With Providers Like Dominion, E-Voting Loses Prestige

E-voting has earned the trust it needed, thus preparing the field for more and more nations to decide to work on its implementation. The cases of Colombia and Russia (to name a few), where the necessity of automating elections to offer electoral guarantees to their citizens has become clear, are already well known.

However, it is fair to clarify that there are aspects that must be kept in mind in the way an automated system is implemented, as well as the conditions of the nations,. Recently in Palm Beach County, Florida, the electoral body declared victory for many candidates. Some days later, it was found out that other candidates were the actual winners. The election supervisor, Susan Bucher, stated that Dominion, the company in charge of the automation of the process, was at fault. The problem was a lack of synchronization between the lists of candidates and the Dominion software, which is why there was an error in the identification of the scrutiny.

In order to avoid this kind of critical flaws —imagine how it must be to declare a candidate President and one week later having to say the real winner is somebody else—, countries must evaluate very carefully the companies in charge of implementing e-voting. It is very important that the selected company has a successful track record and precise, safe and reliable technology. To that end, a wide and clean bidding process must be guaranteed. We recently wrote about the case of Jalisco, Mexico, where the electoral power granted a contract to an inexperienced company (Pounce), and it took more than a month longer than expected only to deliver the machines.

In order to carry forward a clean and efficient bid for e-voting, experts recommend normative, technical and organizational conditions which they deem essential. Some of them are: a public bid, which allows as many companies as there can be in the field to compete; the consideration of proven experience in the area, the inclusion of printed voting receipts in order to guarantee suffrage auditing, and the request for updated security norms for the systems.

On the other hand, there are nations (less developed than the United States, by the way) where voting security and the reliability of the elections are guaranteed with state-of-the-art technology. Among the automation methods that are used for the preservation of the ballot, there are systems that offer voting receipts (like the one in Venezuela, provided by Smartmatic), which allows both the voter to validate his/her vote as well as all those in the polling station to audit the results from any voting machine.

The e-voting companies in the United States

There are several companies in the United States that provide the service at different stages of the electoral process (voter identification, acquisition of voting, counting, aggregation and transmission), but few of them have spread their technology throughout the country.

Some of these companies are Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Dominion Voting (previously Sequoia Voting Systems) and Premier Election Solutions (Diebold), which are the software and hardware providers in the state of Alabama.

The Automark Machine

ES&S provided two machines: AutoMARK and the model 100. The first can be used directly by checking the options on the touch screen and prints the vote receipt. It can also be used as a scanner for processing paperballots and has mechanisms that help the disabled exercise their right to vote. The second machine is an optical scanner that is used with ballot and tabulation machines.

Dominion also offers two machines in Alabama. The AVC Edge II Plus, a touch screen machine with multiple options as adjustable legs for wheelchairs or zoom for people with visual impairments, but does not enable the printing of a proof of voting. The Optech Insight is a scanner that reads the ballot regardless of the position in which it is introduced, it rejects the record when the voter has marked more votes required in the process, allowing the process to be rectified.

AccuVote TSX

The company Premier has made two technology solutions for this state. AccuVote-TSX, is a touch screen machine that is activated when voters introduce a smart card (similar to a credit card equipped with a chip) and then vote. The selections are recorded in the internal electronic memory, but the paper record of the vote is not printed. The AccuVote-OS, meanwhile, is a scanner with the ability to transmit the count to an aggregation center.

As in Alabama, other 49 states use similar equipment with different reach, provided by various companies. The electoral technology market in this country  promises more developments to come and the adoption of proven systems in other countries, to strengthen the electronic voting system, the more efficient and transparent method that exists.

Brazil and Venezuela: two stories about e-voting

In over two months, Brazil and Venezuela will ratify the use of electronic voting. Brazil will choose their next president first and Venezuela will renew its Congress, or Legislative Power. Both nations stand out as the standard-bearers of automation in Latin America and even though they use different electoral systems, they proudly exhibit their technologies to the world, thanks to their overall numbers of successful electoral events with satisfactory results, due to having reached stringent goals of security, swiftness and transparency.

The Brazilian case is seen and documented as an icon in South America, since this nation was the first to regulate electronic voting (1995) in the region and also the first to implement it. Actual automation started in 1996 with the help of several vendor companies, such as Unisys do Brazil. Later in 1998, 2000 and 2002, the companies Procomp (hardware) and Microban (software) were called to participate at the request of the Superior Electoral Tribunal, under the scheme that the final technology developed was to be owned and controlled by the State. All phases of an election were automated: voter registration, vote casting, and vote tallying. The next October 3 the system will be used again when close to 128 million people will elect a new President. Brazil has exported its voting system to various countries, which lease the equipment and hire support and maintenance.

The Brazilian voting machine features a small screen and a keypad where the voters mark the numbers assigned to their candidates. After checking the vote showing the photo that appears on screen, the user presses the “confirm” button, whereby the vote is casted. If the user doesn´t want to vote for any of the candidates, he or she may press the “white” button or has the option to cancel the vote by typing random numbers and pressing “confirm”.  For data storage the machine has two memory cards (flash cards) and a hard disk. At the end of the process, multiple records are printed with the outcome of the voting and it is recorded on the disk, to be transmitted through secure means to regional courts and ultimately to the Superior Electoral Tribunal for final tallying. The process is subject to various audits and the system requires electronic signatures of all operators involved.

The experience in Venezuela began in 1998 when a mixed system was introduced: the vote was manual, but the counting and tallying were automated. In 2004 the electronic vote got a legal basis and currently the elections are 100% automated. The voters exercised their right to vote using voting machines with touch screens (by clicking on the option on screen), and receiving a paper voucher (or VVPAT) that must be deposited in a ballot box, serving as the basis for audits or, if deemed necessary, to manual recounts..

The supplier of the voting machines is Smartmatic. The machines first used were of the SAES-3000 model, and the latest to be acquired were the SAES-4000. The National Electoral Council has about 40, 000 computers, including servers. In addition, the country uses an independent biometric voter identification system, based on fingerprint scanners. The electoral body uses about 12,000 of these stations across the country.

The Venezuelan voting automated platform offers over ten audits in order to ensure reliability. Before every election the poll books, the Electoral Register, the lists of those eligible members of the electoral boards in poll places, and the software used to select them are audited. The fingerprint readers, the indelible ink, among other items, are audited as well. After the election the closing audit is performed, which consists of reviewing the paper ballots cast in 54% of the ballot boxes, which must match the respective tallies. A week after Election Day a final audit is performed, in which a general review of the process is performed.

In both countries the corresponding automated system has been tailored to their characteristics, and today, is capable of 100% electronic voting. What led to the modernization of voting in Brazil and Venezuela? Most probably the need, as perceived by both states, to appease the voting public through a more trustworthy method of conducting elections. Given the recent history of political discontent and unrest in the population which threatened to give rise to turmoil and violence, the perspective of attaining fair, transparent elections was enormously attractive. There are three edges in a triangle that are inseparable and necessary. That is the challenge currently faced by many countries, making governments, parties and citizens to coalesce around, and benefit from, the guarantees offered by electronic voting.

Brazil and Venezuela: two stories about e-voting