Monday, May 31, 2021

Defying Covid-19, London holds successful elections


When Covid caught the world by surprise last year, London was one of regions in England which bore the brunt of the pandemic’s fury leaving a staggering 4,000 residents dead by April.

Election authorities had no choice but to postpone their May elections one year, a draconian move they hoped would buy them more time to figure out a way to uphold the right to suffrage while a pandemic raged. With a whole year to plan, the city made sure to refine its processes and implement enhanced safety protocols. Aside from the mandatory mask and social distancing measures, authorities decided to extend the normally 1-day count to two days.

Mary Harpley, Greater London Returning Officer (GLRO), said shortly before the May 6 polls that the new counting process would be different due to the Coronavirus pandemic. “Much planning has gone into ensuring that the safety of Londoners and election staff is prioritized. We look forward to running a safe, fair and efficient democratic process in partnership with the London boroughs, to allow London's 6.2 million voters to have their say on 6 May.”

With such a large voting population scattered across 33 boroughs, London has one of the most challenging local election landscapes in the UK. They employ three different counting systems: first-past-the-post, a supplementary vote system, and a form of proportional representation. To facilitate vote counting GLA authorities employ election technology.

London’s e-counting solution ensured ballot papers were scanned and processed quickly and accurately, with full auditability of results, which resulted in increased transparency and integrity. The electronic count of 10.6 million votes was validated by the Constituency Returning Officer and the Greater London Returning Officer.

The centralized processing of the voter-marked ballots, hitherto a one-day process, began on May 7th, and was carried over to the next day to ensure a Covid-19 safe environment. High-speed scanners deployed in the three count centers made sure that count was delivered with speed, efficiency, auditability, and all the while requiring less staff.

Deputy Greater London Returning Officer, Alex Conway commended everyone involved in the exercise, saying that “the commitment of their teams meant the rapid shift to delivering a COVID-safe election was a real success.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Undeterred by new Covid surge, Vietnam goes ahead with parliamentary polls

In yet another demonstration of the resiliency of the electoral process, Vietnamese voters turned out at the polls recently to elect representatives to the 500-seat National Assembly, amid a new surge of Covid-19 cases. The country has earned praises last year for having one of the better pandemic responses in the region but has been battling an outbreak since late April.

Strict health protocols were implemented to prevent transmission, with voters being required to mask up and subjected to temperature checks before even queuing. Hand sanitizers were also freely available at polling centers, which were equipped with loudspeakers broadcasting reminders to keep a safe distance.

Observers were quick to point out how this election saw only 74 independents out of the total of 866 candidates vying for the parliamentary posts. In fact, the Communist Party in Vietnam, one of the last such governing communist parties in the world, still controls much of the power structure in the country and is largely intolerant of criticism.

Nonetheless, the regular and uninterrupted holding of elections is seen as crucial in maintaining the country’s trajectory towards freer trade, a more open society and eventual full democratization.

The nearly 69.2 million registered voters also voted for members of the people’s councils at provincial and district levels.

“I hope all voters, knowing their role as the owners of the country, will join the vote to select the most trusted and worthy candidates to represent their voices,” National Assembly chairman Vuong Dinh Hue said before the election.

Hue noted that the Sunday’s elections was the first “amid the most dangerous coronavirus outbreak that’s spread to nearly half of the number of provinces, with many of them under lockdown.”

Election results are expected to be announced in two weeks.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Technology powers Albanian elections for the first time; observers hail initiative as a success


When Albanian voters went to the polls on April 25, most of them were identified and authenticated using a new electronic voter identification system, an innovation that many observers are lauding as a success.

Reinhold Lopatka, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation cited the introduction of electronic technologies as an “important and welcome improvement for Albania.”

The international election observation mission 65 observers from the OSCE PA, issued a statement with preliminary conclusions on April 26. “I had the pleasure of witnessing the high degree of efficiency of the biometric identification system used throughout the country. This is an important step, which can only increase confidence in the electoral process," commented Lopatka.

The initiative of the Central Elections Committee (CEC) to implement technology was born out of a need to curb voter fraud. Historically, Albania had been racked by allegations of voting manipulation. Authorities had tried to modernize elections before, but after failing to implement a voter verification solution and an electronic counting solution in 2013, it put the introduction of election technology on hold.

"Last year's political agreement prompted important reforms and led to the introduction of electronic technology, which served to increase confidence in the electoral process," said Ursula Gacek, Head of the OSCE / ODIHR Election Observation Mission in Tirana.

Observers also wished that the CEC was able to roll out the technology to all precincts, an undertaking that was hampered by lack of material time in which the agency was only given three months to implement the landmark initiative.

"I wish technology would be used more in the next elections, " said Azay Guliyev, Special coordinator and short-term leader of the OSCE / ODIHR mission.

Lealba Pelinku, a deputy commissioner, is optimistic of future elections, saying that “when the CEC succeeded in three months, I am convinced that in the next elections electronic voting will be a 100% success!”

Aside from the biometric voter identification system, the CEC also piloted e-Voting solutions in selected precincts, indicating that Albania could be headed toward full automation of its elections.

"We observed some of these centers and I can say that it was an extraordinary success," said Valdete Daka, Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission in Kosovo.

Mrs. Kristina Kostelac, Election Administration Analyst / CEC Observer, on the other hand, said that their group “welcomes the adoption of relevant bylaws by the CEC that enabled the use of new technologies, including the Electronic Voter Identification System (EVIS) and pilot projects of the CEC.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pandemic no barrier to Ecuadorian elections


In what is being hailed by observers as yet another incontrovertible proof that democracy will not be derailed, Ecuadorians braved the pandemic in droves last Sunday to cast their votes for the runoff elections.

Andrez Araus, the left-wing candidate, conceded to former banker Guillermo Lasso, who rode to victory with 53% of the votes in the runoff elections. Arauz had earlier led the first round of voting with more than 30% on Feb. 7, while Lasso slid into runoff by edging indigenous candidate Yaku Perez by half a percentage point.

“I congratulate him on his electoral triumph today and I will show him our democratic convictions,” said Arauz, a known protégé of outgoing president Rafael Correa.

To minimize risks, the CNE has implemented biosafety measures overseen by the 85,000 members of the armed forces and police. Voters have been ordered to wear a mask, bring their own bottle of hand sanitizer and pencil, keep a 5-foot (1.5-meter) distance from others and avoid all personal contact in the polling place. The only time voters were allowed to lower their masks will be during the identification process.

Vice President Maria Alejandra Munoz said after the first round that these elections are "crucial" since they are taking place in a different context, "because we have not experienced a pandemic like the current one and the consequences that not all Ecuadorians are included in the short-, medium-, and long-term solutions could be dire."

CNE President Diana Atamaint said that the election was the most important day of the exercise of democracy. “Today, Ecuador wins and democracy wins," said Atamaint.

She admitted that organizing the elections during the pandemic has been a "challenge," but that the necessary sanitary conditions have been created to "care for the health of Ecuadorians and for democracy."

A total of 13,099,150 Ecuadorians, including 410,239 living abroad, were registered to vote in the elections, which had some 38,808 polling stations nationwide.

Ecuadorian voters also decided the occupants of 137 seats in the National Assembly and five seats in the Andean Parliament.