Saturday, June 30, 2012

What Are Social Networks Discussing About E-voting?

The presence of e-voting in social networks is increasing. As more countries adopt this voting technology it is becoming a trendy topic in social media networks.

Here is a list of the hottest articles on the subject for the month of June according to Twitter:

E-voting: Trust but VerifyScientific American
This blog makes a thorough analysis of the advantages of e-voting in an increasingly skeptical society. Why is America not adopting e-voting if it’s proven to be good?

Who Audits the Audits?Digital Vote
This specialized blog discusses how human error is inevitable in auditing manual voting. If humans are bound to make mistakes when recounting ballots, who is accountable for their blunders and how do we trust results to be true to the will of people?

More Electronic Voting to Ensure Smooth ElectionABC News
Australia is expanding the use of voting machines for its upcoming October Legislative election. This article discusses the benefits of e-voting already experienced by Australian voters, which prompted the Australian electoral commission to advance the use of voting machines.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

From Greece to Venezuela: A Brief History of Democracy and Voting Methods

Parliament Building in Athens. Photo: Wally Gobetz.

Suffrage is the cornerstone of modern democracy. Ever since its early manifestations in Ancient Greece, voting has been the act that guarantees the voice of citizens to be truly heard. However, although its purpose remains unchangeable, its means have evolved over time and continue to do so nowadays.

In Ancient Greece, ordinary citizens were allowed to participate in some government offices and the courts, but the definition of “citizen” excluded women, slaves, foreigners, and men under 20 years old. Later on, suffrage was reserved for men who could prove their wealth, but the idea of public participation grew to include all sectors of society. The Corsican Republic was the first country to grant universal suffrage to all of its citizens over the age of 25, and the first major countries to grant this right were New Zealand (1893) and Finland (1906). Woman suffrage was adopted in most countries after World War I, and disenfranchisement on the basis of race disappeared even later (1965 in the US, 1994 in South Africa).

There are still places where the path to democracy has a long and difficult way to go, but it can be said that for the most part, people are able to voice their choices in order to get the government they want. So now that all sectors of the population have been covered, the quest for the improvement of democracy has extended to another realm: voting methods.

Manual voting using paper is considered the traditional way of exerting suffrage. It was probably used for the first time in Rome in 139 BCE and involves paper ballots, where citizens mark their desired candidate, and ballot boxes, where these marked papers are deposited. Once voting is finished, members of the electoral body count the votes and a winner is proclaimed. Although it sounds like a convenient and easy to organize procedure, ballot stuffing and other forms of fraud, are an ever
present threat to this voting method. The numerous frauds discovered throughout the history of manual voting, plus some major inconveniences inherent to its implementation, have prompted societies to seek other methods to guarantee fairness, efficiency, and reliability in elections.

Believe it or not, the first voting machine was put to use in 1838. It involved dropping a brass ball into a hole, which would advance a clockwork counter. The one voter, one vote principle was guaranteed since each voter received only one brass ball. In 1875, voting machines with push button systems were patented. This shows that the concern over human error is not recent at all, and it has been
addressed for almost two centuries already.

Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the evolution of voting machines has followed closely the development of automation systems, specially those involving computers. Thus, when punched cards made their debut in the 1960s, they were quickly adopted into e-voting systems. The Votomatic system, which used this technology, was so successful that some variations of it were used up to 1996.
Optical scan voting systems, on the other hand, are slightly earlier, dating back to the fifties. At first, they were used for standardized tests such as college entrance exams, but their use became more generalized over time. The employ optical mark recognition scanners, which look for darkened rectangles, circles or ovals previously filled by the voter with a pencil. This system prevents errors such as under voting or over voting, but the verification of paper ballots takes time.

The true revolution in voting technology came in the 1990s with direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines. This new system replaces paper ballots with buttons or a touchscreen. Not only does it represent a cost-effective improvement, but security and fairness are also guaranteed, since ballot stuffing and other forms of fraud are eradicated.

In recent years, Smartmatic, one of the leading voting technology companies, has taken DRE systems to the next level with the implementation of biometric authentication in its machines. This new enhancement will be used nationwide for the first time during the presidential election in Venezuela. Thus, it is the South American country who is currently leading the world in terms of voting

Democracy has evolved over thousands of years to guarantee that everyone has their say in the way their homeland should be ruled. We have achieved equal suffrage for everyone, but now the challenge is to ensure that this right is protected. That is what e-voting is meant to guarantee.

Friday, June 22, 2012

India, the natural migration towards paper trail voting machines

In May 2004, the world’s largest democracy conducted its first automated national elections using approximately one million Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to allow 671 million voters express their preference. This event was the culmination of a long and progressive adoption process that started in 1977.

The Direct-Recording Electronic Voting Machines used, were developed by a public sector company, the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), with the purpose of bringing higher levels of transparency and accuracy to elections.

In spite of the considerable benefits automation brought forth to this nation, since February 2010, the Indian Electoral Commission has been receiving complaints from different activists groups, political parties, and researchers who challenge the system’s precarious security features. Their main argument has been the EVMs’ vulnerability to tampering at stages such as: the moment the software that runs them is burned onto their chips, while the machines are stored before an election, and during the period between the voting and the tallying.

These same detractors of the technology used in India consider that, by providing a Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), the problem could be solved. The VVPAT represents a simple mechanism that allows contrasting the electronic results with the manual counts of the paper trail. Any candidate, in the event of a suspicion of tampering, could request a recount on the basis of the paper records. One such system was developed by the world leader in electronic voting Smartmatic and has been used, with great results, in Venezuela and other countries since the year 2004. In fact, Venezuela’s 2004 presidential recall referendum constituted the first election in the world in which a printed receipt was produced by the machine with each vote.

To comply with the growing request for transparency, Indian electoral authorities demanded their two EVMs suppliers, government-run Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronics Corp. of India Ltd, to adapt the voting machines and include the printing of a paper record. The printed receipt will allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.

In the last few months, field tests have already been conducted with unsatisfactory results. According to analysts and authorities, approximately one in 20 votes polled in Delhi, one of the four places where the pilot poll was conducted, did not have a corresponding paper ballot. Such a high level of discrepancies has prompted authorities to delay the implementation of EVM with VVPAT in real elections until more satisfactory results are achieved in the field tests.

India, together with Brazil and the United States, were pioneers in the adoption of voting technology. With a voting population of 714 million, representing 23% of the entire voting population of the world, India needs to migrate towards VVPAT to keep up with the citizens’ demands.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Philippines to hold automated polls in 2013

As collaborators in this blog and strong supporters of the benefits that technology and electoral automation can bring to democracies and their societies, we would like to share this post about the Philippines’ decision of using once again electronic voting for their upcoming national elections:

In 2010, the Philippines caught the attention of the world by successfully holding its first general automated elections. For many Filipinos and to international observers, the exercise was a big reason to be optimistic for it signalled the death knell of the culture of electoral fraud which had long bedeviled the country.

Corrupt politicians have had a stranglehold on this republic’s electoral system for decades, employing their guns, goons, and gold to manipulate election results with impunity.

Then automation arrived and abruptly put a stop to the practice, slamming the door on fraudsters who were so shocked at the speed with which the results were made known that they were left scrambling to find out what hit them.

For the first time ever, Filipinos woke up a day after the elections knowing who their new leaders were. A presidential candidate even went as far as concede just two days later, a practice virtually unheard of in a country where electoral disputes drag on for years.

The automated elections of 2010 have no doubt contributed greatly to restore the Filipinos’ faith in the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the independent body tasked to oversee the nation’s polls. Not only did E-voting’s success in 2010 lead Filipinos to trust the electoral process once again, but it has also engendered among them a renewed faith in democratic institutions.

Armed with the learnings gained in 2010, the Comelec and its technology partner Smartmatic are neck- deep in work ensuring that the next automated polls deliver even more credible and transparent results.

The world, once again, will be watching.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tolerance of Fraud, A Fatal Consequence of Manual Voting

The OAS mission sent to Santo Domingo to oversee the democratic process held on May 20 declared that the Dominican Republic Presidential Elections were fair. The ruling Dominican Liberation Party, represented by Danilo Medina, got 51% of the votes, while Hipólito Mejía got 46%. Mejía accused Medina of fraud and called for the rejection of the results “as they do not represent the will of the people.” However, Tabaré Vásquez, former president of Uruguay and chief of the OAS mission, congratulated Dominican Republic for its “great civil maturity.” However, the organization also pointed out in its report that the election registered the biggest amount of shooting, arrests and raids from the past twenty years.

In spite of the apparent smoothness and transparency of the electoral journey, Vásquez pointed out that there actually were some cases of vote buying by both parties, but that these did not have a significant impact on the final results. Which raises the question: why is an organism like OAS tolerating an issue that could endanger democracy? Is there such thing as ‘just enough’ fraud?

Manual voting is a traditional system that has accepted little change throughout its history. People have grown habituated to its processes and shortcomings, including the ever-present possibility of someone rigging the elections. Consequently, both civilians and supervising authorities tend to expect a certain degree of dishonesty every time elections take place. In this scenario, the will of the people never gets to be fully represented, and in some cases, they just actually accept this.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. An accusation like Hipólito Mejía’s would not hold any validity in a completely automated system (including biometric validation) where human error is suppressed and the voter’s identification process guarantees the principle one elector = one vote.

With a biometric identification system implemented on Election Day, many of the vulnerabilities exhibited by manual voting would be completely eliminated: There wouldn’t be any illegal voting, voter impersonation, multiple voting and manipulation of voter’s lists.

Integrating this technology with an auditable voting system, it would not matter if thousands of ID’s were bought at the doors of a polling station, because it wouldn’t be just the ID the only requisite to cast a vote. Your fingerprint would be the other, and a fingerprint can’t just be bought.

Democracy is not supposed to be something that works in spite of obstacles set by those with their own private agendas. While some defend stagnant tradition, people’s interests are at stake. This is why a change of mentality is imperative and inevitable if we want to preserve the sanity of our political system. Automation is the key to democratic processes in which people don’t have to settle for the next best thing, for ‘just enough’ fraud to be tolerated.

When a fully automated and auditable electoral system is implemented, election results are secure and accurate, because the guarantees and mechanisms of verification provided by the system precisely represent the will of the electors. Let’s hope Dominicans can learn this lesson and a zero tolerance to fraud politic is adapted for their next elections.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Comparative Analysis of Voting Systems (3)


When considering the economic ramifications of the implementation of a voting system, it is vital to look at the voting process in its entirety. It is imperative to compare the cost of various election systems over a 10 or 15 year time frame.

Financial considerations must include:
  1. Initial capital investment in the system, divided by the number of years the system is expected to be used
  2. Per election cost for ballot design
  3. Per election costs of ballot printing (times the number of elections per year)
  4. Per election cost of tabulating results and sending them to a central location
  5. Per election cost for staffing voting centers, including training prior to the election
  6. Annual costs of storage and maintenance of the system when not in use
  7. Annual costs of ballot storage following elections, in accordance with local regulations

It is a common assumption that manual voting is cheaper since the initial investment is significantly smaller than the investment required to buy voting machines and/or scanners. However, when all the above considerations are taken, MV is not any longer so attractive. It requires enormous and recurring labor, printing, transportation, guarding and storing costs.

Now, when we compare OS and DRE, a precinct based optical scan system has the advantage that one scanner can serve a large number of votes, and typically service a precinct which would require multiple DREs. But this advantage is eroded or eliminated by offsetting factors:
  • An optical scan system cannot, by itself, service voters with special needs. So a second machine (DRE or ballot marker) must be added for each polling place.
  • Optical scanners and ballot markers are usually more expensive, per unit, than DREs equipped with VVPAT. The cost of furnishing a scanner and ballot marker for a polling place would fund three or even four DREs equipped with VVPAT.
  • In the United States, simple paper ballots typically cost 50 cents to a dollar apiece (and often more if they are multi page). To ensure there is no shortage during voting, each polling place must be furnished with a large number of ballots, including ballots in each of the required languages for the jurisdiction.
  • While all systems (DRE, OS and MV) will leave a paper trail, the DRE receipt will be much smaller than the optical scan ballot, as it only records the selections made rather than the full slate of candidates for each office. Consequently, shipment and storage of the paper is easier and less costly.

The results of any economic analysis will vary depending on the size of the jurisdiction, the average size of its precincts or polling places, the number of elections conducted annually, and other factors. While estimations and assumptions will be required, only by completing this analysis it is possible to understand the true cost of a voting system. And because DRE prices have decreased substantially, preconceptions about relative costs of voting system alternatives may well be inaccurate, and need to be replaced by factual analysis.