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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Argentina sees a new opportunity to modernize their voting


The recent victory of Argentinian president Mauricio Macri in the October legislative elections has given him the political capital to pursue old aspirations, such as an electoral reform that includes e-voting.

The very night the results were made public, Macri announced he would call all the sectors in the country to carry out legal changes of long political, economic and institutional reach.

This interest shown by the president can represent additional momentum, at least in electoral matters, since irregularities were reported during the closing of the election, an evidence of the country’s urgent need for a real modernization of its system.

For instance, in this article published by Leandro Querido, a political scientist specializing in electoral observation, some of these irregularities, faults and shortcomings are described in detail: vote counts made on blackboards, ballot theft, irregular marking of some ballots, certified electoral returns that were handwritten, and irregularities in the delivery of these statements to the tallying centres.

On the other hand, six provinces used biometric ID technology (fingerprint recognition), and this prevented old vices like double voting or identity theft from resurfacing, thus improving transparency in general.

Facing both realities, Argentina suffered in October from shortcomings that are typical to manual voting, but also experienced the benefits of technology, which could favour future debates on the reform.

As to this change in the legislation, it is worth mentioning that the country spent several months in 2016 discussing an amendment, whose axis was the progressive adoption of the Single Electronic Ballot (BUE), but this bill died in the senate.

Newspaper La Nación had an editorial on the topic, stating that, although the government did not generate a proper media climate that urged lawmakers to act, the Senate was also unwilling to discard the “ballot manipulation” allowed by manual voting.

Despite this, and with Macri’s political success, it is taken for granted that this new attempt to embrace e-voting will be successful, and that it will be a real improvement for the country.

In the last bill, together with the clause on gradual adoption of technology, it was mandatory for the country to adopt a Single Electronic Ballot (BUE), i.e. the model employed in Salta, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. The BUE has had a mixed performance; it has worked relatively well in some elections but it has always raised doubts on its capacity so safely reflect the electorate’s will.

These two aspects must be debated. Even though international standards warn about the need to implement voting automation progressively, Argentina has been at the process of adoption for several years already, which makes it contradictory to delay it any further.

As far as the model to be employed, the country will have time to gauge the different types of e-voting variants available in the market, such as those that automate all stages, unlike the BUE, which only automates ballot printing and vote scanning.

Venezuela sees unfair voting practices and manipulation once more


The decadence of the electoral institutions in Venezuela has placed the whole system in check; a system that since 2004 had been a synonym for exactness. There had never been a single inconsistency between the printed election returns and the digital counts of the machines.  Until 2017.

The last two elections carried out in the country (National Constituent Assembly in July, and governors in October) have been negative landmarks; both events have seen unfair voting practices and manipulation abound.

In the case of the Constituent Assembly, we wrote that the process broke with the electoral dynamic that had been built in the country since 2004, the year they automated their elections, since the forms adopted by the National Electoral Council (CNE) were questioned by experts and politicians both in the country and abroad. Meanwhile, Smartmatic, the company that provided Venezuela with voting technology for 14 years, denounced that the CNE presented results different from those the system had tallied.

Now, in the recent governor elections of October 15th, an avalanche of irregularities took place to benefit a single political sector.  The Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV) not only stated that the CNE “acted for the benefit of the Government’s political interests, which legitimizes the doubts certain sectors of the population have about the announced results”, but also kept an inventory of the anomalies detected before and during the election.

Some of these events previous to the election include the following: the date of the elections was decided illegally and arbitrarily, 42 political parties were declared illegal, it took a over a month after the elections were announced to publish a final date for the event and its electoral schedule, 33 activities were eliminated from said schedule, 17 activities regarding the election were carried out before it had even been officially announced, no substitutions were allowed for the candidates who dropped out, the voter registry was modified outside legal time limits, the CNE eliminated 76 polling centres and 7 thousand stations without previous notice, and less than a week before the vote it relocated 274 polling centres, affecting some 700 thousand voters.

All these irregularities have been studied by analysts in the country, who point that the CNE’s work and the government’s actions were aimed to grant advantages and “manipulate” the process to guarantee a government victory. Voices abroad support this thesis; for instance the Lima Group, made up of 12 countries, denounced irregularities, intimidation and manipulation, and demanded an audit of the vote.

The peak of these accusations has been the delay with which the CNE presented results in Bolivar state, and the results it made public.  Three days after the vote, it declared the government candidate the winner, with a margin of barely 2 thousand votes. This would not be a problem in itself, except the results showed (for the first time in the nation since they automated their vote) numerical inconsistencies in polling stations, as election returns were manually fed into the system instead of the automated tallies – a proof of tampering by the CNE. Smartmatic made it clear that they did not supply any products or services for this event.

Following the accusation of opposition candidate Andrés Velázquez, in total, the CNE added 2,066 votes for the government candidate in 11 polling stations (all of which were manually tampered with): just enough votes so he could “win” the election. Velázquez states that “11 voting machines did not transmit their results (which was unexplained), and their counts were manually loaded, and changed”.  This situation is perfectly summarized in a post by journalist Luis Carlos Díaz (Spanish).

An example of this practice happened at the Caroní Elementary School, where according to the CNE’s website, Justo Noguera (proclaimed as governor) allegedly received 502 votes. The election return for machine N3 in this centre shows he only got 138, thus showing an unexplained difference of 364 votes.

All these facts led the National Assembly to declare the election as fraudulent, and demand “the execution of an integral audit, qualitative and quantitative, of the whole process by international organisms and independent experts”.  However, the CNE considered that October 15 saw one of “the best voting events the country has ever had”.

Reviewing what happened during the votes for the Constituent Assembly and for governors, it is evident that Venezuela has resorted to abuses and illegal acts to do away with an automated voting model that protects the will of the voters, is based on cutting-edge technology and has witnesses for every stage of the process.

The cost of these actions has already generated internal and external mistrust of the CNE and the results it presents, but their impact will be even more evident in future elections, both in terms of turnout and the stances taken by political parties.

After the damage done, it is up to the efforts of authorities, political agents and voters to see the country has clean elections again, stopping electoral tampering before and after the event.