Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mastering the Art of Fair, Transparent, and Trustful Elections

The month of March 2012 became a live testimony of how holding fair, transparent, and trustful elections is an art to be mastered. Different election processes at very distinct locations experienced some of the many irregularities often encountered by electoral authorities.

Puerto Rico made it clear, once again, that electronic voting is preferable over manual voting. Palm Beach County (Florida, USA) and Jalisco (Mexico) proved that guaranteeing fair, transparent, and trustful elections is more than simply buying new machines. 

On March 18th, 2012 Puerto Rico held primary elections for the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), New Progressive Party (PNP), and the US Republican Party. The process showed the typical problems manual voting often presents. Extremely slow counting, defects with the paper ballots, discrepancies in ballot counting, and mishandling of the material, are among the many irregularities the State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico will have to sort out in order to give the process a minimum level of credibility.

These unfortunate incidents gave solid arguments to electronic voting proponents in the island. Although last year Puerto Rico made important moves towards modernizing its electoral system by choosing a provider of technology, the bidding process was plagued with irregularities and is now being challenged in Puerto Rican courts. Unisyn Voting Solutions, with ample experience in horse racing bets, made the most expensive offer of all participating companies and showed little experience in elections. Puerto Rico lost an invaluable opportunity to improve the credibility and effectiveness of future electoral processes.

Last year in Jalisco (Mexico), the electoral authorities choose a company with poor experience handling automated elections. Results speak for themselves. Pounce Consulting has failed to timely provide the 1200 electronic ballots for which it was hired. The expected date of delivery, March 2nd, has been delayed compromising the electoral calendar and dampening the credibility of Mexico’s Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute.

On March 19th 2012, Florida’s Palm Beach County incorrectly certified two candidates as winners in the Wellington Village Council elections. Due to inconsistencies between the list of candidates created by electoral authorities using Dominion Voting Service’s software and the candidates' names on the ballot, the announced and certified result gave the victory to the wrong candidates. Authorities and Dominion are blaming each other for the embarrassing scandal. Regardless of where the blame falls, it is imperative to better train poll workers and election officials; and to perform sufficient testing and auditing prior, during and after each process. Proper testing could have avoided many of the problems faced. An irreparable damage has already been done to the county’s citizens and electronic voting in general.

March 2012 proved that mastering the art of fair, transparent, and trustful elections requires a delicate combination of a clean bidding processes, capable and respected electoral authorities, and a sound and experienced service provider. A good balance among these factors is imperative in order for voting to serve as an effective tool for democracy to be expressed. Hopefully Puerto Rico, Jalisco and Palm Beach County will soon follow the example of other locations such as Venezuela, Brazil, the Philippines or India, where a proper balance of ingredients has granted success in elections for years. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Palm Beach County’s New Voting Disaster

(March 21st, 2012) A new voting scandal erupted in Florida’s Palm Beach County when authorities incorrectly certified two candidates as winners in the Wellington Village Council elections.

Due to a suspect program flaw that seemingly got overlooked in the software supplied by Dominion Voting, the results that were certified and announced by the Palm Beach County Elections Office gave the victory to the wrong candidates.

This serious incident is reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election, when voting authorities and service providers were incapable of deploying efficient solutions and over two million votes were invalidated in what has become known as the Butterfly Ballot disaster. Palm Beach was among the counties using the obsolete technology that allegedly induced voters to make mistakes, either selecting the wrong candidates or making more than one vote in the ballot.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office Susan Bucher is now blaming Dominion Voting, the company providing voting and tabulating equipment to the county, for the recent electoral fiasco. She stated that software errors were the root of the problems. The company is disputing her argument and claims to be "investigating the source of the anomaly”.

Regardless of where the blame will fall, Palm Beach County’s electoral authorities need to guarantee the success of elections soon to come. It is imperative to better train poll workers and election officials; and to perform sufficient testing and auditing before, during and after each process. Only a few weeks ago, and while facing all sorts of difficulties in the testing stages, Dominion offered modems to reduce the time to produce results. In the field tests they found out that the modems were incompatible with the county's phone lines. In light of the software & hardware know-how and experience now available in the market however, errors of this type are unacceptable. 

It has been almost ten years since President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act into a federal law. HAVA was the response to the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential elections in which he was reelected President. The law brought positive changes such as the creation of the Election Assistance Commission, mandating the replacement of obsolete technology (punch cards and lever-based voting systems), and setting a minimum of election administration standards. 

Electronic voting has surpassed manual voting when clear rules and experienced, competent authorities are met with a technology provider capable of delivering up to the expectations. Around the world, electronic voting has been steadily implemented with excellent results. Moreover, it has proven key in contributing to bring stability to nations with politically turbulent atmospheres. 

Unfortunately, Palm Beach County, home of paradisiacal beaches and full of vacation resorts, has a sad record of voting scandals, and this new incident, where Dominion Voting and the Palm Beach County electoral authorities have been the protagonists, has not helped to make it any better. 

Overall, it's obvious that the United States of America, a foremost economic, military and technological world power, needs to step up and set more rigorous standards in its voting practices. Voting is the fundamental act of a nation’s core values, Democracy.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jennifer McCoy Discusses E-voting

Jennifer McCoy, director of the Carter Center's Americas Program, spoke about Colombia's recent decision to implement e-voting for the Colombian digital magazine Razón Pública. This is what she had to say (in Spanish):

(If you cannot see the embedded video, you can find it here.)

Here is a translation of her declaration:

"When a society decides to change its voting system, it is important that there is a lot of consultation with political parties, and that there is transparency. Transparency is the most important thing here. Educating and informing voters is also very important, so that they understand the new systems and these can be implemented effectively.

However, if there is no transparency and no information, there can be problems of lack of understanding, suspicion, etc.

Estonia has already adopted an Internet-based voting system. It is interesting to find that there actually are developing countries that have adopted automated voting systems. India, for example, and Brazil, where voting has been almost completely automated. Bolivia has no e-voting, but biometric identification of its citizens was implemented there last year.

In short, it is possible for developing countries to use high-tech voting systems."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Elections in Russia: Putin’s Triumph Faces Irregularities


Russia’s much anticipated presidential elections took place last Sunday. After a long campaign that included sketches of candidatesfaces in cappuccinos, Vladimir Putin was elected Prime Minister of Russia with nearly 64% of the votes.

From the beginning, there was no doubt that Putin would win this time. However, there has been sharp criticism over the alleged lack of transparency of this election. Cameras set up by the Kremlin caught people stuffing multiple voting papers into a ballot box in Dagestan, and there have been reports of observers being kept away from polling stations, even beaten. However, Putin’s campaign chief, Stanislav Govorukhin, rejected these claims, calling them “ridiculous”.

The ballot stuffing cases are proof that voting systems need to be carefully supervised in order to avoid irregularities. The mere electronic scanning of ballots is not guarantee of transparency. 

This is why automated voting needs to be implemented correctly in order to prevent any tampering during elections. We can use as an example the 2010 National Elections in The Phillipines, where electronic scanners where successfully used for the first time in the Asian country, there was an astounding turnout of 76% and the results were accepted by all the participating political parties.

There are a variety of mechanisms designed to make the electoral process more transparent. A next-generation automated and auditable voting system would provide an electoral authority with the proper technological resources that provide the electors with the complete security and accuracy they require to participate without doubts in their electoral processes.