Monday, June 20, 2016

Estonia: More young people studying e-governance every day

Estonia is today a world reference when talking about digital democracy. The government offers a vast array of online services, which its citizens access through a digital ID card. It is also worth noting that the online voting technology they have developed has been used in several processes in different countries.   

To keep developing these platforms that have improved the quality of life of millions, several of the country’s public and private universities are offering top-of-the-line courses to young people interested in innovation and e-governance.  

One of these institutions is the Tallinn University of Technology  (TUT), which offers a MSc in technology and e-governance services to native and foreign students. This degree, driven by the public and private sectors, is a priority for the country, and the subject is openly promoted by president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a confessed lover of innovative technology. 
At TUT, students with ideas for first-level startups want to be ambassadors for Estonia’s electoral technology and make it known worldwide. One of them is Crystal LaGrone from Oklahoma, USA, who is halfway through the masters program and wants to bring e-voting technology back home.   

LaGrone came to Estonia as a visitor and quickly became interested in innovation. “I’ve discovered great advances in IT, particularly Internet voting”. 

This student, who had no previous IT experience, thinks that Internet voting could strengthen democracy and increase turnout in the United States. In her opinion, the masters program offers extensive knowledge on how to found a modern statethe transition to e-government, its development and management. 

Her objective is clear: returning to the United States to improve e-voting systems, a tool designed to strengthen democracy by preventing paper-based fraud.  “If we managed to take a man to the moon and bring him back, Internet voting couldn’t possibly be as hard”. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

At least 43 states in the USA will use obsolete technology in the 2016 elections

It is estimated that during the 2016 elections at least 43 states in the USA will use voting machines that are already obsolete. In a world where technology is used almost daily, one must wonder why Americans must choose a President using devices running software from the year 2000.  

According to a study published by the Brennan Center most these machines are nearing the end of their useful life, placing the elections at risk by being prone to failures that could generate long lineups, or the loss of votes.   

Lawrence Norden,  Deputy Director of the centre and co-author of the study, wonders how one can think there are no risks  in running elections with technology designed in the 90’s. “No one expects a computer to work optimally for over 10 years”. 

The warnings in the report come at a moment when voter turnout in the US has decreased, given the long lines at the polls and the limited access certain sectors of society have to the vote.  

Before the 2016 primaries, Smartmatic – the leading elections company with experience in five continents – published a research paper that highlights the shortcomings of the American electoral system. 

The general opinion of those consulted shows that the current voting system is inefficient and discourages voters. On their part, Hispanics showed their concern about language barriers, considering that implementing new systems could increase turnout.  

These studies are just the tip of the iceberg of a subject that is gaining traction with American citizens, who see that an obsolete voting system could affect the vision their country projects worldwide about the strength of its democracy. For them, this situation could be reverted easily with the introduction of new and better technology. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Electronic counting in Dominican Republic fails

Dominican Republican election authorities are desperately trying to come up with an official tally of votes after Spanish-based Indra Sistemas failed to provide reliable technology during the national elections held on May 15.

More than ten days have passed since polls closed, yet authorities are still figuring out what went wrong and how to process the votes of the Dominicans who participated. 

In September, 2015, Indra Sistemas was awarded by the Junta Central Electoral (JCE) a $31MM contract to provide two solutions, one to verify the identity of voters before casting a ballot and optical scanners to digitize the voter-marked ballots and streamline the counting and transmission of election data. However, things did not turn out as planned.

According to a preliminary report by the Organization of American States, “The biggest weakness on the day of the election had to do with the use of technical equipment. In many precincts, equipment failed, technical assistants did not show up, or there were problems related to connectivity or the operation of biometric machines or automated ballot counting machines...”

The report also states: “The implementation of these technological tools had serious problems: Lack of training of the technicians and their unfamiliarity with the way the equipment; Lack of human resources to run the equipment; and Flaws in security code recognition.”

The failure of Indra’s technology shouldn’t come as a surprise. Weeks before the election, political parties had expressed their discontent with the technology and how it was being implemented. To give assurance to political stakholders that no rigging would occur, authorities ordered a manual count of all votes cast to run in parallel with the electronic count. Post-election audits, which contrast electronic versus manual counting, are yielding different numbers. 

A local USAID-funded NGO named “Particpaci√≥n Ciudadana” coincided with many of OAS’ comments. This NGO has a long trajectory of election observation in the Caribbean nation. Its third and last report on the election stated:

“In 30.7% of precincts problems in the scanning of ballots were reported, and in 30.9% of precincts with the transmission of the vote. Authorities relied on manual counting in 97.7% of the polling places. 

Anomalies in the counting of votes reached 62.4% of schools.

In 40.4% of schools anomalies occurred during the verification of voters and counting process. In 10% of the cases the printer did not work.

Voter registration devices did not arrive to 29.3% of polling centers. 

Vote counting machines were missing in 27.4% of schools; in those schools where the technology was delivered, there was plenty of confusion on how to properly handle it.”

With more details surfacing, the JCE will have a lot explaining to do in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

US voters risk being left behind by today’s voting systems

It’s not a surprise to say that the majority of America’s existing voting machines are dangerously outdated. The nation is approaching the most important election in history and unfortunately the voting system is putting voters at risk. 

A recently Smartmatic research underlined the connection between inconvenient voting processes with outdated technologies and decreased voter participation. A stunning 81% of respondents felt changes needed to be made to the US voter experience and voting system, meaning that a majority view the current voting system as inefficient and discourages Americans from voting.

The same research also points out three priorities for voters, with 33% stating that the most needed change is to “incorporate online remote voting,” 28% declaring that “US voting technology should be updated to be ‘user-friendly,’” and 20% believes that “the voting process should be made more efficient by reducing the amount of time necessary to cast a vote.” Even President Obama himself referenced the challenges facing voters when he called for voting to be made easier, not harder, for all Americans, during his final State of the Union address.

Considering that the most recent presidential elections were all decided by margin points, a significant voter turnout can define the future of U.S. In fact it’s strange that in a country where you can do almost everything online, the voting system, a pillar of any democracy, still relies on outdated technology or even paper. So, it’s not a matter of if but when. The entire election process needs to be modernized and bring the U.S to the 21st century.