Thursday, April 26, 2012

Biometrics on Elections Day

During the last decade, the increasing need for security against terrorist activity, illegal immigration, sophisticated crimes, and financial frauds propelled the biometric technology market into unprecedented levels of growth. According to the research company Frost and Sullivan, the market earned revenues were $ 4.494 billion in 2010 and will reach $14.685 billion in 2019. At the present moment, the annual growth rate is approximately 19%.

This remarkable success has brought an expansion of biometrics applications to a wide array of industries. Electoral authorities, always interested in the newest developments in technology to increase transparency levels, are using it to improve registers. Fingerprint, iris, voice and face recognition are all human patterns that, if properly used, can contribute enormously to build more accurate registers and avoid the duplications of citizens ID's typically found in public databases.

Another use of biometrics that is making its way into the electoral scene is fingerprint identification at the polling stations on Election Day. A top-notch biometric equipment can keep track of individuals who have voted and notify authorities in real time if a person is trying to vote again with the same or another ID.

Using biometrics at the polling station during Election Day will immediately eliminate one of the oldest forms of electoral frauds, dead people voting. "Zombies" can vote when the name of a deceased person remains on a state's official list of registered voters and a living person fraudulently casts a ballot in that name. Having dead people voting is not an endemic problem of developing nations. South Carolina's Attorney General, Alan Wilson, claimed that 953 ballots were cast by "people listed as dead" in the recent Republican primary elections held in January, 2012.

Although this new use is not widespread yet, it is a promising source of income for the thriving industry of biometrics. Venezuela, a country that has embraced all advantages technology provides to guarantee transparent elections, will be using a biometric identification system on Election Day for the next Presidential elections to be held on October 7th, 2012. The Sistema de Autenticación Integral, SAI (Integral Authentication System), developed by Smartmatic, will guarantee that the person voting is the same person registered to vote.

In spite of all progress made with the dissemination of best practices in the administration of elections, guaranteeing the One Voter One Vote principle is still a challenge that many countries are yet to conquer. Hopefully biometric technology will soon be accessible to all nations procuring satisfactory levels of transparency.

Friday, April 20, 2012

On the Road to Democracy, Manual Voting Becomes an Obstacle

After almost 50 years of military oppression, the people of Burma were finally able to choose the representatives who would fill 45 parliamentary seats. The country’s by-elections were held at the beginning of this month.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who won the Nobel Peace Price in 1991 for leading the fight for democracy in the country, and who had been under house arrest for 15 years, was finally able to see the progress of her struggle as a free person, even though she was not able to vote for logistic reasons. People all over the country celebrated this step towards reconciliation.

However, by March the irregularities were already palpable. Suu Kyi warned that these elections would not be free and fair. Voters complained of damaged voting papers and names missing from the register. International observers were invited by the government to oversee the elections, but they were not allowed inside the polling stations. Of course, most of these problems could have been avoided with the implementation of e-voting in the country. Why?

Reliability is one of the many benefits electronic voting offers, since a good and auditable system offers multiple technological resources to recognize fraudulent situations (intent to alter the results), eliminating the possibility of null votes. An auditable electoral system also offers accuracy, so there is no room for misinterpretation of votes or human error in processes like tallying and consolidation. Also, it’s auditable, meaning that your vote is stored in several instances, thus creating protections that guarantee the possibility of multiple audits.

But the road is long, and Burma still has time to learn the best ways to regain the trust that was lost during the years of the military regime.

All and all, this event shows that the hope for democracy to finally reach Burma is stronger and stronger within the hearts of people. Let’s hope that the desire for freedom is stronger than corruption, and that it can finally take over the shadows of the past.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Elections in Jalisco – Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold

In previous posts we have highlighted the importance of conducting open and fair competitive bidding processes in order to select reliable e-voting service providers. Unfortunately, the very first step to automate elections in Jalisco (Mexico), which was the design of the bidding process itself, was as murky as it can get. 

According to Nauhcatzin Bravo Aguilar, an electoral counselor in Jalisco, Pounce Consulting participated in the elaboration of the basis for the very same bidding process in which the company resulted elected. The company allegedly created and signed a document specifying what the winner company should offer. “The document was used by the Information Technology Department of Jalisco’s Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute (IEPCJ) to elaborate the basis of the public bidding process”, said Mr. Bravo Aguilar.

That being said, there is little doubt as to why a company with such limited experience in the design and deployment of electronic voting solutions was chosen. The bidding process was made to fit the profile of the company and its voting system. 

After such irregularities, a chain reaction of negative results was the only possible outcome. Pounce Consulting failed to timely deliver the 1200 electronic voting machines scheduled for March 2nd. This delay compromised the electoral calendar and dampened the credibility of Jalisco’s Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute.

Once the machines were delivered, a calendar to conduct different tests was designed. The first one of such tests took place on March 25. According to different media outlets, 40% of the machines failed to transmit the information gathered. The IEPCJ minimized the inconveniences attributed them to deficient cellular network coverage and poor access to electricity.

In light of all these events, it is reasonable to expect more problems in Jalisco. A poor service provider is damaging the well-earned reputation electronic voting is gaining around the world with successful and serious companies. Juan José Alaclá Dueñas, another counselor for Mexico’s Electoral Institute (IEPCJ) declared “If we make a mistake with electronic voting, we will bury it not only in Jalisco, but for the entire nation. We will delay it for the next twenty years”. These unfortunate statements hurt not only the electronic voting industry, but also Mexicans who deserve clean and transparent elections with effective and reliable electronic voting platforms. 

Note: Even though in this blog we have always been highly pro electronic voting, it is very difficult to be supportive of processes such as the one taking place in Jalisco. We certainly hope that personal interests do not get in the way of the well-being of Mexicans.