The Philippines keeps moving forward and automates voting abroad

In the Philippines, over 52 million voters use voting machines.

While nations such as Mexico and Spain have spent years evaluating the implementation of e-voting for their citizens living abroad, the Philippines (which will hold their second automated election on May 13th), chose to expand electoral guarantees and to extend e-voting to Filipinos living abroad.

The step taken by this Asian country is nothing but an answer to the global need of the defending political rights of those citizens who, by virtue of living abroad, have difficulties in exercising their right to vote.

These people usually face problems in validating their status as voters; this is mainly due to the request of some nations of possessing legal residency to do so, and the subsequent fear of revealing their migratory status. However, it’s technical and logistical hurdles that impede voting the most. For instance, getting the wrong electoral material or locating polling centres far away from where many citizens live.

To solve these shortcomings, the Filipino Commission on Elections (Comelec) chose to replicate the e-voting system that was successfully used for the first time in 2010 (manual voting with automated counting and results transmission, based on the technology of the multinational provided by Smartmatic) in seven of the countries that host Filipino citizens, namely China (Hong Kong); Singapore; United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai); Saudi Arabia (Riyad and Jeddah) and Kuwait.

988,384 voters reside outside the Philippines, a number that could very well impact electoral results, and the country has understood this. Out of these, 388,593 reside in the Middle East and for a month (their voting process started on April 13th and will run until May 13th) have been able to use the same voting machines that Filipinos use on their over 7,000 islands, thus increasing voter turnout and facilitating the process.

E-voting and its versatility have made possible for the country to achieve goals in its task of ending the exclusion of thousands of citizens, who have the same voting rights as those who live in Filipino territory.

Electoral Risk in Mexico

In many occasions, what starts badly will end badly. This may be Mexico’s case due to a bid that sparked all sorts of doubts and questionings and left electronic voting in the hands of a company that hasn’t lived up to expectations so far.

On January 15, Pounce Consulting was supposed to deliver the 1200 electronic ballot for which it had been hired, but the deadline has long passed and the Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute (IEPC) is still waiting for the equipment that is supposed to inaugurate e-voting in the state of Jalisco.

The fears hanging upon IEPC reinforce the scandal that surrounded the bidding process last year, because granting a contract without the guarantee that the selected company is capable of adhering to the proposed schedule, technical specs and equipment quality, hurts not only the public funds, but also the trust of the voters and political actors.

Pounce Consulting got the contract last October. However, it was done under suspicion due to serious claims of favoritism that even forced the Governor of Jalisco, Emilio González Márquez, to deny that he was promoting the company. The IEPC Director, Nauhcatzin Bravo Aguilar, also pointed out that the company had received preferential treatment, degenerating into a “fixed match” where it obtained “privileged information that allowed it to prepare an invincible technical proposal.”

This negative precedent is now reinforced with the delay in the delivery of the ballots (voting machines), which endangers the instauration of e-voting in Jalisco on July 1st. Voting is supposed to be automated in 40 districts of the state, but IEPC was forced to admit that e-voting will only be used if all guarantees are offered, and there are many doubts about this.

The electoral organism can only wait until February 24 for the delivery to take place, otherwise the voting schedule will overlap and it will be impossible to carry out a plan that guarantees the security, functionality and transparency of e-voting. In light of this outlook, we wonder: why did Jalisco choose to grant the bid to a company with no expertise in electoral technology? Why didn’t it hear the alarms sounded by the political actors? Why didn’t it follow the international recommendations for bidding e-voting? Why did it risk so much?

The answers will surely be many and very diverse, but Pounce has already shown its ineptitude as a tech provider. If it can’t guarantee the delivery of a thousand machines, it should declare itself unable to automate any other election in Mexico. A company is losing here, but the electoral organization is losing much more. Trust in democracy is not a game.

Russia and the transition to electronic voting

A little over a week ago, Russia held local elections in 74 of the 83 federal entities. More than 24 million voters were called to the polls to elect about 3.200 positions, for which 50.000 candidates were nominated. This big event served as a “rehearsal” for the December elections, and it was notable that several locations used electronic voting.

Russia has been interested in the automated electoral system for several years now, but it was in 2010 when Russia approved the legislation to modernize its electoral system. In that year, the secretary of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) Nikolai Konkin, visited Brazil to attend the presidential election and assess the applicability of the Brazilian model, which uses keyboard machines that automate the elections 100%.

“This electronic voting experience will be taken into account for the modernization of the electoral process in the Russian Federation. The CEC is developing the appropriate program, which is expected to be approved this November”, said Konkin last year when he visited Brazil as an international observer.

In the following months, Russia laid the foundations for electronic voting, and in March 13th 2010, several of its provinces experimented with a modern automated system. Bashkiria was one of the provinces that experienced e-voting, using machines with audio guides to guide the voters in simple and fast steps to complete the voting process.

The machines deployed worked as follows: once the voter was proven to be eligible to vote and received a card to activate the voting machine, the touch screen presented the nominated candidates. The citizen had to touch on the screen for marking his or her choice, and then pressed the confirmation botton. Then, the machine printed a paper proof of the vote. When the voting process finished, the votes from the ballot were counted, aggregated and transmitted to a computer center. An information Centre provided by the CEC, allowed the Russians to know the results in real time.

Another technology tested in Russia were the “mobile” or “itinerant” voting machines used in this occasion.  These machines were taken to the houses of disabled voters, who couldn’t mobilize to the polling stations due to illnesses or age factors. The displacement was monitored with the Russian navigation satellite system GLONASS.

The results of the e-voting implementation in Russia are being fully analyzed. The criticisms of the process that have been made by the political actors haven’t been technological in nature, but political. For this reason, the CEC has declared the process as successful.