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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Calming effects of credible polls noted in Philippines; losing bet finds no cheating

Source: Emilio @13thfool

The run-up to the 2022 Philippine elections went down as one of the most acrimonious and polarizing few months in the Southeast Asian country’s history. Emotions ran high as partisans for frontrunners Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., and former Vice President Leni Robredo went at each other tooth and nail throughout the campaign.

Marcos eventually won by a landslide, sewing up 31 million votes to Robredo’s 15 million. The generally regarded smooth conduct of the elections also worked to quell the noise and defuse tensions, paving the way for an uneventful transition of power.

Despite calls for her to contest the results, Robredo chose to quietly accept them, an act which many observers believe was crucial in de-escalating tensions and calming the country.

Recently, Robredo went on record with author and journalist Ninotchka Rosca in New York City, to state more explicitly that her team found no evidence of cheating, giving observers hope that her statement would finally quash the lowkey-but-persistent calls to challenge the election results.

“Right after the elections, we formed a team of lawyers and we formed a team of computer experts to look into allegations of cheating,” Robredo said in an interview.

“We participated in all the third-party audits that were conducted, and our lawyers and our computer experts did not see anything. We don’t want to file a case only to keep your hopes up,” she added.

She also referenced the elections in 2016, where she narrowly defeated Marcos in the vice-presidential race, which the latter contested via an electoral protest. The case dragged on for years and provided fodder for a disinformation campaign that observers say hurt Robredo’s image. The case was terminated in 2020 when the Supreme Court upheld Robredo’s win.

“We did not want to do what was done to me in 2016,” she added.

Robredo’s lawyer, Emil Marañon, admitted that their camp actively looked for evidence of fraud but found none.

“Trust me, we started with disbelief [about the results] and we are dying to find something to answer the call of the supporters [to protest], but there was none. The numbers checked,” Marañon said.

Robredo’s statements are the latest testimony to the credibility of the 2022 vote. The election watchdogs Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) had said within days of the elections that it could not find any irregularities surrounding the conduct of the polls.

Election credibility in the Philippines has been on the rise since the country adopted an automated election system. A post-election survey by Pulse Asia revealed that 90% of Filipino voters believe the elections to be credible and want all future elections to be automated.

According to Pulse Asia President Ronald Holmes, Filipinos generally feel that cheating was less pervasive in the 2022 elections and that “the vote count was faster and the results remain credible.”

"The level of trust is still significant. [The] majority trust the results of the elections that they are accurate and thereby credible," he added.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Election integrity and speed election results publication


A full week after polls closed in the US midterm elections of 2022, the counting had yet to wrap up in many counties and states. The drawn-out count had the nation on tenterhooks as it awaited results in battleground states that could dictate the makeup of Congress. For many Americans, the delay brought back fraught memories of 2020 when it took several excruciating days for the winning presidential candidate to be determined.

News consumption has changed drastically in recent years. With social media circulating information worldwide at lightening speeds we have become accustomed to immediate access to information. In this context, election authorities are asking Americans to wait an entire week while diligent poll workers process paper ballots – an impossible ask.

The speed of election results is a variable that needs to be evaluated urgently by election commissions. It’s no longer enough for election officers to facilitate voting and counting votes accurately. Together with voter participation, or the security and accuracy of results, speed is a key variable to preserve election integrity. In the absence of results, information voids will be filled with conspiracy theories of all kinds.

One of the main causes of the delay in the US is the large number of voters who choose to participate using the modality of voting by mail. According to data from the US census, in 2020, 43% of voters exercised their right by sending their ballot by mail. The rising popularity of vote by mail is clear evidence that voters appreciate convenience. Yet, this is a voting method that presents many challenges for those who administer the election. Each envelope received must be reviewed to validate the voter's signature, and then be passed through an optical scanner that registers the voter's vote. The use of drop boxes in some jurisdictions also holds up the process as it necessitates physical retrieval of ballots and segregation into correct precincts.

Although participation rates in the US soared in the last couple elections, for decades it trailed that of many other industrialized nations. According to a Pew Research Center study, election participation in the US ranked 31st among OECD countries. Facing participation declines, election authorities prioritized participation and promoted voting by mail. The increase of division and polarization that surround our elections, and the ubiquity of disinformation should make election officials reconsider their priorities.

The 2022 midterm elections have made it abundantly clear that authorities need to implement technology-based solutions to speed up vote counting and processing. It is time to give voters who want the convenience of casting their ballot remotely the option to vote online. Estonia, a Baltic nation with a long-standing tradition of fighting Russian hackers could be a good example to emulate. Since 2005, Estonians have had the option to securely cast a ballot online or to head to a polling station to cast a ballot with pen and paper. Online voting is now the preferred voting option.

Allowing voters to cast their ballot online would decrease the number of ballots election workers process manually. Results could be immediately published on election night. This small, yet important reform could go a long way fighting the disinformation that abounds in the critical hours of election night.