An alliance between electoral experts and health experts, a comprehensive solution to lessen the risks of contagion in elections


Elections in Coronavirus

Imagen: conocedores.com

This week, elections technology company Smartmatic announced its partnership with The Infection Prevention Strategy (TIPS), a non-profit organization working to promote innovative ideas and processes to improve public health with a global scope.

According to the press release, the team is made up of electoral and epidemiological experts, and the goal is to provide electoral authorities with a set of protocols and best practices to prevent and control the transmission of the coronavirus in elections. Smartmatic has identified more than 40 stages during an electoral process where there is a risk of contagion; and TIPS has worked on scientific protocols to minimize the spread of various epidemics. This alliance must be regarded as a comprehensive solution for achieving electoral continuity.

Presently, more than 60 countries have decided to postpone elections for fear of a new outbreak of the virus, others are not clear about how to proceed in a pandemic scenario like this one we are now experiencing. Even though some countries and territories have obtained positive results in the decision to continue with their electoral processes, not all those who have taken this step have been fortunate.

A successful case, South Korea, with the aim of avoiding crowds, took a series of strict sanitary measures, which were applauded by other countries. Even United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on April 15 declared in a statement that “The Republic of South Korea’s dedication to democratic values ​​in the face of a global pandemic is a hallmark of a truly free, open and transparent society.” There was a historical turnout of 65.1% of the register. While in France, which also held elections under similar circumstances, turnout decreased dramatically: 55% of citizens abstained from voting in the March 15 municipal elections.

It is worth noting that each country has its own idiosyncrasy, and the measures to carry out elections in these times must be analyzed by experts both in health and in elections, and adapted to the particularities of each region. Each phase of the electoral process must be protected, both the production of ballots, as well as the voting and subsequent counting of votes, consolidation and publication of results.

In this sense, the various organizations and public or private companies must focus their resources on guiding electoral authorities in the search for solutions and alternatives that allow them to continue with democratic processes.

There is something in which commissions from different parts of the world, NGOs , academics, and electoral experts have concurred in recent weeks , and it is that both going ahead with an election as well as delaying it involve significant risks, not only for public health but also for Democracy. It is to be hoped that authorities make good decisions, and adopt the most appropriate measures to protect both aspects. The solutions, the companies and the experts are there.

Myths vs. reality about online voting in Ecuador


The pandemic will not be over in 2021, but it probably will be under control. In Ecuador, a country where the virus onslaught seems to have been rampant, members of the electoral organization ponder how to organize next year’s elections without putting people’s health at an extra risk, and avoid a pandemic outbreak.

The current Ecuadorian debate focuses on segmented face-to-face voting, remote (online) voting, and hybrid voting. The latter is presented as the most reasonable alternative, which would allow Ecuadorians to vote as in Estonia: choose between going to the voting centers and voting as traditionally, or voting online through a mobile device or computer. Leandro Querido, director of the Transparencia Electoral organization, published an article that brings clarity to the current debate amidst Ecuadorian authorities. In his article, Querido explains five myths about Internet voting, which we review below:

“Online voting is a very expensive method”

In fact, it is the opposite. According to the context analyzed in Estonia, online voting is the least expensive of the country’s voting methods. It costs one half the price of traditional voting, and is vastly cheaper than other voting methods. This was proven in a research paper led by scholar Robert Krimmer, full professor at the Tallinn University of Technology.

“Most people do not have access to the Internet, or to smart devices”

According to Statista’s recent 2020 data, no Latin American country has less than 40% Internet penetration. In fact, 67% of the population in Latin America use the Internet. This represents an important figure, bearing in mind that remote voting would not replace voting in a poll center; it is regarded as an alternative to ease the flow of people in voting centers.

“It lacks any strategies to avoid voter coercion”

Voter duress is somewhat difficult to measure if the voters are not present at the polling place. However, technology offers options to mitigate voter coercion. In Estonia, as in many countries that vote remotely, the process takes several days. During that time period, Estonians can vote online as many times as they wish, and only the final vote is counted. In this way, if a voter is pressed to vote in a certain way, he can login into the system at another time and vote again, this time in an environment free from coercion. This method was recognized by the Council of Europe as a valid voter duress mitigation strategy.

“It is vulnerable, the election can be manipulated”

In reality, electronic voting, including Internet voting, offer multiple security mechanisms, and above all, they offer the possibility of carrying out audits to validate the accuracy of the results. In Estonia, the voter can use the verification app to ensure that the vote was submitted to the system as marked or recorded. The server maintains a third-party verifiable audit trail for all votes; and is able to demonstrate to the point of tabulation that all votes were processed correctly according to the specific rules of each country. This type of auditability, together with cryptographic signatures, eliminates any chances of vote forgery, and provides a universal guarantee that voter preferences are duly captured, stored and accounted for, according to voter intent.

“Internet voting only appeals to younger voters with greater technological skills”

More and more citizens use the Internet through digital devices, and this is valid for all demographic groups, and for all ages. In Estonia, people over 55 years of age comprise the largest percentage of Internet voting users, around 25% of all online voters.

The implementation of online voting should not require a drastic change in the idiosyncrasy of the citizenry. However, it will always be necessary to implement educational campaigns that reduce the possible resistance of some citizens and leaders to the advent of new technologies.

E-voting for expats drive gains strength


voto electronicoThe Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Chile have recently placed under public scrutiny the need to open space for e-voting as a solution for expat suffrage.  Expats have been systematically excluded in many nations due to a lack of legislation regulating their political participation and to the difficulties implied by organizing elections outside of the country.

 

Voters abroad usually face difficulties to register and validate their condition of voters, mainly due to the requirement of legal residence from many countries in order to vote or for fear of revealing their migratory status. Besides, there are also quite a few technical and logistic obstacles that hinder the democratic exercise. Some of these are the reception of the wrong electoral material at the embassies and the location of polling stations—usually consulates or embassies—, which tend to be very far from where many citizens live.

In light of this reality, Chile began producing the regulations to enable its citizens living abroad to vote, initially at the primary presidential elections. Although new regulations are still pending approval, authorities have already announced that they are debating between implementing traditional paper-based suffrage or taking the leap toward on-site e-voting.

On the other hand, the Dominican Republic and Colombia have proposed the use of electoral technology for expat voting on political grounds. However, no matter the reason, proposals for the use of electoral technology bring up the need to stop and think the debate in terms of safeguarding the voters’ political rights abroad.

In the Dominican Republic, the Committee for Dominicans Abroad (Codex) demanded the implementation of the e-voting system for the 2016 presidential election. The demand is framed within Electoral Law 275-97, which establishes that the Central Electoral Board (JCE) will regulate the procedure and form of suffrage for the country’s citizens living abroad. This country already has the norm, and now it’s up for the authorities to assume its compliance and proceed to implement the technology.

The third country in this triad is Colombia. A few days ago, the Democratic Center Party filed a proposal for an electoral reform project, which introduces e-voting with document verification, i.e., using voting machines that can print paper receipts showing the selections made.

These countries can rest assured that e-voting for expats is possible. To name just a few examples of successful experiences, Switzerland and the Philippines have been able to guarantee electoral equality between those who reside within the national territory and those living abroad. This has been possible thanks to their automation models.