Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ballot Cops, Part 2: ‘Anti-fraud’ campaigns and the disenfranchisement of minorities

Photo: Politic365

As we discussed on an earlier post, the unreliability of manual voting can prompt citizens to try to control electoral fraud by themselves, often incurring in abuse, intimidation and disenfranchisement of the minorities. 

The RNC’s ‘anti-fraud’ program’s tactics included having volunteers ‘patrol’ primarily black and Latino neighborhoods with walkie-talkies, even armed sometimes, and post signs warning that the areas were being watched. The ‘ballot security’ brigade used an outdated address list to send sample ballots to people in these neighborhoods and check which were deemed undeliverable in order to strike them out of the electoral rolls—a technique known as caging—. Then they would station themselves at the polling stations and physically try to stop the targets of this caging list from voting. This practice deprived many eligible voters whose address had changed from their right to vote.

In spite of the accusations of voter intimidation that banned the RNC from continuing their discriminatory activities, 30 years later these resurfaced in the form of individual efforts from groups such as the Knight Street Patriots and True the Vote. These groups are also focusing their areas of action according to race. Worse yet, the ‘anti-fraud’ volunteers seldom catch illegitimate voters red-handed, but on the contrary, voters are increasingly complaining about these brigades’ recurring voter intimidation.

It is hard to draw the line between legitimate anti-fraud efforts and covert campaigns to hinder the rights of the minorities. After all, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned electoral discrimination, sparked fear among conservatives about the rising power of black voters. It is not a coincidence that the RNC began its ‘anti-fraud’ activities around the time that these laws were sanctioned.

‘Anti-fraud’ tactics can become desperate, as the RNC and its modern offshoots have proven, but the truth is that no amount of vote watching will stop fraud in manual voting. If any, it will increase it and cause more damage than good. 

If the risk of fraud were eradicated altogether, there would be no room for discrimination. That’s where technology can play a defining role. Applying a solution that involves biometric identification could help diminish and even eliminate vulnerabilities associated with fraud and intimidation. 

Biometric registration certifies each voter as eligible to participate in democratic processes and no one can argue with that, as the elector’s fingerprint is his or her ID at the polling station. Ballot cops could go into any neighborhood they wanted and they would not find it possible to stop anyone from voting on the grounds of suspected identity theft. A democratic government could benefit from several technological tools to ensure that everyone’s right to suffrage is protected. Concerned citizens can rest assured that electronic polls are made of valid votes only.

Ballot cops need to disappear from the American electoral panorama. However, no amount of prohibition will stop certain citizens from using the faults of defective voting methods to the advantage of their discrimination agenda. Fortunately, the problem of fraud can be eradicated from the root. Without electoral fraud, ballot cops have no reason to exist.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Auditable platform proves vital after tight results in Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro has just been declared Venezuela’s new president after a very tight match with Henrique Capriles in which the electronic voting system proved to be crucial in offering results that could be thoroughly audited. 

After the early demise of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela decreed that it would hold another presidential election on April 14th. With a deadline of only 34 days before this new electoral event, the country faced the unprecedented challenge of setting up a nationwide electoral event with extreme time constraints, and it did not fail. This was only possible thanks to the use of electoral technology.

The advantages of e-voting in terms of speed are many. Radio reports stated that after 11 elections, Venezuelans are already familiar with the electoral technology and voted in less than 2 minutes, so fast that people thought the voter turnout had been low because there were almost no lines at the polling places when actually 79% of the eligible voters showed up to exert their right to suffrage, a percentage that clearly shows the high trust in the electronic voting system. Its benefits, though, went beyond the polling station level and permeated the large-scale organization of the event.

The speed at which the election was set up did not compromise its integrity, as it was accompanied by a series of 15 audits and tests spread out throughout the stages of the electoral process, all of them executed in the presence of the political parties involved. Due to the fact that Maduro won by a very slim margin (234,935 votes according to the first official announcement of the Electoral Body), one more audit has been requested to check the vote receipts emitted by the voting machines and compare them against the results transmitted to the tallying centers. The fact that this is possible attests to the reliability of a fully auditable e-voting platform.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ballot Cops, Part 1: When governments fail their electorate

Photo: Freedigitalphotos

An election is meant to be a peaceful activity where every citizen’s voice counts. In order to guarantee this, its methods must be fair and dependable. However, the unreliability of manual voting can often take turns for the worse and prompt citizens to device their own methods to safeguard the transparency of their political future, often turning them into tools of oppression. The US has spent a long time trying to get rid of so-called ‘ballot cops’, but recurring instances of fraud keep pushing people into taking electoral justice into their own hands.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy won the country’s presidency by the narrowest margin in all of the 20th century. Certain sectors attributed this victory to voter fraud in Illinois and Texas, so in 1964 the Republican National Committee launched Operation Red-Eye, a nationwide anti-fraud campaign in order to prevent fraud during the next elections. Tens of thousands of volunteers were recruited to show up at polling stations and use cameras, two-way radios, and calls to Republican-friendly sheriffs to check whether attendants at the polling place were eligible to vote.

“Ballot security” programs became commonplace over the years, but they came to a halt in 1981, when the Democratic National Committee filed a federal suit against the RNC for violating the Voting Rights Act, as ‘anti-fraud’ checks were mostly aimed at minority voters. The RNC agreed to end all “ballot security” programs in 1982, but they resurfaced 30 years later under a different guise, when a group of Texans took it upon themselves to check the present state of polling places in their constituencies. What they found shocked them profoundly.

The group not only found that poll workers were not sufficiently prepared for their jobs, but they also witnessed blatant cases of voter impersonation. Some people were brazen enough as to present multiple registration cards, and if one of them was determined to have already voted, they would just pull out another one until they were allowed to vote. This prompted them to establish an army of sorts that has aimed to stop electoral fraud but has made the news not for their example of good citizenship, but for alleged voter intimidation. The Knight Street Patriots, as they are now called, have been a harmful attempt at a solution to illegalities, but their very existence points at a disturbing problem in the American democratic system.

It is upsetting that some citizens feel the need to becoming their own watchmen because the government has failed them and their elections do not represent their will. These citizens are representative of political groups whose ideology gets on the way, meaning that their so-called “anti-fraud” campaigns are not completely transparent, and end up causing more harm than good.

The way to combat these biased attempts at restoring democracy is not simply to forbid them, but to find the root of people’s disbelief in their institutions. What the Knight Street Patriots saw at the polling places that prompted them to act is very real, and it is a reasonable cause for rage. However, having someone stand at a polling station and try to establish who is a real voter and who is not with very rudimentary and prejudiced methods is definitely not going to help. The problem is not a lack of watchmen around the polling stations, but a lack of a robust system that eliminates altogether identity theft, ballot stuffing, and dead people voting. Of course, including technology with biometric authentication would help to solve this problem and do away with ballot cops.

Adopting a safe and reliable electoral method instead of letting citizens adopt illegitimate control measures is the sensible solution. After all, it is the government’s duty to safeguard democracy, and improving the way elections are carried out is the best way to do so.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Venezuela organizes presidential election in record time

Caracas. Photo: Marcio Cabral de Moura

Venezuela is getting ready to carry out new presidential elections only six months after the reelection of Hugo Chavez. The country was forced to call its citizens to the polling stations once more after the early demise of the nation’s president last March 5th.

Having less than 40 days to organize the electoral event, Venezuela has opted to make use of the advantages that its automated voting system provides. In order to speed up the preparation processes facing this challenge, the National Electoral Council (CNE) decided to use the same electoral registry from the October 2012 election for the voting machines that will be used during this new event.

On April 14th, 39,282 voting machines will be deployed. These are equipped with a touchscreen for candidate selection, they print out a voting receipt showing the cast ballot (facilitating citizen auditing), an e-ballot and a biometric device for voter authentication, which guarantees the “one voter, one vote” premise.

The device matches each voter’s fingerprint along with their ID number and compares these data with those from its database. If they match, the voting session is activated. This system not only prevents the occurrence of deceased voters and identity theft, but it also guarantees that each voter casts his or her ballot only once. It is worth mentioning that the biometric information is stored separately from the voting information, which guarantees the right to vote secrecy.

Venezuela’s electoral system has been celebrated for its speed and reliability. According to Jimmy Carter, member of the American Commission for the Federal Electoral Reform and founder of the Carter Center, an NGO that carries out observation processes with democratic purposes, “Venezuela has the best electoral system in the world.”