Monday, March 24, 2014

An optimistic outlook on Nigeria’s e-voting future

Source: Google Images
Following thirty years of being ruled by a military dictatorship, Nigeria is now a country in transition. They are struggling to conduct fair, free and transparent elections in a nation that has been riddled with irregularities and corruption. Although the country and its democracy continue to be in transition, a big part of the push is to help modernize Nigeria and bring it ahead into the 21st century. And electronic voting technologies are expected to play a critical role in achieving the goal of fair and open elections.

Unfortunately, the forward momentum has faced its fair share of speed bumps and road blocks. Indeed, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria has officially ruled out the use of e-voting systems ahead of its general election in 2015. It's not that the INEC doesn't see the value and advantages of using such technology in its upcoming elections, but rather than the commission “currently does not have the capacity to conduct elections using the scheme.”

Indeed, the INEC Act has a provision that effectively prohibits the use of electronic voting and until that restriction is lifted, there is nothing the commission can do. However, there is some optimism on the horizon.

The youth of Nigeria support the use of electronic voting. Several groups in the country have bandied together to campaign for the use of an electronic voting system in the 2015 election, pointing out that such a system would allow and ensure a far higher level of transparency. The groups involved in this campaign include the Leaders of Niger Delta Youth, the Arewa Youth Vanguard, the O'Odua Youth Forum and the Ohanaeze Progress Youth. This support of electronic voting is irrespective of political party affiliation, saying that e-voting will help to “get rid of thugs, loss of lives, election malpractices and all sorts of malpractices during the 2015 general elections.”

In speaking at a press conference, Com. Solomon Adodo asserted that an e-voting system “will also make our elections free, fair and credible.”

And it's not just the young people, the future voters of Nigeria who are backing the use of electronic voting. The Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) has also recommended to the INEC to use an e-voting system for the country's elections. More specifically, the society is calling for the adoption of the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigcomSat) e-voting system, saying that it would be willing to provide technical support for its implementation. The platform has already been used successfully to elect executive members for the NSE on two occasions.

The solution is described as “workable,” requiring voters to pre-register with biometric data like photographs and fingerprints. Using this system, NSE saw an increase of over 20% in the number of voters for its own executive elections compared to the previous year.

Electronic voting likely will not be a part of the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, but if the Nigerian people continue to support and lobby for its adoption, the outlook is hopeful that such technologies will be adopted at some point in the very near future. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Students vote via cellphone and laptop in Namibia school elections

Source: Googel Images
The traditional paper and pencil elections, which has been used all over the world to elect presidents, parliaments, or student councils are slowly changing.

One of the more notable examples of late has to do with the Polytechnic of Namibia. At that tertiary educational institution, students have been given the opportunity to utilize a cell phone and laptop-based voting system. More specifically, the tests were conducted with a mobile election system developed by AdaptIT. This provides a far superior level of flexibility for the students, because they are not bound to specific voting locations at specific times of the day.

Instead, according to Polytechnic of Namibia computer services department manager Juanita Frans, students were “afforded the luxury of casting their votes via cell phones or laptops, from wherever they were and at any time during the stated election period.”

When a traditional paper ballot-based election is held at any other school, students would normally need to take time away from class and other educational activities in order to cast their ballots. This takes away from valuable school time that could otherwise be spent. With the mobile election system, students can easily cast their ballots from home, during a meal break, or just about anywhere else. Unsurprisingly, the young people are very much embracing technology in elections as technology is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life for youth all around the world.

Perhaps even more notably, because an e-voting system was used where ballots were cast electronically, the tabulation of the votes was far more expedient. We should mention Accuracy. People make mistakes, computers don´t.

Also, manual counting implies somebody interpreting what the voter marked. It is not always obvious. When elections are electronic, no interpretation is needed. The intent of the voter is recorded directly. In fact, the results were available immediately after the election period officially closed. By contrast, the physical counting of paper ballots in the same election the previous year took several days to complete and this was with the electoral committee and the various staff members working through the night to complete the process. Instant results are naturally far preferable to waiting for days to get the results, not to mention the added expense and use of time by staff to tabulate the votes with paper ballots.

During the three and a half-day voting period, a total of 2,600 students at the Polytechnic of Namibia were able to cast their votes via the mobile system. This system can be similarly used at other institutions for any kind of election. Adapt IT's Amanda Lubbe says that the results “are updated immediately and displayed in a dashboard format” too.

Some have said that online voting may not necessarily increase voter turnout in general elections, but the overall use of electronic voting technology is continuing to grow through 2014 and beyond.  The youth of today embrace technology, particularly mobile and online technology, and this “beta test” in Namibia clearly illustrates the many benefits of using such a system. As schools move toward having more online resources, as well as the use of technology like sending exam results to students directly via SMS or through an online portal (as the Polytechnic of Namibia has been doing since 2006), the same evolution and transition should be made with student elections as well. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

How online voting worked with the 2014 Oscar awards

Source: Google Images
The increasingly widespread use of technology for voting systems is being witnessed not only when it comes to electing officials to varying levels of government, but also under other circumstances like electing a new student council at a school or when citizens can vote on a new referendum that directly affects their everyday lives. And even long standing organizations, like the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), are moving forward with the adoption of more advanced voting technology.

Voting for the Academy Awards, better known simply as The Oscars, has traditionally been with a conventional paper ballot, but that changed to online voting for the 85th Academy Awards in 2013. This seemed like a genuinely good idea, as members of the Academy could then vote remotely at their leisure and the ballots could be counted almost instantaneously, the online voting system faced a number of problems, particularly with older members of the Academy who were not as familiar with technology.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the voting members are of the older generation, they were “altogether unfamiliar with the platform” and had great difficulty casting their votes. This may have had a tremendous impact on the results, but this does not mean that the idea of using e-voting or online voting is a bad idea. It simply means that a better system has to be implemented in a better way, helping to educate and train the members of the Academy in how it all works.

And indeed, considering all the complaints that it received, AMPAS rolled out an “upgraded and simplified” system for voting in the 2014 Oscar Awards. Members register for their account online and do not require a separate username and password for the voting session; for the 2013 Oscars, members had separate passwords for the registration and voting process, not to mention a complicated series of checks and balances. Changing passwords could also be done online independently, whereas members had to phone into the support system last year. The Academy also worked to improve the overall user interface to make the system easier to use.

While the aftermath of the voting session has not yet been completely revealed, it appears that online voting in the 86th annual Academy Awards went far more smoothly than the first year of online voting. With over 6,000 voting members of the Academy, the administration of the voting process for these awards is understandably simpler than if a similar system were implemented for a larger government election, but this experience should be revealing for jurisdictions and organizations that are considering the use of online voting for their own referendums and elections.

To help aid in this transition toward the greater use of technology, particularly with online and mobile voting, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still allows members to vote in person with a paper ballot, but most of the voting is online. This is in line with the growing movement toward fast-tracking younger applicants, providing a younger and more representative body of voting members than the older and more traditional demographic that has historically dominated the Academy and its ideological leanings.

By providing an online system as the primary method for voting, the Academy is helping to encourage greater voter turnout among its members. The Academy, as one voting member told David Gritten of The Telegraph, “is trying very hard to be fair and to be seen as fair.” This is not dissimilar from just about every government and organization in the world. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Scytl fails again in Ecuador

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /
Last year, in 2013, Ecuador awarded Spanish-based Scytl a $7.8 million contract to automate tallying, processing and publishing results for provinces with manual voting – some 160,000 polling station reports.

In these presidential elections, the incumbent, Rafael Correa won by such a big margin (34%) that the CNE could rely on quick counts to provide partial results.

His supporters celebrated victory as soon as one hour after the polls closed. As a result, the local press completely overlooked the fact that Scytl’s data processing actually took weeks.

In the 2014 elections that have just taken place in Ecuador, the story is different. The same company, the same problem, but it is a sectional election with eleven million voters selecting thousands of candidates. Margins are narrow and quick counts and exit polls are not enough.

Since the polls on February 23, authorities have been postponing announcing the results. A few days ago, with only 75% of results processed, they asked for more time.

Osman Loraiza, a representative from Scytl, acknowledged the failure of their system in Ecuador. However, their website is still regarding their participation as a success. It remains to be seen whether the press will overlook the failure this time.  

The CNE has already announced it will sanction Scytl. Authorities will wait until this crisis is finished to decide how to proceed. 

Electoral authorities from Ecuador are now left with the herculean task of completing the counting, announcing results and convincing public opinion that those are a true expression of the popular vote.

Fortunately, it is not all bad news for the election technology industry. On election day, and only 70 minutes after polls closed, results were available in Santo Domingo de los Ts├íchilas. The e-voting technology deployed by Smartmatic yielded excellent results. Also, in Azuay, were the CNE automated the counting of votes using Magic Software Argentina (MSA) technology, results were also published that same night.