Saturday, May 13, 2023

Georgia modernizes polls, inches closer to EU membership

Georgia’s recent efforts to modernize its elections have the effect of nudging it closer to its goal of becoming a member of the European Union.

The EU has laid down 12 conditions that Georgia must meet before it can join the union, including the establishment of an independent judiciary, protection of human rights, and an intensified fight against corruption. In complying with such, Georgia must first ensure the proper functioning of democratic institutions, including free and fair elections.

In the last few years, the country has implemented several measures to boost the transparency and fairness of its electoral process, including the use of vote counting machines and voter authentication systems.

Irakli Kobakhidze, who heads the ruling Georgian Dream party, had announced a widespread use of electronic voter registration and voting system starting with the 2024 Parliamentary elections.

“The successful experience of voter registration and voting with modern technologies allows us to implement this initiative on a large scale from 2024”, Kobakhidze said, adding that “electronic voting will ultimately strengthen public confidence in the vote-counting process, ensure that more than 70 percent of votes are counted and results published within minutes after the closing of the voting process, and eliminate problems related to rigging exit polls and parallel vote tabulation.”

Over the past two years, the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia has successfully used electronic vote counting technology and identity solutions in three different pilots in the cities of Batumi, Adjara, and Senaki.

Politicians have crossed party lines on the matter, with Aleksandre Rakviashvili, an MP from the Girchi opposition party calling the move a “step forward” for ensuring a fairer electoral environment. This is reflective of the overwhelming support for the movement – as much as 83% of Georgians want to be in the EU.

The use of vote counting machines has dramatically significantly reduced human error and manipulation in the vote counting process. With the machines being designed to count votes quickly and accurately, the need for manual vote counting, which can be prone to errors and disputes, is eliminated.

In addition to the use of technology, Georgia has also made significant efforts to increase the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in the electoral process. In 2020, the CEC established quotas for female candidates in local elections and introduced a range of measures to encourage women to stand for office.

As a result, the number of Georgian women in parliament jumped from 14 to almost 20 percent. In 2021, women representatives in local councils increased from 13.8 to 24 percent. Likewise, women received 31.4 percent of mandates in proportional lists (441 mandates in total) compared to 19.8 percent of mandates received in 2017.

Georgians still need to buckle down to work – there is still much to be done in ensuring the transparency and fairness of Georgia's electoral process. The CEC needs to act on reports of irregularities and voter intimidation during recent elections, and the developing democracy needs to adopt a whole-of-nation approach to fortify its institutions and legal framework if it is to attain its European aspirations.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Only two e-voting companies pass Upguard cybersecurity test


A recent study by cybersecurity consulting firm Upguard has revealed that only two e-voting technology companies have cleared its security test. In an article posted on its website, the global company details how it selected 6 of the biggest names in e-voting and ranked them according to their CSR (cybersecurity rating).

This Upguard study is important in shedding light into the state of cybersecurity in the e-voting industry. It should raise red flags, and spur election authorities into paying more serious attention to the cybersecurity posture of their vendors.

The study gave London-based Smartmatic the highest score with an 808 CSR out of a possible 950, making it the only one in the sample to earn the rating of Good. The rest either received a rating of Warning or Average.

“Relatively speaking, Smartmatic’s security posture is decent,” the article said. The article cites some issues with Smartmatic’s website that the company needs to remedy. Namely: disabled HTTP Strict Transport Security, lack of secure cookies, and disabled DMARC.

Coming in second with 561 CRS is ClearBallot which was rated Average. It was cited for its “semi-bolstered website perimeter security posture” but was cautioned about common flaws such as lack of SSL, HTTP Strict Transport Security, DMARC and DNSSEC that “plague its web presence.”

The rest of the companies received a rating of Warning, with OSET Foundation scoring 390, Dominion Voting 342, Unisys Voting Solutions 219. Bringing up the rear was ES&S with a dismal 143 CSR, which the study attributed to “a myriad of perimeter security flaws, saying “For example, lack of sitewide SSL render its website vulnerable to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, while the exposure of ports typically assigned to file sharing services and database communications give attackers additional potential attack vectors. A lack of DMARC and DNSSEC also contribute to ES&S' low score.”

While public is not normally interested in cybersecurity as it relates to e-voting, this discovery should change that, and should prompt heightened vigilance in ensuring that all e-voting systems are designed with security in mind.

Strong authentication and authorization mechanisms; use of encryption to protect data in transit and at rest; incorporation of regular security audits and testing to identify and address vulnerabilities; and rigorous independent testing and certification to ensure their security and reliability. All these practices should be baked into every e-voting system.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Philippines holds big election powwow


A major election conference in the Philippines aimed at improving the electoral process through technology was recently hosted by the country’s Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The three-day 2023 National Election Summit was attended by a broad spectrum of stakeholders from government, civil society, the academe, and the private sector. It served as platform for consultations and discussions in pursuit of continuing improvement of the country’s elections, which received a major boost when the Automated Election Systems (AES) was first used in 2010.

The convention featured breakout sessions that took a deep dive into blockchain, cybersecurity, digitalization, campaign contributions, inclusivity, and other hot issues surrounding elections.

Discussions on how the automated count has revolutionized elections in the country was the overwhelming tenor of the event, with numerous experts detailing how the AES has led to the declining numbers of electoral protests, a dramatic drop in incidents of electoral violence, and an unprecedented high approval rating for the Comelec.

On the same vein, a prevailing sentiment in the summit was a need for a continuing improvement in transparency, audibility, and security.

The event featured an exhibit where election companies showcased their high-tech elections systems including optical mark readers (OMR), ballot marking devices (BMD), direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, and internet voting solutions.

George Garcia, the Comelec’s chairman, underscored the importance of the summit in building consensus saying that “it’s not everyday stakeholders – whether they attack the Comelec or defend the Comelec – come together.”

“There are many ideas on how to prevent vote-buying, how to improve overseas voting, how to ensure high voter turnout, and what type of election system we should use,” he added. “In a democracy, we listen and we will act accordingly,” he added.

The Election Summit is being viewed by election observers as a strong confirmation that automation had largely benefited Philippine elections and is likely to be continued with some tweaks. A survey conducted shortly after the 2022 general elections revealed that 9 out of 10 Filipino voters want all future elections to be automated.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Historic: Estonian online voting system breaches 50% mark in recent Estonia polls


Estonia achieved a new world record last week when 51% of voters chose to participate in the 2023 parliamentary elections via the Internet. Since its introduction in 2005 in the Baltic nation, online voting has been enjoying a steady growth.

This success of internet voting is particularly impressive in light of the major cyber-attack in 2007 that disrupted Estonia’s government services and raised concerns about the security of its digital infrastructure. Despite the harrowing episode, Estonians have taken to the idea of digital democracy, a testament to how thoroughly the Estonian government had implemented its recovery measures, including its cyber deterrence strategies.

The increasing sophistication of the technology itself is also driving adoption. Online voting systems are now even more secure, transparent, and inclusive than ever before. They use advanced encryption and other security measures to make the system more impregnable against hacking and other cyber-attacks. The technology is designed to ensure voter anonymity and to be tamper-proof.

As the technology matures, more people are realizing the immense benefits of the internet as voting modality -- flexible, accessible, inclusive, user-friendly. Anywhere there is an internet connection, citizens can vote using a device of their choice. While online voting used to only appeal to tech-savvy young people, it now is increasingly within the reach of voters of all ages and backgrounds.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be another accelerant to i-Voting adoption. Online voting offers a safe and convenient alternative to in-person voting, a fact that has made it more attractive to citizens who may be hesitant to participate in traditional voting systems during a widespread health crisis.

The 2023 Estonia experience is a strong tell for the readiness of voters to embrace even more modern voting modalities such as the internet. Despite important questions around security and accessibility that need to be addressed, election commissions around the world would do well to take a page from the success of Estonia and start exploring how online voting technology could help them conduct better elections.