Protection of voter lists must be priority

The voter list is a critical item in any election. It is needed for the enforcement of basic principles, such as only allowing valid voters to participate and preventing those who are not from taking part in the election.

As an answer to the risks involved with citizen enrolment and the protection of their information, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has announced that they will design a tool that will allow electoral bodies to improve the digital security of their registries, in turn protecting the privacy of the data they contain.

IFES is promoting this initiative after the recent leaks of the voter lists of the American states of Arizona and Illinois.  According to local press, the databases compromised by the hackers contained “Personally Identifiable Information (PII)”, that is, names addresses, biometric and gender info on the voters.

Other leaks have taken place in Turkey and Mexico.  In the former, the data of  50 million citizens, was hacked; 1.5 GB of compromised files were posted online, containing information such as the identity number, dates of birth, and addresses of these individuals. In the Latin American country, the information of every single eligible Mexican voter (93.4 million) was also posted online.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems stated this information “must be protected through robust data security measures”, and that they will conduct an “in-depth analysis of Electoral Management Bodies (EMB) digital security practices and develop a diagnostic tool to help EMBs practice better digital security”.

For now, they urge these bodies to make digital security a top priority.  The foundation considers that the sharing of voter list data “must have stronger protocols for secure data transfer and guaranteed anonymity of individuals”.

It also recommended to update data privacy laws, and for government authorities to channel more resources to understanding the relationship between open data and digital privacy, including voter information.

27 elections to take place before the year’s end, four in Latin America

Despite September being just around the corner, the electoral calendar is still quite full, including 27 elections in four continents.  Four Latin American countries will go to the polls before the end of 2017.

This list was compiled by the Election Observers Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, who inform that in the hectic electoral schedule for the rest of 2017 there will be 10 presidential and seven legislative elections, while the rest will be primaries and municipal elections.

Some of the events will take place simultaneously in several countries in the same month; four of these countries are Latin American.  Argentina will hold elections in August and October; Chile and Honduras will have theirs in November, and Venezuela will have them in July and December. Additionally, the American states of Virgina and New Jersey will also vote.

Electoral preparations already began in Argentina, where, in the middle of a scandal regarding the award of a contract for the temporary vote count service, marred by suspicions of traffic of influences and a fixed bid,  their primary elections (Simultaneous and Mandatory Primaries, PASO) were moved up to August 13th. Argentina will hold parliamentary elections in October.

Meanwhile, Venezuela will employ electronic voting once more. After calling for elections for the National Constitutional Assembly for July 30th, electoral authorities have announced regional elections for October.

November will see the Chilean presidential elections (on the 19th) and Honduras (set for the 26th).  As for the latter, there is a scandal unveiled by theNational Anti-Corruption Council (CNA), which questioned Mapa Soluciones and other companies involved in the Preliminary Results Transmission System (Trep) and the Integrated Count and Result Broadcast System (Siede) These companies are under investigation due to the irregularities in the award of several contracts, an accusation that also reaches the current board of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

In the case of Chile, the election set for November 19th could be used as a starting point for the renewal of their voting system. The country experiences strong voter apathy at the moment. Abstention hovers around 60%, which has led experts to agree that the nation must strive to modernize its voting mechanisms.

As for the United States, on November 7th two States will test once more the diverse e-voting models at their disposal. The voting in Virginia and New Jersey could show the need for software and hardware renewal (some parts of the country are lagging in updating), but it could also show the advantages in security, ease and speed that come with technology.

In the rest of the world, India began their road to presidential elections on July 25th.  Presidential elections will also be held in Rwanda (August 4th), Kenya (August 8th), Singapore (sometime in September), New Zealand (September 23rd), Liberia (October 10th), Kyrgyzstan (November 19th) and Slovenia (sometime in December).

Each and every one of these elections will be a great chance for electoral technology to shine. While Venezuela and the United States will confirm their leading status in e-voting technology, other nations will need to keep pushing for modernization, and for a more transparent selection procedure for the companies they choose to this end.

Technology as a way out of Chilean voter apathy

Foto: El Mostrador

In 2012, accusations of massive electoral fraud with as much as one million ballots allegedly being lost rocked Chile. As a result, confidence in the manual system plummeted to an all-time low. In the 2016 October municipal elections only 4,931,041 voters went to the polls – a dismal 35% turnout.

The worsening voter apathy has prompted former president Sebastián Piñera and the Avanza Chile Foundation to present the government with a project that proposes “early” e-voting for future Chilean elections, with the goal of increasing turnout.

The proposal would mean adopting an automated voting system (still unspecified) which would open voting for 15 days before the election and close it 5 days before.  It would be designed for both elections and plebiscites.

This initiative gives an opening for the country to bank on their strengths (democratic stability and credible institutions), using technology to make voting easier for their citizens.  Chile needs to stimulate turnout, and technology is a tool that improves access and makes voting more user friendly.

In the region, there are successful experiences that can be seen as references. Brazil and Venezuela are the flag bearers of electoral automation in Latin America, and even though the two countries employ different solutions, they share similarities in having e-voting systems widely accepted by their citizens.

In the case of Brazil, the Superior Electoral Court developed its own model, based on a machine with a numerical keypad. At the end of the day, these machine prints several records with the results; one of these records is stored in a magnetic disk, and is transmitted over a secure network for the tallying taking place in the Court’s computers.

On the other hand, Venezuela has 100% automated elections since 2004. The voters exercise their right through touch screen voting machines, selecting their choices directly on the screen of the device and getting a paper voucher that reflects them. The voters are also identified by means of a biometric system.  The devices are not only capable of recording and storing the vote, but also to count it, tally it and transmit it using encryption.

Compared to these examples, Chile’s fledgling efforts to modernize its elections barely move the needle. Yet these are important steps in reversing the worrisome trend of voter apathy, and which creates elections where participation is the rule and not the exception.