Monday, June 28, 2021

Philippine poll watchdog greenlights security of e-voting system ahead of elections


An influential election watchdog group in the Philippines has assured voters of the security of the country’s automated elections system, ahead of the May 2022 elections.

“We have come a long way in terms of technological advancements in the way we vote. Our automated system is a big improvement over the old manual system,” said noted IT-professional Henry Aguda, a trustee of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), in an online voter education seminar.

PPCRV is a church-based citizen’s group which has been keeping watch over Philippine elections for three decades. It has over 500,000 volunteers all over the country.

PPCRV is a church-based citizen’s group which has been keeping watch over Philippine elections for three decades. It has over 500,000 volunteers all over the country. The Philippines started automating their elections in 2010 and since them the PPCRV has validated all election results.

Responding to questions during the webinar, Aguda said that the vote counting machine (VCM) lessens the possibility of electoral fraud. “We have experts who have seen how the source code is secure and how encryptions have been done,” he said.

Aguda further cited that VCMs run software that has been “meticulously developed for the purpose of counting votes.” He also cited the machine’s capability to detect duplicate or fake ballots, flag ballots intended for other machines, as well as other components of security such as the physical i-button keys held by poll workers.

“Our machines are very secure,” Aguda said, adding that “I cannot imagine somebody successfully rigging an election through the machines.”

Dr. William Yu, who is also an IT-professional and a trustee of the poll watchdog group reminded voters that the automated election system is a system. “It is important to recognize that this is a system. The VCM is secure but there are other things — the process, the i-buttons keys that are also part of the overall security,” he said.

“If you want to break the system you have to break all of those. And it’s not just the machine, you will also have to compromise all the people on the site, the volunteers,” he said.

Yu also dismissed the idea of a rouge vote counting machine being used to cheat.

“In case there is a shadow VCM or ghost VCM that is in the system, we should be able to track it down with our parallel count process. Not only are there controls within the system itself, but there are also controls that we as poll watchers are able to do,” Yu said.

As a way to further increase transparency of the system, Yu is advocating to increase the number of precincts that are audited in every Philippine election. The post-election audit performed is known as the random manual audit (RMA). “It always helps to have more checks and balances,” he said.

As a way to further increase transparency of the system, Yu is advocating to increase the number of precincts to be subjected to the random manual audit (RMA). “It always helps to have more checks and balances,” he said.

The RMA shows an increasing match between the electronic count and the manual count since 2010 when the Philippines started automating its elections. In 2010 it was 99.580%, 2013 -99.9474%, 2016 - 99.9027%, and 2019 - 99.9953%.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Null votes, slow count and fraud allegations underscore need for electoral reforms in Peru


Left-wing candidate Pedro Castillo appears to be headed to victory in one of Peru’s most divisive elections ever. Yet his rival Keiko Fujimori is disputing the count, calling for the nullification of some 300,000 ballots for alleged anomalies, enough to potentially erase the slim 70,000 vote margin of Castillo.

While Fujimori’s allegations have yet to gain widespread support, with international election observers seemingly inclined to give the elections a clean bill of health, the same observers have cautioned against prematurely dismissing the claims.

After saying that they have "observed a positive electoral process" and that the “The Mission has not detected serious irregularities,” observers from the Organization of American States were quick to urge authorities to wait until challenges to the vote have been resolved before calling a winner.

At the very least, many believe that this should prompt Peruvian authorities to initiate reforms to stave off potential crises in similarly tightly contested elections.

The list of complaints, which seem to correspond with known weaknesses of the manual system, include lack of signatures on tallies, arithmetic mistakes, and doubts on whether a vote was properly marked in a ballot.

In a press conference, Fujimori and her lawyers claimed to have discovered proof of forged signatures on more than 500 ballot tallies, plus other anomalies, imputing such on the Free Peru party, to which Castillo belongs.

Experts have long warned against human intervention of any sort in elections, whether the hand counting of ballots or reliance on physical signatures to verify tallies. In recent years, manual elections have increasingly been regarded as being prone to errors, if not outright fraud. In fact, the idea of reducing human intervention has been a powerful impetus behind the shift by countries from manual to automated elections.

Moreover, the number of null votes in this Peruvian election cycle is cause for concern. While a lot of voters might have intentionally left their ballots blank in protest, the potential for disenfranchisement is alarming.

In the last three Peruvian elections (the first round of this year’s presidential and both rounds of the 2016 presidential elections), null votes surpassed 5% of total number of ballots cast. This translates to more than 1 million voters which were potentially disenfranchised because they “marked incorrectly their ballot”. In a contest separated by just 70,000 votes, this could easily spark a crisis.

Even more tellingly, the slow pace of the vote count has created the very conditions for this heightened political tension. While countries which use automation technology regularly expect to know their next leaders just a few hours after the polls close, a week has already passed without the Peru vote having been completely counted.

Peru finds itself at a crossroads -- stay with the flawed manual elections and risk a potentially disastrous outcome down the road, or start exploring ways to modernize its elections and take its fledgling democracy to a new level of stability.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Defying Covid-19, London holds successful elections

When Covid caught the world by surprise last year, London was one of regions in England which bore the brunt of the pandemic’s fury leaving a staggering 4,000 residents dead by April.

Election authorities had no choice but to postpone their May elections one year, a draconian move they hoped would buy them more time to figure out a way to uphold the right to suffrage while a pandemic raged. With a whole year to plan, the city made sure to refine its processes and implement enhanced safety protocols. Aside from the mandatory mask and social distancing measures, authorities decided to extend the normally 1-day count to two days.

Mary Harpley, Greater London Returning Officer (GLRO), said shortly before the May 6 polls that the new counting process would be different due to the Coronavirus pandemic. “Much planning has gone into ensuring that the safety of Londoners and election staff is prioritized. We look forward to running a safe, fair and efficient democratic process in partnership with the London boroughs, to allow London's 6.2 million voters to have their say on 6 May.”

With such a large voting population scattered across 33 boroughs, London has one of the most challenging local election landscapes in the UK. They employ three different counting systems: first-past-the-post, a supplementary vote system, and a form of proportional representation. To facilitate vote counting GLA authorities employ election technology.

London’s e-counting solution ensured ballot papers were scanned and processed quickly and accurately, with full auditability of results, which resulted in increased transparency and integrity. The electronic count of 10.6 million votes was validated by the Constituency Returning Officer and the Greater London Returning Officer.

The centralized processing of the voter-marked ballots, hitherto a one-day process, began on May 7th, and was carried over to the next day to ensure a Covid-19 safe environment. High-speed scanners deployed in the three count centers made sure that count was delivered with speed, efficiency, auditability, and all the while requiring less staff.

Deputy Greater London Returning Officer, Alex Conway commended everyone involved in the exercise, saying that “the commitment of their teams meant the rapid shift to delivering a COVID-safe election was a real success.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Undeterred by new Covid surge, Vietnam goes ahead with parliamentary polls

In yet another demonstration of the resiliency of the electoral process, Vietnamese voters turned out at the polls recently to elect representatives to the 500-seat National Assembly, amid a new surge of Covid-19 cases. The country has earned praises last year for having one of the better pandemic responses in the region but has been battling an outbreak since late April.

Strict health protocols were implemented to prevent transmission, with voters being required to mask up and subjected to temperature checks before even queuing. Hand sanitizers were also freely available at polling centers, which were equipped with loudspeakers broadcasting reminders to keep a safe distance.

Observers were quick to point out how this election saw only 74 independents out of the total of 866 candidates vying for the parliamentary posts. In fact, the Communist Party in Vietnam, one of the last such governing communist parties in the world, still controls much of the power structure in the country and is largely intolerant of criticism.

Nonetheless, the regular and uninterrupted holding of elections is seen as crucial in maintaining the country’s trajectory towards freer trade, a more open society and eventual full democratization.

The nearly 69.2 million registered voters also voted for members of the people’s councils at provincial and district levels.

“I hope all voters, knowing their role as the owners of the country, will join the vote to select the most trusted and worthy candidates to represent their voices,” National Assembly chairman Vuong Dinh Hue said before the election.

Hue noted that the Sunday’s elections was the first “amid the most dangerous coronavirus outbreak that’s spread to nearly half of the number of provinces, with many of them under lockdown.”

Election results are expected to be announced in two weeks.