E-voting, key in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections


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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.

Elections in Venezuela: How are ballots cast? How are votes safeguarded?


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In Venezuela, voting is 100% automated, and it includes voting machines and electronic ballots. Photo: Mercadeo y Negocios.

Next December 6th, 19,496,296 Venezuelans will exert their right to vote to elect 167 deputies to the National Assembly. Although voters in this country already have 12 years of experience in e-voting, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with the voting process and electoral guarantees for this occasion.

This time, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has activated 14,515 polling centers, in which 40,601 polling stations with voting machines and biometric identification devices will be used.

Venezuela’s electoral process is 100% automatic. Voting, tallying, and aggregation are carried out through electronic means. Besides, results are encrypted and transmitted through a network provided by CANTV, the state telecommunication company.

Six steps will take place in each polling station to complete the voting process:

 

  1. Information

Polling centers with three or more polling stations will have a Voter Information Station. In it, an operator will provide each voter with information about his or her polling station number after checking his or her ID. Also, information will be provided about the page and line in the voting registry where the voter will need to sign and stamp his or her fingerprint.

  1. Voter verification

Throughout the country, 40,601 machines will be deployed for validating voters’ fingerprints. Upon arrival, each voter will have to produce his or her ID document to a polling station member, who will record the ID data into the Integrated Authentication System (SAI), which includes the biometric device. The device will then capture the voter’s fingerprint to verify his or her identity and activate the voting machine.

  1. Voting

After the identity verification phase is finished, the voter will go to the voting booth, which houses the voting machine and the electronic ballot. The voter must press on sectors corresponding to the choices he or she must make according to his or her precinct, or press on the “select all” Option. After this process is complete, the vote will be shown on the screen of the voting machine. After verification, and after correction if need be, the voter will press the word “vote” on the touchscreen. Thus, his or her vote will be stored in the machine, and it will also be printed on a paper receipt, which the voter must deposit in a ballot box. The voter will then sign the vote registry and stamp his or her fingerprint. The process is finished by soaking the voter’s pinky finger in indelible ink.

  1. Tallying

Ballots cast by voters remain stored randomly in the voting machine’s memory. After the voting process is closed (the legal time is 6:00pm, but extensions are allowed), the device will count them. Results will be reflected on the tally report that will be printed. This process is performed in each of the voting machines distributed across the country.

  1. Transmission

After the tallying is completed, and the tally report or minute is printed, the transmission cable is plugged into the voting machine and the encrypted data is transmitted to the National Tabulation Center. This information travels through a network provided by the government-owned communications company. The aggregation system only receives data from machines that have been verified and authorized by the electoral power.

  1. Audit

After the polling stations have been closed, vote receipts deposited in the ballot boxes are counted in 54% of the stations in order to audit the automated results. After information has been transmitted, a new process begins: physical votes (paper receipts printed by the machine) are compared against the results tallied, printed, and transmitted by the same machine.

This audit is part of the set of 23 reviews to which the Venezuelan system is subjected. This system’s technology is provided by the multinational company Smartmatic. The CNE and political actors agreed to execute inspections before, during, and after the elections, thus guaranteeing the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire process.

The audits include a review of the software used by the voting machines and the verification of the devices’ setup file, inspection of the electoral infrastructure and servers (features, database servers, reception, and query), as well as security protocols (firewall, authentication services, file integrity revision), voting registries, and biometric devices.

Besides, new inspections were incorporated into this process: audit of biometric automation incidents, where 1.5% of the polling centers will be subjected to a revision in order to determine if some people voted more than once; total records with possible identity issues on the database, maximum amount of possible double votes, and votes affected by null identity or multiple votes and their impact on election results.

Venezuela is ready for elections. The system is ready to receive voters and deliver the country a new electoral process where results match the people’s intent by 100%.

Politics challenge the speed of automated results in Venezuela


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Venezuela has a 100% automated voting system.

Elections in Argentina and Colombia are taking place between October and November, in close proximity with Venezuela’s parliamentary elections (December 6). This reactivated the debate about speed in the delivery of electoral results in the last one.

During the last Parliamentary elections (September 2010), the National Electoral Council (CNE) retained the emission of the first electoral bulletin for eight hours after closing the polls. At that moment there was harsh criticism over the fact that although Venezuela has an automated voting model, results were delivered much later than nations with manual voting and tallying.

This apparent contradiction sparked a number or rumors, but has also brought deep analysis and the formulation of theories linked to the strong political friction that Venezuela has been suffering due to the polarization it has been experiencing for more than a decade. However, when it comes to such a critical element as the results of an election, it is fair to conclude that the reasons delaying the presentation of vote counts in Venezuela have always been of political and legal nature.

The conclusion is based on three elements that have an effect on the delivery of results: the closure of polling stations is not uniform; the CNE’s decision of only revealing the tally when the trend is irreversible; and, most important, the fact that consultation with political actors takes place before diffusion.

Normally, the electoral authorities announce that results will be presented three hours after the closing of the polls. However, the effective closing time is not the same across the country, because the Law mandates that even though the end of process is announced, voting must continue in those polling stations where there are still voters standing in line. Therefore, the moment when most of the results begin to be transmitted is uneven.

Another aspect that affects time is the fact that CNE only delivers the tally when there is an irreversible trend, despite the fact that the system is capable of showing data transmission in real time.

In this case, the December 6 election is an event for local constituencies, and for this reason a higher number of votes is needed to achieve an irreversible trend than in national elections. In other words, these are elections that are decided over a smaller amount of votes. Even the votes stored in a single voting machine may change the results of a constituency. For example, in 2010, Ricardo Sanguino (PSUV) won at circuit 3 of the Táchira state by only 90 votes.

This situation also has an effect from a different standpoint, as authorities have been known for releasing results when most posts have a firm trend and not when only some of them have reached it. In other words, while in other countries seats are disclosed as their trends become irreversible, in Venezuela this is only done when most or all of them have become so.

The third aspect that affects the delivery of the official bulletin is the fact that before disclosing results in public, the CNE shares them with political actors, so that they can compare them with their own numbers. In Venezuela, witnesses of political trends receive copies of the tally reports printed at each polling center.

Eugenio Martínez, journalist to the electoral source, confirmed this aspect in his blog, and he describes other elements such as the country’s political culture. These cause the nation not to leverage one of the benefits provided by its electoral system: speed in the delivery of results. However, results in Venezuela are always official, while in Colombia and Argentina they are “provisional.”

This situation, as well as other details of the December 6 elections were addressed on a preliminary report from the Political Studies Center of the Ucab and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which concludes that “the strength of Venezuela’s electoral process lies in the automated system for vote casting and tallying, and its biggest flaw consists in the lack of equality (official unfairness) in the conditions for electoral competition.”

The Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) agreed with this observation. This coalition joins the opposition parties, and it insists on the need for results to be delivered faster. Even for this process, it requested “starting to release those results showing irreversible trends” in order to “avoid a situation of uncertainty.”

All these events reveal that in Venezuela, politics are challenging the voting system’s capability of offering timely and fast results. There are other factors to keep into account in this occasion, which are not related to e-voting: the country’s socioeconomic instability and the tension generated by surveys that for the first time show the government at a disadvantage. However, pressure from the political groups themselves and from voters in future events may lead the country to gain access to real-time broadcasting of results, something it is surely capable of fulfilling.