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.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Philippines sets a new record in election automation

On May 9, over 45 million voters elected their local and national Philippine authorities using 92,509 vote counting machines. This represents the largest deployment of vote counting machines ever. 

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic, who previously organized successful elections in 2010 and 2013, showed again the enormous benefits of election automation and what the technology deployed could mean for the Asia-Pacific region.

To guarantee transparency and the proper functioning of the system on Election Day, several audits, certifications and tests took place during the months leading up to the election. The source code used to run the automated platform was audited for 8 months by a group of experts, which included political party representatives, election watchdogs and authorities.  Additionally, a US-based company SLI Global certified that the source code worked as intended. 

During the voting hours every voter was given a vote receipt showing the selections registered by the system to allow him/her to make sure it was correctly registered. It is important to note that, as a paper-based system, the voter-marked ballot was already a robust auditing mechanism.

This extremely high level of auditability allowed political organizations to check that results matched the will of the voters at the polls, and accept the outcome of the elections.

With this new successful election, the Philippines proved that they are at the leading front of the worldwide trend towards election technology adoption.

The future of democracy is digital, and the Philippines have proved it.  

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. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why isn't Australia using e-voting yet?

A very common assumption that many people make is that the citizens living in more developed countries typically have access to and use more advanced technology on a regular basis. It can only be assumed that highly technologically-inclined countries like Japan and South Korea have access to some of the fastest Internet connections on the planet. It only makes sense that smartphone adoption rates in the United States are through the roof.

As strange and as counter-intuitive as it may sound, this is oftentimes not the case when it comes to issues related to government operations and public infrastructure, particularly in the context of national elections. In an otherwise highly advanced country like Canada, federal elections are still conducted with paper ballots. And while progress has been made, electronic voting on Election Day is not yet a reality for the people of Australia.

Support for the imminent adoption of e-voting technology is growing in Australia with an increasing number of its citizens questioning why they are not yet voting through electronic means. It is perhaps with a not-so-subtle dose of irony that Australians are noted as being “the pioneers of the secret ballot electoral system,” a foundational tenet of the modern democracy. Even so, Australia continues to be “behind the pack” when it comes to e-voting.

The benefits of e-voting are numerous and have been discussed many times on this blog. The efficiency of vote registration and tabulation is higher, human error is minimized, paper waste is drastically reduced, accessibility is improved, and reporting is far faster too. This isn't to say that Australia has not experimented in the increased use of technology in its elections in one form or another.

Postal voting for absentee ballots, which is particularly important for Australians living in more remote areas like in the middle of the Outback, is set to be replaced by a new i-voting platform. The traditional method of sending blank ballots through the mail and expecting citizens to send them back is time-consuming and costly, whereas online voting is more convenient and most cost-effective. It's also immediate and could account for as much as 15% of all ballots cast by Australians in major elections.

Should Australia move forward with e-voting technology on election day, the infrastructure for voter identity verification could be powered by the myGov system. This is a system that is already being used to access a broad range of government services, like child support and Medicare. The technology is already here, so it's simply a matter of getting the legislation put in place so that the voting process can be digitized.

Unfortunately, a federal parliamentary committee voted unanimously against the adoption of a fully automated voting system last year and the issue is seen as “not pressing” for most politicians in the country. In order for the policy makers to be more interested in the issue, the people of Australia must express their own support for e-voting much louder and more prominently.

A research project, titled Mobile Voting, is being put together by a team at the University of New England to determine how viable a mobile e-voting platform would be in Australia as a means of supplementing, rather than replacing, the existing paper-based ballot system. They'd also have to address potential threats and problems with e-voting, like the possibility of hacking or problems with the infrastructure.

Due diligence must be performed, of course, but Australia can look to positive examples around the globe for successful implementations of e-voting in its various forms, including the possibility of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail.