Six mandatory steps for successful electoral automation

There is currently a group of countries in South America focused on the automation of their voting systems.  This measure, a transcendental one for any democratic nation, calls for decisions that will determine the success or failure of the technology. Therefore, it is very important for authorities to consider a few vital steps to overcome the challenges of revamping an entire voting system.

Among these countries we find Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. They all are in different stages and are following their own rules. However, it is worth it to review the best practices available to revamp a voting system with as few problems as possible, or at least, without any costly ones.

In different successful instances of voting automation around the world, the authorities have taken precautions in choosing the electoral technology that best fits the system already in place. There is no such thing as “too many safeguards”. Quite the opposite; being thorough is what will make an electronic voting model bullet-proof.

Some of the experts’ recommendations include the following:

1.- To secure trust in the new system, it is mandatory that an open process takes place for every stage (creating the legal regulatory framework, selecting the system, testing, bidding, etc.). The implementation of the new system must also be gradual and go hand in hand with an extensive information and training campaign.

2.- It is vital to conduct a bidding process that meets the highest standards, that is, one which considers an international call for electoral technology vendors, who must be able to prove their experience in the subject and offer a flexible e-voting model that is tailored to the legal, technical and financial needs of the nation, even to its idiosyncrasies.  Running an election implies lining up countless variables, and a company with no previous experience is the wrong choice for mission critical projects.

3.- When starting the search and comparison of offers in the market, it is fundamental to evaluate the local infrastructure and every potential limiting factor in it (power grid, phone and data services, communication lines, etc.). The sustainability of the automated model over time must also be considered.  It must be understood that the success of automation calls for more than technology alone. The services available in the country will be determining factors to guarantee good performance.

4.- The selection must answer to the interest of acquiring a system that guarantees the security, secrecy and transparency of voting, as well as providing the advantages characteristic to e-voting: safety, speed and auditability.

5.- Together with the need to carry out pilot runs that test the reliability and adaptation of the model to the country’s characteristics, verification of the system’s auditability is mandatory.  There are several kinds of technology that can be audited exhaustively during every phase: software, electoral infrastructure, servers, security protocols, firewalls; all can be reviewed. Reviews can be done by technicians, political figures and organizations, and most importantly, by the voters themselves.  Such a scenario is possible when using voting machines capable of printing voting vouchers, since these can be reviewed on the spot and tell whether the vote recorded is the same as the vote printed.

6.- When designing a voting model, authorities must strive to make voting easier, adapting a technology that suits the nation’s characteristics.  For instance, in Brazil, where people are used to associating candidates with numbers, the machines reflect this fact: they have a numeric keypad used to mark choices, analogous to the writing of numbers on traditional ballots.

These six suggestions are not the only ones, but they are the most important for an optimal application of electronic voting.  Technology can be used to make any step of an election easier, but its proper and massive use will be what makes the difference between automated and manual processes.

The Dominican Republic awaits answers after electoral technology failures

After the May 15 general elections in the Dominican Republic, the nation once more has witnessed examples of malpractice in the implementation of electoral technology.

Following elections where irregularities where listed by local and foreign organizations, and where the failures and vices were of such magnitude that Central Electoral Board (JCE) member Eddy Olivares filed a complaint against the board, hoping to clear what happened and open a space for rectification.

For this last process, the JCE hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology. Logistic, technical and operational errors found in both the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines, were alarming.

Facing this situation, Olivares asked by means of a letter for all electronic counting devices purchased from Indra which failed during the voting to be audited so a case can be constructed against the Spanish company, to have it answer for the significant damage done to the integrity of elections, the JCE’s reputation and the electoral system.

Olivares’ letter includes what the Organization of American States (OAS) stated: “…that the main fragility of the day was the use of the [voting] devices, given they were missing from several polling centres or had connectivity or operation problems, and in some other cases tech support technicians did not show up”; while the Unsaur claimed that “the material for automated voting and voter identification was, in many cases, absent, incomplete and/or defective”.

Although there were plenty of issues raised, the JCE underestimated the accusations and has not replied to Olivares, but it is clear that the board must heed the demands that several political parties have made and establish responsibilities, because what is at stake is the integrity of the nation’s electoral system and therefore its democracy.

Electronic voting in Peru

As the second voting round of the Peruvian presidential nears (June 5th), the political debate has turned into a fierce struggle between Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) of Peruanos Por el Kambio, and Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza Popular.  Parallel to this confrontation, the country’s public opinion is also debating the lacklustre performance of the e-voting model that it had been partially using, and which fell short of expectations during the initial voting of April 10th.

It is worth mentioning that the Peruvian e-voting system has been used in some 15 pilots that included between 5 and 19 metropolitan districts, and so far results are not satisfactory.

Given the importance of a presidential election, one should study the electoral technology designed by the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) several years ago, comparing it to successful automated models around the globe.

The Peruvian e-voting system is based on a ballot that needs to be inserted in the voting machine to activate options (candidates) on a touchscreen. The voter presses his/her choices which the machine processes and stores, and then prints a voting voucher at the end.

This voter experience is similar to the model used in Belgium since 2012.

In Peru, like in some jurisdictions of the United States, voters select their candidates by means of a touch screen.  Both Brazil and India use machines without touch sensitive screens, and votes are entered by means of keypads.

The Peruvian voting machine issues a printed voting voucher.  This resembles the Venezuelan experience, and is different from e-voting in Brazil and India, where no vouchers are printed for the electorate.

Once the polls close, it is time to count selections and transmit results for each voting machine.  The ONPE sees tallying and transmission as separate processes: a first step where “the results station consolidates partial information and arrives at a final result”, and a second step that includes the “transmission station, which digitizes statements of the vote, and transmits results and digitized statements to the central site”.

On the other hand, both Brazil and Venezuela, countries which have automated their elections for over a decade, have voting  machines that are capable of storing, counting, tallying and transmitting results as an integral process that takes place right after the polls close.