Thursday, November 26, 2015

Technological challenges lie ahead of Nigeria's 2019 election

In order for a country to move forward with progressive change that is beneficial for all its citizens, it must first establish a democratic process that is fair, secure and respected. This is particularly challenging for countries in transition, especially where a fair and open democracy is still a relatively novel concept in the shadow of previously unjust regimes.

A prime example of these circumstances is happening right now in the African country of Nigeria. Even though the federal elections were held just earlier this year, electing Muhammadu Buhari as the new President, the electoral commission and other governmental organizations are already looking ahead to the next election scheduled to take place in 2019.

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Acting Chairperson Mrs. Amina Zakari has indicated that the commission “is ready to implement what is contemplated in the law.” More specifically, she says that Nigeria is technologically ready to move forward with e-voting as soon as the impediment of the law has been alleviated. The next major step required is to pass laws in Nigeria that allow for the widespread adoption of electronic voting technology for the 2019 elections.

To this end, INEC has partnered with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in an effort to deploy high technology in what should be a very robust election in four years’ time. The announcement of this collaboration comes ahead of an annual e-governance conference in mid-November, called eNigeria, where discussions will be held in regards to applying technological solutions in the 2019 general election, as well as to how to improve the electoral system in the nation as a whole.

It would not be prudent for Nigeria to hurl itself into full deployment of e-voting throughout its democratic process without first performing some due diligence. Indeed, while Nigeria did make use of biometric technology in its general election earlier this year, the fingerprint identification system was marred with problematic challenges. Once again, this further illustrates the incredible importance of two key issues.

First, the electoral commission of Nigeria must be careful in selecting the right providers for its e-voting equipment and infrastructure. This includes not only the hardware for voter authentication and digital ballots, possibly with the inclusion of a voter-verifiable paper trail, but also for the systems in place to manage these machines. A reputable vendor will have a proven track record in running elections of at least this size and magnitude.

Second, and this point is intimately intertwined with the first, the full election process must be open to scrutiny and testing through a robust series of audits. The audits must be in place through an impartial third party throughout the election, as well as both before and after the ballots are cast. The e-voting machines must be audited thoroughly. This way, any challenges or shortcomings will be suitably addressed before they become more widespread.

The integrity of the election results, and thus the public perception and acceptance of the election results, depends heavily on the reliability and security of the infrastructure used. Nigeria needs free, fair and open elections and the use of technology could pave the road. Nigeria is ready to adopt e-voting for its 2019 national elections and the pace is quickening with each passing day. Even before laws are passed to allow for e-voting on a national scale, INEC is prepared to move forward with agencies to develop the legal framework needed and to update its own internal processes. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Managing the complexity of the Venezuelan parliamentary elections

On December 6, Venezuela will hold parliamentary elections amidst a highly polarized political environment. Authorities are expecting 20 million voters who will elect 167 representatives from 1,800 candidates.

Amongst the upheaval and uncertainty, at least one factor has remained a constant in Venezuelan politics for over a decade: the continued advancement and improved deployment of e-voting technology.

Indeed, even though more than 14,000 polling stations will be open and millions of ballots will be cast on December 6, the official results will likely be available and reported within just a few hours of the polls closing. This is because of the 100% automated voting platform, from voter registration to the electronic capture of the ballot on a direct-recording e-voting machine, from the tabulation of results to the proclamation of the successful candidates. Electronic voting can bring about incredible benefits when it comes to complex elections of this type and the expedient and secure reporting of the results is just one of them.

After using electronic counting for six years, Venezuelan moved to electronic voting in 2004. From the 13 elections that took place between 2004 and 2013, a total of over 340 million votes were processed, over half a million voting machines were deployed, nearly 300,000 operators were trained, and some 5,600 candidates were elected through this end-to-end voting infrastructure and system.

Throughout this experience, e-voting has played an integral role in improving the efficiency, security and effectiveness of the democratic process. Venezuela has held the most automated elections in Latin America.

Looking ahead to the December parliamentary elections, Venezuelans can fully expect this strong history and pedigree of successful e-voting will continue with the integrity of audits, the user-friendly experience of the voting machines and the remarkably expedient reporting of results. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bulgarian E-Voting Referendum Opens Overseas Polling Stations

Technology has become an integral part of just about every aspect of contemporary society. Computers are used in nearly every line of work, smartphone adoption is at an all-time high, and a growing number of tasks are being performed over the Internet, including online banking and passport renewals. The use of technology in elections is also growing on a global scale.

In Bulgaria, a referendum was proposed last year that would posit three questions as they related to elections in the Balkan nation. Since that time, the referendum has been further revised to include only one question to be asked of the Bulgarian people: are they in favor of or are they opposed to the adoption of electronic voting technology in future elections? This may also include the possibility of remote e-voting too.

While it may have once been assumed that the people of Bulgaria would only be able to vote in this referendum if they are physically present at a polling station in Bulgaria that was not the case when the referendum was held on October 25. Indeed, 312 polling stations were opened in 45 countries around the world to allow Bulgarians to voice their opinion on the issue from abroad. These included polling stations in such nations as the United States, Germany and Turkey, among dozens of others.

The point here is that the results of this referendum and the profound ramifications that it could have on the electoral process in Bulgaria affect not only the people who live and work in the country itself, but also for expatriates and overseas workers. Expatriate voting has become a hot issue in recent months with dramatic changes in Canada and an increased push for voting for Swiss living abroad. By opening the referendum to Bulgarians in 45 other countries, the government has clearly indicated that expatriate and absentee opinion matters.

The referendum also highlights two other important topics. First, it could serve as a viable experiment for how e-voting and remote voting could be best implemented in actual elections and not only in referendums. Second, it could also help to build popular interest in the advancement of e-voting in the nation of Bulgaria and for Bulgarians living abroad.

The potential was there. The opportunity was there. This referendum could have marked a major milestone for Bulgaria, helping to propel its democracy ahead today and into the future.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of opening overseas polling stations and working to increase public interest in the mechanics of democracy, the referendum ultimately did not live up to its promise. This was attributed to insufficient voter turnout. Even though 69.5 percent of those who participated did vote in favor of remote online voting, only 40 percent of eligible voters responded to the referendum.

The laws are such that the voter turnout must be at least at the same level as that of the last parliamentary elections. In this case, 48.66 percent of voters turned out for the 2014 parliamentary elections and thus the referendum came up nearly 9 percent short of this mark.

President Rosen Plevneliev is undeterred, stating that “voters want to be asked and expect to be heard.” Even though the results of the referendum are not binding, Plevneliev says that it would be a “big political mistake” to ignore them. And so, the saga toward increased e-voting and remote e-voting in Bulgaria continues. If nothing else, this referendum indicates that voter apathy must be addressed and the issues surrounding technology in the democratic process must continue to be pushed to the forefront of the conversation. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Azerbaijan considering electronic voting system for next election

It is not terribly common to find discussions of advancing democracy coming from countries that are perhaps more associated with communism or socialism. However, it is perhaps from these previously political states that the emergence of truly fair, free and open democracy can have among the greatest impact, as just might be the case for Azerbaijan.

The former member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or “Soviet Union”) recently held its major national election on November 1. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (“New Azerbaijan”) party, headed by President Ilham Aliyev, was re-elected with a sizable majority, taking 71 of the 125 seats in the country's parliament. As a result, Aliyev will be leading the country for another five years.

Unfortunately, this election was not without its fair share of controversy. There have been allegations of ballot stuffing at a number of the polls, for instance, as well as the noted boycott by several of the nation's leading opposition parties. These include the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), the Musavat party, and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan. According to the NCDF, the polls in Azerbaijan are “fully falsified” and do not accurately reflect the will of the people of Azerbaijan.

A democracy cannot be fully respected and hold the legitimate seat of power if the nation's people do not trust in the integrity of the electoral process, especially when leading opposition parties boycott the polls. This leads to an inherent skewing of the results, even though voter turnout was a mere 55.7 percent.

To move the democracy forward and to earn the respect of the Azerbaijan people, the electoral process in the nation is in desperate need of reform. If the integrity of the election is not trusted, then neither can the results and this can lead to further political upheaval. Thankfully, the November 1 election was conducted in a peaceful manner with no major stories of violence.

Looking ahead to the next election in 2020, the greater possibility of a free, fair, open and transparent election is possible, one where the major opposition parties may not feel compelled to boycott. During a briefing on October 9, Azerbaijan Central Election Commission (CEC) Information Center Director Rufat Gulmammadov indicated that electronic voting technology could be suitably launched in the nation.

“If this issue is reflected in the legislation, I believe that it can be resolved without any problems from the technical point of view,” stated Gulmammadov. “If the issue of electronic voting will be reflected in legislation of the country, this corporate network can act as a platform for the launch of e-voting.”

He is referring to the corporate network of the CEC itself, which can operate as the framework for an e-voting system in Azerbaijan's national elections. The network has been in operation for more than three years and has already been used successfully in previous elections. The next major step would be for the parliament of Azerbaijan to pass legislation that would facilitate the widespread adoption and deployment of e-voting technology.

With greater reliability and transparency, an electronically-powered election in Azerbaijan may be ready for 2020. Perhaps then, the results will not be as heavily disputed and a point of rampant controversy as this most current election.