International Foundation for Electoral Systems sets auditing guidelines

Electoral safeguards are tools that allow a State and its voters to rely on secure voting processes.  Being aware that these are not always available or sufficient, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) set to the task of creating a guide to auditing elections that have just taken place.

The document states that since allegations of voter fraud are common in many nations, it is necessary to reach an agreement upon the rules that must be applied when evaluating the need to audit an election, as well as those governing the audit itself.

In principle, IFES clarifies that an audit is not the same as a recount; the latter implies counting the votes a second time, while the former is performed to investigate alleged instances of faulty procedures, negligence or fraud which may lead to a recount, but it is also an analysis of the logistics, the voter registry, the technology used, and other aspects of the election.

After studying the vital conditions for a post-voting audit, IFES lists the following guidelines to design a suitable legal and technical platform:

1.- The Foundation states that an audit of electoral results must take place “only in limited circumstances”, that is, in response to allegations backed with solid evidence.

2.- One of the most important considerations is that the agency in charge of carrying out elections must also be in charge of audits.  The Foundation warns that if this entity lacks enough credibility or capacity, international technical support will be necessary.

3.- The norms and procedures must be previously defined, in order for the process to take place in strict adherence to the rules.  The Foundation states that procedures must be developed and shared with all interested parties.

4.- IFES affirms that the audit must be handled according to the same principles as those governing any other fraud investigation as proofs are cencerned.  The electoral system must adhere to the strictest chain of custody of the electoral materials, which could become evidence later on.  “Investigative bodies, including auditors, have the burden to prove that every step in the process of collecting, using, and preserving evidence complies with internationally accepted best practices”.

5.- The Foundation encourages including the right to appeal the results of audits in order to protect the plaintiffs against arbitrary decisions, and to guarantee that final rulings are based on the results of credible evaluations.

  1. The Foundation recommends to activate all formulas to prevent, identify and mitigate voter fraud and bad electoral practices. It is suggested to introduce revisions before the elections. For example, in Venezuela, the country’s electoral practice has generated a battery of over 20 audits in all stages of the election, which has succeeded in avoiding controversies mainly because all political actors take part in every revision.
  2. The audit should not begin if training and conduct codes for the staff have not been established.

8.- The Foundation warns that an audit can be a standard component of the electoral certification process.  For instance, in elections that use e-voting equipment, a manual count could be necessary in a given percentage of polling stations.  This requirement is already met in some nations like Venezuela, where voting machines with paper trails are used, and where after the polls, those paper trails are counted for over 50% of the polling stations.

After defining these guidelines, IFES advocates that every country defines a set of parameters for post-voting audits, making sure they meet the conditions for transparency.  The Foundation states that for democracy to be successful, the legal framework of elections must be respected; electoral bodies must be strong, independent and impartial, and political parties and candidates must stand behind the results of the process.


Peru obligated to review its electoral system

History repeats itself, and it seems there is no will for it to change.  This is one of the concussions drawn from the second voting round of the Peruvian presidential election carried out on June 5th, after which the country plunged into uncertainty due to a common enough scenario in any election: a close margin.

Although the final vote tally showed that the difference between Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peruanos por el Kambio (PPK) and Keiko Fujimori from Fuerza Popular was only 42,697 votes, that is only 0.48% of the total, the reality is that this minuscule difference that granted victory to the PPK has been seen before and will be seen again anywhere else in the world. That is because the people’s will is a variable capable of generating truly improbable results.

However, the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) was not prepared to answer to a highly polarized nation.  Not only did the office not started counting as soon as the polls closed, but it also took them four days to publish a report with an irreversible count, and a whole week to deliver final results.

Peru is therefore obligated to review its electoral system Although the country has legislation in place to modernize voting and has even designed an electronic vote model which has been undergoing testing for years, the electoral authorities have not been up to the challenges that come from implementing technology that would let them handle any election or result.

For instance, instead of moving onwards with voting machines and strengthening the corresponding security features, during the first round of voting on April 10th the number of voting circuits using automation had to be reduced, while the results for these elections and for those in June were negative.

The reasons for the misuse of e-voting in Peru are rooted in the ONPE, which despite following the best practices in the region during the design of their electronic voting system, have neglected its improvement. They have also neglected the logistics and preparation work for the elections; this was made clear in the last elections, when the insufficient or inexistent information given to the voters and poll workers made the voting significantly more cumbersome.

Recent facts force the Inca nation to improve their voting system. The risks associated with delaying the announcement of electoral results due to the inefficiency of the system must be calculated, so that the nation can go on a correction course and safeguard their electoral future.

E-voting, key in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections


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.