% of the polls registered problems with ballot scanning and 30.9% with electoral data transmission”, with the result that 97.7% of the centres had to resort to manual counting.

In view of these results, the NGO states that the electronic vote count and transmission, namely the novelty of this election, “were largely handicapped by the lack of equipment, the failures of the available working devices, and the scant little capacity to solve problems (…) to the extent that at 10:00 PM, four hours after the closing of the polls, only 20% of the electoral data had been transmitted, which forced the authorities to resort to manual vote counting at all three levels (presidential, regional and local)”.

These problems were confirmed in the preliminary report of the Organization of American States (OAS) observation mission, which states that “the weakest point of the day was the voting equipment used”.   The report goes on to mention that “in several centres equipment was missing, tech support staff did not show up, or there were connectivity and operation issues with the biometric control and automated vote counting machines”, so “the implementation of manual counting was needed to overcome these multiple setbacks”.

In addition to this, the authorities underestimated the importance of carrying out tests that could have prevented these problems on time, or opting for a gradual implementation of the technology.  Even the OAS highlighted the need for its progressive implementation.

The Dominican Republic now faces the possibility of having thrown away public trust and sizable public resources, which could have been used to provide the country with a voting system that not would have automated some stages of the process only, but would have added technology and security to the election as a whole.