Thursday, December 21, 2017

When elections in Venezuela stopped being trustworthy

On August 2nd, 2017, Smartmatic, the company in charge of election automation in Venezuela, denounced that the nations National Electoral Council (CNE, by its acronym in Spanish) gave different results than those shown by the system. Since then, there have been two more elections and a third one is scheduled, where the nations president, 2,436 councilors and 233 members of regional legislative councils are to be elected.  
During the elections for the National Constituent Assembly on July 30th, 2017, the president of the CNE received a voter turnout figure, and simply announced another.  Simple as that. That is how the Venezuelan government manipulated election results.  The software in the machines was not hacked, and neither were the transmission process or the counting.  The tallying system gave a number, the government announced theirs.  The opposition had decided to abstain from these elections, so there were no witnesses in the tallying centres.
Venezuelan elections have been under a microscope for years. Both government and opposition had won and lost using the same voting system, and there had never been a physical, printed voting record that failed to match the electronic ones published on the electoral bodys website.  The accusations by losing candidates never prospered.  Before, audits prior to the voting always showed the system did what it was supposed to, and audits following the voting confirmed the results to be exact. 
Everything changed in the October 2017 Regional Elections and the Municipal Elections later that same year.  During the former, 11 printed voting records failed to match the digital records published online by the CNE.  These 11 records were manually entered into the tallying system. When a voting machine cannot transmit due to technical or connectivity issues, the voting records are entered manually into the system.  Then, what does it mean when it is the manually loaded records that do not match? It means that tampering the automated system is impossible, and that every vote entered is counted exactly as it was cast. In the Municipal Elections, some states had more votes than voters, with totals that adding up to more than 100% of the votes.
For these upcoming Presidential Elections in May 2018, there was an Agreement over Electoral Guaranteessigned by representatives of a few political parties and the National Electoral Council.

This agreement contemplates 11 alleged electoral guarantees. However, most of these are elements already present in the Venezuelan law governing elections.  There are two of them regarding the voting process: one, to undo the relocation of polling centres that took place in 2017, and two, to carry out all the technical audits that had been taking place until the Parliamentary Elections. 
As of today, having audits does not guarantee that results will not be tampered with, as it happened in Bolivar state, or that candidates will be allowed to have witnesses in the tallying rooms at the CNE to make sure the results announced match the records in the system. 
In the 2012 and 2015 elections, the CNE carried out between 12 and 15 audits in a period of 55 days.  For the elections this May, the CNE hopes to perform 14 audits (an additional two) in a mere 31 days.
The absence of Smartmatic as a technology provider, the accusations of tampering of the vote turnout for the National Consitutent Assembly, and the manual alteration of the results in Bolivar state cast a shadow over the performance of the automated voting system. This, on a much different level than before, where the main issue were the unfair advantages the government gave itself, not electronic fraud. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Questions loom over Venezuela’s electronic voting system

The recent regional elections held on October 15 in Venezuela, have sparked a new wave of controversy around Venezuelan elections and the legitimacy of its results.

Andres Velasquez, who was the opposition candidate for the southern state of Bolivar, is crying foul and claims to have physical copies of all tally reports to back his claim. According to Velasquez, the printed machine tallying reports show thousands of more votes for him than the National Elections Council (CNE in Spanish) website shows.

As reported by Anatoly Kurmanaev for the Wall Street Journal, Luis Lander, director of the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory, a nonpartisan group in Caracas that tracks elections stated “There’s clear manipulation here,” after he examined voting-machine receipts that the opposition alliance posted online. “The results were altered to allow the losing candidate to be declared the winner,” he added.

Although the evidence presented seems conclusive, the truth is that fraud accusations should not come as a surprise. “Crying fraud is an extremely familiar routine to the Venezuelan opposition, and one that it has pursued at virtually every election since 1999,” wrote Rachael Boothroyd Rojas on

David Smilde, a US scholar who has followed the political struggles in Venezuela, recently penned an article asking authorities and opposition parties come up with good answers to explain what has transpired through the press. He emphasized that “Both the CNE and the MUD have the ability to significantly clarify what happened and they should do so as soon as possible.”

Describing the electronic voting system used in Venezuela, and how easy could be to determine who is telling the truth, Smilde commented “Venezuela’s voting system has a solid system of audits and checks. Fantasies of secret tabulation rooms that alter the vote can be set aside. Each voter who votes, gets a paper receipt saying who she voted for, and then deposits it in a box. After the elections, the citizens who are working at the tables, representing all parties, count the ballots. Then they check their tabulation with the act that is printed out from the machine. They sign off on it and the parties’ witnesses get a copy of it. These acts can then be compared to the electoral tallies presented by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on their web page, and any fraud can be detected.”

Further complicating matters, during the National Constituency election held in August 2017, the CEO of Smartmatic, the company that had provided the electronic voting solution for all election since 2004, denounced that the turnout figures published by authorities had been manipulated by at least one million. Authorities disregarded the accusation as pure nonsense and proceeded to organize these latest elections with new technology providers.

Francisco Toro, from Caracas Chronicle, thinks “Venezuela’s machine-based electoral system has many, deep problems, but one key redeeming feature: it can be audited.” Questions are looming over Venezuela’s electronic voting system. It is time to act, and audit the tallying reports to find out what happened and clear all doubts. The future of a nation formerly regarded as a democracy beacon is at stake.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lombardy votes electronically

Picture by Close To Media
On October 22 the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto voted in a referendum to decide on greater autonomy for Rome.
In Lombardy, citizens used electronic voting machines to cast their ballot. On the day of the referendum more than 3 million voters - at least 40% of the eligible voters - went to the polling stations to use 24,000 touch-screen voting machines.
The president of the Lombardy region, Roberto Maroni, expressed his satisfaction with the way in which technology facilitated the voting process. "This is a historical democratic experiment, which places us before the future."
The technology helped guarantee greater accessibility and transparency in the processing of results, which could be consulted online through a web page. As seen on the video below, electronic voting machines were taken to the homes of senior citizens in order to facilitate their participation.

Lombardy is the most prosperous region in Italy, with GDP per capita about 35% higher than the European average.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Estonia’s online voting is a worldwide reference

More than a decade after its first experience using election technology, Estonia continues to spearhead online voting,
During the recent local elections held on October 15, Estonia set a new record for online participation. 186,034 citizens voted via the Internet, 39% more than the number recorded in the last elections of 2015.
This election was also unique because, for the first time, the Parliament allowed young people between 16 and 17 years old to participate. On the other hand, 27% more citizens over 55 years old voted using online voting, compared to previous elections.
By facilitating voting to people with reduced mobility, residents in border cities and abroad, online voting has proven effective in enfranchise citizenry.
Estonia is well ahead the curve when it comes to e-governance. It is probably the only country in the world where 99% of the public services are available online 24/7.
The commitment of government officials to efficiency and transparency is behind the successful adoption of technology. The video below shows Estonia’s Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas promoting online voting.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Elections in Angola, a new scandal for Indra

Picture by
Elections in Angola have always been marred by scandals and allegations of fraud. The ones held in 2017 were not the exception to the rule.

This time, Indra, a Spanish information technology and defense systems company, was at the center of the controversy. Not only because of the way it was chosen as election technology provider, but also because it accepted to implement a vote transmission and tallying system that apparently violated Angola’s legal framework.

Three months before the 2017 election, Angolan opposition parties UNITA, CASA-CE, PRS and FNLA denounced that the government hired the Spanish company Indra "to assist in manipulating election results to their advantage." According to a memo from UNITA, Indra agreed to design and implement a solution to transmit the preliminary results to a destination server different from the one established by Angola's Organic Law on General Elections.

Before the elections, Friends of Angola, a civil society organization based in Washington DC, had sent a request to the Spanish embassy asking for an investigation into the Spanish company Indra, in an effort to prevent this company from being hired again by the Angolan government.

The request letter, signed by Florindo Chivucute, Executive Director of Friends of Angola, points out that "a threat to democracy in Angola should be seen as a threat against all democratic nations." The letter based its concerns on a memo signed by UNITA and shared with the European Union Mission, where three disturbing facts were listed:

1. Bidding process. Indra was the only company that prepared a proposal and participated in the bid. According to the memo, it is likely that the Spanish company had access to privileged information and would have entered into over-invoicing agreements with the Angolan entities involved long before it had officially received the invitation. The official cost of its specific proposal for the two projects on the bid amounts to 1,433 million Euros.

2. Vote Transmission and Tallying. Angola's Organic Law on General Elections establishes two flows of information: one for the preliminary results and other for official results. The CNE requested Indra to develop a software application that would include only one flow of information, which generates a provisional clearance, which is then converted into a final ballot. Indra accepted this petition that violates the legal framework. Instead of transmitting the results from the base of the pyramid, Indra's solution allowed the polling stations’ results to be first sent to the top of the pyramid, the headquarters of the CNE in Luanda, to have the national results to determine the provincial results. According to the press, this request came directly from the MPLA, as they did not want municipal commissions to divulge or publish provisional results.

3. This action may help explain why in the elections held in 2008 and 2012, also organized with Indra's support, the CNE never published the election results by municipality and polling station, as it is mandated by the rules of transparency and good international election practices. Both elections were considered to be fraudulent, and as such were vehemently contested.

Six weeks after the 2017 election, the opposition still refused to accept the results, with discrepancies continuing to emerge in the tallying process of the National Electoral Commission (Comissão Nacional Eleitoral - CNE) and the opposition's own numbers. The opposition is not disputing the MPLA victory but rather the tabulation process that awarded the ruling party more votes.

Corruption scandals have surrounded Indra in other latitudes. One of its most recent scandals was revealed in March 2017, when the Brazilian government sanctioned one of Indra's subsidiaries, Indra Brasil Soluções e Serviços Tecnológicos Group. The company is now under administrative sanction, which prevents it from participating in public tenders.

Indra Brasil Soluções e Serviços Tecnológicos Group was called Politec, but changed its name a few years ago after the Brazilian authorities broke into its offices to investigate whether or not it had paid approximately $100 million in bribes to win bids.