Thursday, May 26, 2016

Electronic counting in Dominican Republic fails

Dominican Republican election authorities are desperately trying to come up with an official tally of votes after Spanish-based Indra Sistemas failed to provide reliable technology during the national elections held on May 15.

More than ten days have passed since polls closed, yet authorities are still figuring out what went wrong and how to process the votes of the Dominicans who participated. 

In September, 2015, Indra Sistemas was awarded by the Junta Central Electoral (JCE) a $31MM contract to provide two solutions, one to verify the identity of voters before casting a ballot and optical scanners to digitize the voter-marked ballots and streamline the counting and transmission of election data. However, things did not turn out as planned.

According to a preliminary report by the Organization of American States, “The biggest weakness on the day of the election had to do with the use of technical equipment. In many precincts, equipment failed, technical assistants did not show up, or there were problems related to connectivity or the operation of biometric machines or automated ballot counting machines...”

The report also states: “The implementation of these technological tools had serious problems: Lack of training of the technicians and their unfamiliarity with the way the equipment; Lack of human resources to run the equipment; and Flaws in security code recognition.”

The failure of Indra’s technology shouldn’t come as a surprise. Weeks before the election, political parties had expressed their discontent with the technology and how it was being implemented. To give assurance to political stakholders that no rigging would occur, authorities ordered a manual count of all votes cast to run in parallel with the electronic count. Post-election audits, which contrast electronic versus manual counting, are yielding different numbers. 

A local USAID-funded NGO named “Particpaci√≥n Ciudadana” coincided with many of OAS’ comments. This NGO has a long trajectory of election observation in the Caribbean nation. Its third and last report on the election stated:

“In 30.7% of precincts problems in the scanning of ballots were reported, and in 30.9% of precincts with the transmission of the vote. Authorities relied on manual counting in 97.7% of the polling places. 

Anomalies in the counting of votes reached 62.4% of schools.

In 40.4% of schools anomalies occurred during the verification of voters and counting process. In 10% of the cases the printer did not work.

Voter registration devices did not arrive to 29.3% of polling centers. 

Vote counting machines were missing in 27.4% of schools; in those schools where the technology was delivered, there was plenty of confusion on how to properly handle it.”

With more details surfacing, the JCE will have a lot explaining to do in the coming weeks.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Philippines sets a new record in election automation

On May 9, over 45 million voters elected their local and national Philippine authorities using 92,509 vote counting machines. This represents the largest deployment of vote counting machines ever. 

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic, who previously organized successful elections in 2010 and 2013, showed again the enormous benefits of election automation and what the technology deployed could mean for the Asia-Pacific region.

To guarantee transparency and the proper functioning of the system on Election Day, several audits, certifications and tests took place during the months leading up to the election. The source code used to run the automated platform was audited for 8 months by a group of experts, which included political party representatives, election watchdogs and authorities.  Additionally, a US-based company SLI Global certified that the source code worked as intended. 

During the voting hours every voter was given a vote receipt showing the selections registered by the system to allow him/her to make sure it was correctly registered. It is important to note that, as a paper-based system, the voter-marked ballot was already a robust auditing mechanism.

This extremely high level of auditability allowed political organizations to check that results matched the will of the voters at the polls, and accept the outcome of the elections.

With this new successful election, the Philippines proved that they are at the leading front of the worldwide trend towards election technology adoption.

The future of democracy is digital, and the Philippines have proved it.