Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Mongolian tale and the strange preference for PCOS

On June 29 Parliamentary Elections took place in Mongolia in the midst of an unprecedented mining boost that is driving the public agenda, and also pushing an incredible economic growth that last year reached 17.5%.

During the elections, Mongolians used a new voting system to distribute the seventy six parliament seats. Forty eight seats were chosen at the local elections, and twenty eight were chosen proportionally by party. However, that was not the only nuance of the electoral process. A new automated voting system developed and deployed by Dominion Voting Systems was used. It is was part of an attempt to improve transparency levels of elections after the manual counting fiasco that lead triggered deadly riots four years ago.

Mongolians had big expectations regarding election automation. 2,446 Precinct-Count Optical Scanners(PCOS) were used across 1,905 precincts to count the 1,198,086 votes of the 1,833,478 Mongolians registered to vote. In spite of the simplicity of the election, the promised early result publication turned to be a fairy tale, as voters had to wait more than a day for the results. Moreover, important discrepancies were found between the electronic results in some precincts and the manual audits carried throughout. Nine political parties, including the ruling Mongolian People’s Party are challenging results and demanding a recount of votes. Yangug Sodbaatar, secretary of the MPP party stated "We are demanding the traditional system of counting votes by hand in every election constituency across the whole country to end this confusion that the population has about the voting machines and automated systems".

Although these types of inconveniences might come as a surprise to some, the difference between PCOS results and manual counts is the source of a big debate. The underlying fact is that PCOS rely on interpreting the voter’s intent they do not record it directly. To further complicate things, when auditors try to corroborate the results, they also interpret the marked option. Contrasting two interpretations lends itself to discrepancies.

As a blog dedicated to automation of elections, we strongly support and encourage nations around the globe to utilize the available technology to better serve citizens. Nonetheless, we believe DRE are a much better option as there is no interpretation of the will of the voter.