Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Corruption scandal tarnishes A-WEB

Last April, former President Park Geun-hye, the first woman president of South Korea, was sentenced to 24 years in prison after having been found guilty of abuse of power. But the ex-ruler is far from being the only figure involved in this type of controversy. This year, South Korea has been the scene of major corruption scandals, which also include Kim-Yong Hi, current Secretary General of the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB), who is under police investigation for electoral corruption.

Kim-Yong Hi is being accused of exclusively favoring local firm Miru Systems Co., Ltd. in electoral assistance agreements signed by A-WEB under alleged "international cooperation". 

According to Kwon Mi-hyuk, representative of the Democratic Party of Korea, A-WEB and Miru System signed an illicit agreement to assist the official foreign aid projects from 2015 to 2017, when supposedly a public bidding process was to be held. However, the general secretary of A-WEB said the firm was the only one with the technical capacity to offer electoral technology in the region.

In addition to allegations of bribery, Miru is being questioned about the malfunctioning of its electronic voting devices. Their recent experience in Iraq, where the firm exported electronic voting equipment worth 135 million Dollars, ended in accusations of fraud and allegations related to flaws in the voting machines. Authorities were forced to carry out manual tallies in some areas of the country.

If that wasn’t enough, things keep getting worse for the Korean tech company. The scandal caused by the participation of Miru Systems in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) elections -held on December 30- forced the former secretary of the South Korean National Electoral Commission, Kim Dai-Nyeon, to resign. In a press release he urged Kim Yong-Hi to also resign and blamed him for favoring the firm Miru Systems. 

Image by The Western Star. The DRC's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) showed off the device from Miru System to reporters on Feb 21.

At the beginning of November, press articles began to circulate stating that the Blue House had recommended appointing Kim-Yong Hi as a permanent member of the National Election Commission. Being a permanent member of the Commission gives the authority to determine what is right or wrong within the NEC. As a result, several representatives of both opposition parties and the government itself have been actively demanding an official explanation from the Blue House, and questioning the reasons that led it to ignore the police investigations in which the current secretary of A-WEB is involved.

Accordingly, the A-WEB office is inactive, after its budget of 4 million dollars was slashed to little less than 2 million after a NEC decision. Some representatives of the governing party have asked A-WEB's general secretary to accept his responsibility for his faults, and allow the organization to continue working, as since that budget cut many young people working for the organization were left unemployed.

Only time will tell what the future holds for A-WEB.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Congolese elections surrounded by controversy

Congo is scheduled to hold elections on December 23. However, the results of the election are already the source of much controversy. 
For months, activists, international observers and even the government of the United States have warned that the election system to be deployed for the first time can be manipulated. Recent corruption scandals involving the vendor who provided the voting machines (Miru Systems), a fire that incinerated some voting machines, in addition to activist protesting against the use of the technology have increased tensions ahead of the polls. 
Security experts have voiced their concern surrounding the more than 100 thousand machines that will be deployed on the day of the election. A report from the Sentry published in June revealed "potential threats to the secrecy of the ballot and manipulation of results." The Sentry is a surveillance group that investigates corruption and problems in Africa.
Lorenzo Hall, Chief technologist at the Washington-based Center for Democracy & Technology, stated in the Sentry report: “QR codes may store more information than simply a voter’s ballot selections, potentially including the time a person voted, their place in line and other voter-specific or ballotspecific identifiers. This information can be used to correlate the contents of a ballot to a specific voter’s identity, violating ballot secrecy.”
Recently, a fire in Congo’s capital destroyed nearly 80 percent of the capital city’s voting machines just 10 days before the presidential election. Officials claimed that the blaze, which burned nearly 8,000 of the capital’s 10,368 voting, appeared to be criminal but vowed that it would not disrupt the vote. 
Adding to the controversy, Miru System, the company that provided the voting machines has been embroiled in corruption scandals in South Korea. Authorities in the Asian country are investigating whether or not A-WEB, an Association of World Election Bodies funded by the South Korean government, used its influence to help Miru Systems sign multi-million dollar deals in Congo and elsewhere. 
Congolese activists who live in Korea have asked the Korean government to ban Miru Systems from supplying the machines to his country. Although their voices have not been heard, both A-WEB and the South Korean government have issued statements distancing themselves from Miru Systems and the Congolese election.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Securing elections in the United States

Protection of election integrity has been keeping poll authorities around the world busy lately, especially after important elections of 2016 (e.g. US Presidential and Brexit) have revealed how vulnerable this democratic exercise is to the remote manipulation of external powers employing newfangled technologies.
The menu options for those wishing to disrupt a democratic election have grown in recent times thanks to rapid technological advancements. From misinformation campaigns using platforms like Facebook and Twitter, to “real” hacking of email servers to compromise political parties.
The perception that voting machines can be hacked from afar have also made election commissioners and voters alike jittery. A recent poll conducted by the University of Chicago revealed that 8 out of 10 respondents were concerned with the possibility of hackers breaking into electronic voting machines and tampering with votes.
For the last year or so, large technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have been taking actions to tackle the fake news problem. In the Philippines, for example, Facebook has started to crack down on pages and accounts peddling fake news.
Election experts, on the other hand, recommend two key actions to strengthen security of voting machines:
- Implementing voting machines that print a VVPAT: The use of paper vouchers allow voters to verify their votes and give auditors an easy way to compare electronic results vis a vis a printed copy.
- Allow audits after the close of voting: auditors should be able to randomly select voting machines, paper vouchers and other elements involved in the election to confirm that the votes agree with the printed minutes.
The Government of the United States is already taking actions to modernize its electoral system. Congress has recently awarded 380 million dollars to states for this purpose.  
This is a big step in the right direction. Yet the task of protecting the vote must include everyone – electoral authorizes, technology companies, civil society, and the general public.
Only in this way can a secure, transparent, and credible electoral system can every be truly realized.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The US elections technology oligopoly

Last week we learned from the Wall Street Journal that “Election machines used in more than half of U.S. states carry a flaw disclosed more than a decade ago that makes them vulnerable to a cyberattack”. A startling development, considering that the midterms are around the corner, and that China has allegedly joined the list of foreign powers trying to meddle in US elections.

Although the reason why a flaw of this magnitude is still present is manifold, recent studies point at the concentrated structure of the industry as one of the main causes for the poor state of the US election infrastructure.

In 2017, a Penn Wharton professor, Lorin Hitt, and a team of six students published a report titled “The Business of Voting”. According to their findings, “the industry is dominated by three firms that are moderate in size and neither publicly nor independently held, limiting the amount of information available in the public domain about their operations and financial performance. Meanwhile, the customer base is highly fragmented, with election technology decision-making dispersed across more than 10,000 county election officials.”

The three firms in question -Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart Intercivic- control approximately 92% of the voting machines used in the US. The existence of an oligopoly which controls US elections is undoubtedly a problem that needs to be addressed. 

As pointed out in the Wharton study, the lack of competitiveness leads to an inefficient market.  “First, the companies can exert their market power to lock-in clients”.  And second, “the industry’s high degree of concentration reduces investment in making voting machines more secure. The three incumbent companies can easily cooperate in carving up the existing market. And little outside competition, according to the authors of the report, means “limited incentives for innovation”.

The inefficiencies of this oligopoly have become evident in recent weeks.

On September 26, the city of Chicago awarded a 10-year contract for approximately $31 million to Dominion Voting Systems. The decision to purchase technology from the Canadian-based company was made months ago following a public bidding, yet the acquisition of technology is now being questioned. ES&S, the largest manufacturer in the country, filed a lawsuit against the county and the office of its chief procurement officer on September 25. According to ES&S, the “proposed voting system was not compliant with Illinois law, and likewise could not meet the requirements [of the request for proposals], because it had not been certified by the Illinois State Board of Elections.”

A similar episode is unfolding in Louisiana where ES&S is accusing state officials of favoring Dominion during the bidding process. In June, it was revealed that ES&S “had coaxed state and local elections officials —including South Carolina's election chief— to serve on an “advisory board” that gathers twice annually for company-sponsored conferences for at least nine years.”

Ethics experts have questioned this practice, labeling it as potentially corrupt. “This is a massive promotional opportunity for ES&S,” said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C. “It’s highly inappropriate for any election official to be accepting anything of value from a primary contractor. It shocks the conscience … I think it compromises their integrity.”

To cope with the shortcomings of this inefficient market, the Penn Wharton study recommends:

• Buyer coalitions, which can give jurisdictions greater bargaining power for getting vendors to provide systems that are both better priced and more customized to their needs;
• Open source technology, which proponents believe may catalyze the development of new competitive markets in voting systems solutions;
• Modified certification processes, to support a move to modular voting systems built from less expensive commercial off

It is time to take action.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Eight reasons why adopting a hybrid system will hurt the Philippines’ democracy

After eight years of increasing automation of the voting system in the Philippines, 2018 is marking a distressing period for potential regression -from the technological and political perspectives- for the Filipino people. A group of former and current lawmakers is pushing for the use of a new hybrid election system for the 2019’s polls.

What is the hybrid voting system?

The proposed Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATaS) consists of a semi-automated voting process. It combines manual voting and counting in polling precincts, and automated canvassing through electronic transmission of election returns. The fundamental difference between the hybrid proposal and the current automated election system (AES) is that PATaS calls for manual counting -bringing back all the consequences inherent to manual elections. After voting, the manually-tallied election returns (ER) are encoded into a computer which transmits the information electronically to a canvassing center.

The hybrid system was already tested in June 2015. According to one of the proponents, “going back to manual counting of votes would be more transparent than an automated system. However, instead of returning to a fully manual system, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can adopt a hybrid system where the results will be transmitted following a manual count.”

However, during the end-to-end demonstration at Bacoor National High School Annex in Cavite province, the system proved unreliable and inefficient. Poll observers noted some issues and problems. They found the manual counting process was inconveniently slow and confusing, for poll workers, voters, and political representatives. Some of the observers labeled the experience as “miserably unsuccessful to even closely match the advantages of a fully-automated election.” The experts agreed that moving back to manual counting, as implied under the hybrid system, would be a significant setback.

Election technology experts have voiced at least eight reasons why reverting to manual counting would represent a dangerous step towards the weakening of democracy in the Philippines.

Manual voting, an unfortunate regression
The hybrid system would mean more people in the precincts just like in the past, and therefore, processes more susceptible to tampering and manipulation.

Slowness increases window of opportunity for fraud
A hybrid system would bring back the long, and time-consuming counting that had plagued elections before the introduction of AES in 2010. One of the clear benefits of the automated system is the speed that allowed Filipinos to know their new leaders before they went to bed on Election Day.

Increased human intervention= increased subjectivity
The hybrid system eliminates one of the most significant benefits of the Philippines’s election technology, its impartiality. By returning to manual counting, those in charge of interpreting the intent of the voter will have comprehensive control to decide what votes are counted (and for which candidates,) and what votes are annulled.

Prone to human error
The hybrid system is prone to human error, whether intentional or not. Poll workers in charge of interpreting manual votes can make a mistake. Also, the equipment used during the canvassing process is operated by people who are likely to succumb to the fatigue of a long Election Day. Traditionally, counting and canvassing occur after 10 hours of voting, when tensions run high, and people are tired. Comelec has experienced (under AES) an accuracy level of 99.995%. This threshold is merely impossible to obtain for a manual count.

Poll workers would be exposed to threats of violence, again 
By expanding the responsibility that poll workers have over the accuracy of results, they become more susceptible to coercion and the target of violence. Given the long history of voter intimidation in the Philippines -and the improvement during the last three elections- going back to manual counting seems like a severe setback.

Increased workforce requirement
Running the hybrid system would require hiring more school teachers and other polling staff for even longer periods of time. In an age of increasing labor cost, going back to manual elections is unsuitable for the EMB. If the hybrid system were adopted, it would require the employment of 900,000 election inspectors for the 100,000 polling precincts. However, there are only 630,000 public school teachers available to take on such a task.

Small parties are at a disadvantage
The fact that it is a poll worker and not an agnostic machine who interprets the paper ballot gives large political parties the capacity to send representatives to all polling stations. This is an advantage over smaller parties. Comelec, an institution that is responsible for leveling the playing field, should avoid the introduction of a system that favors certain parties over minor political groups.

Increase in election costs
The hybrid system does away with the optical scanners, but instead uses a significant number of technology devices (e.g., laptops, projector, scanners, printers) in each polling center. Regarding technology, savings would be minimal, if they exist at all. Furthermore, by increasing exponentially the human power necessary to run the election, the system will inevitably lead to higher costs. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What happened with e-voting in Angola?

Photo by Elections 360 via Flickr

The 2012 elections in Angola was marred with a myriad of doubts. Intimidation of opposition candidates, media personalities, election authorities and international observers characterised the political process. The developments portrayed downright electoral fraud, and very few individuals expected free and fair elections.

In recent months news came out that the Spanish Tax Agency fined the company Indra Sistemas S.A. as part of an investigation for the payment of illegal commissions of 2.4 million euros, carried out under the Angolan presidential elections of 2012. Six years later, this investigation has re-open the “Pandora box” of uncertainties surrounding the election process.

Angola’s hope: e-voting

Conventionally, the conditions that facilitate free and fair elections often begin long before Election Day. Nonetheless, within 30 days to the 2012 elections, it was explicit that Angolans were not ready as they could not campaign freely without pressure or intimidation.

The hostility escalated to worrying levels a week toward the election date prompting some patriots and the international community to advice on the postponement of the election date. The electoral body appeared compromised and overwhelmed by the unfolding chaos in the entire circle of national leadership.

The previous election had been associated with widespread rigging and widespread electoral irregularities, which had taken a significant amount of time and financial resources to set strategies in place to curb a repeat. Angolans and the entire continent had been tired of the post-election violence whenever voting concluded with massive uncertainties.

By 2012, Angolans had been psychologically prepared to participate freely in voting for a new National Assembly, and it was going to be their first time to adopt electronic voting. Given that the elections were conducted electronically, there was significant hope for more secure, reliable and transparent ballots, and that post-election convolution would be a thing of the past.

However, when everything seemed wrong with the way campaigns were being conducted, voters saw red flags. The outcome of the elections undermined the independence of the EMB, as most election stakeholders doubted they were free and fair. From massive rigging claims to outright manipulation of results, it appeared the instigation of the electronic voting process was deceiving to the citizens.

Indra’s case

Regarding the election technology provider investigation, the Angolan jurist William Tonet revealed on Radio Despertar, that the company “Indra Sistemas is one of the institutions that had connotations with the Angolan political power that fled taxation in their countries. We had already denounced, in 2012 and 2018, that some companies associated with the government ran engaging in certain types of business. The elections are no longer an act of citizenship and nobility to be a real business.”

Indra organised the logistics of the Angolan presidential elections of 2008, 2012 and 2017.

According to a 2018 investigation in El Confidencial (Spanish outlet), “The Dos Santos regime was always receptive to closing deals with Spanish companies. Indra Sistemas has been one of those companies graced with contracts negotiated without competition or thanks to direct awards.”

The newspaper states that during the organisation of the elections of 2012, “Indra had fictitiously increased by 9.8 million euros the price of the 14 charter planes transporting electoral material to Angola, for the payment of commissions. The 2018 Spanish Tax Agency investigation finally concluded that the unjustified figure was 2.4 million euros, and the matter was settled.”

Until now, it remains unclear all the procedural details in the Angolan 2012 elections. Even if the 2017 general elections had already brought new perspectives to the country, perpetual talks are ongoing to address election integrity. It will continue to be newsworthy how transparency of EMBs and election providers can help spare African nations from imminent post-election chaos.

Friday, August 31, 2018

E-voting in Southeast Asia is growing stronger

In our digital-driven world, technological innovation has become an essential pillar to carry out routine activities as well as to stay updated and at par with others. Elections are one of the many areas where some countries are reaping the benefits technology has to offer.
Three examples in the election field are the registration of voters, the adoption of electronic voting machines, and the use of digital platforms to share and inform election details to stakeholders via SMS, emails, or social networks.
Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore currently are global technology hubs. Yet, they have not taken full advantage of it to make election processes easier, more robust, and public friendlier.
Most South Asians[1] and Southeast Asians[2] have historically relied on the traditional methods of elections, i.e. with limited use of technology, and they continue to do so. Voters still must go through dated registration and voting processes, including long queues to manually cast their ballots, and waiting days -or weeks- to get official election results.

India and The Philippines

India in Southern Asia and The Philippines in Southeast Asia, however, have led the train of change on e-voting. For the last decade, voters in both countries have been casting ballots through electronic voting machines, with significant and positive results for Election management bodies (EMB) regarding ease of use, speediness, and efficiency of the voting technology.
According to a recent paper: Independent Electoral Commissions (IECs) for Inclusive, Honest, Orderly, and Peaceful Elections presented at the 25th World Congress of Political Science (July 2018), “The automation of elections in the Philippines despite the numerous organizational and technical issues, had an overall positive effect on public trust in the voting process, and public confidence in the COMELEC. The adoption of an automated election system also triggered institutional changes and improvements in the COMELEC.”

Other countries in the region are following The Philippines and India, and they are starting procedures to upgrade and trial new election technologies. Electronic voting pilots have taken place in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Mongolia. While Biometric voting registration has been adopted in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Nepal.

Social networks help

Let us not forget social media is also inducing voting consciously in the region to a vast extent. People in Southeast Asia are using these networks to convey an array of ideas and perspectives diluting knowledge for others.
Social platforms are acting as a forum to discuss the pros and cons of a candidate or a party contesting elections, helping leaders or candidates to connect with the public, and grasp a trend of public needs and expectations.
Therefore, even if countries in Southern and Southeast Asia are not widely benefitting from election technology just yet, there are some leading examples and several domains in which digital transformation is smoothing the election cycles.

[1] Current territories of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka form South Asia.
[2] Current territories of Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Singapore, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam form Southeast Asia.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How badly were US elections hacked?

After the 2016 elections in the United States, a large number of headlines appeared regarding the supposed intervention of hackers to manipulate the voting system and to change the will of the citizens.

Thousands of web pages spread fake news through social networks and generated misinformation. Today we know that Russian nationals were indicted for conducting an illegal "information warfare" effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, possibly distorting the popularity of Donald Trump’s candidacy.

The real impact of such campaigns is hard to measure: recent research on the real effects found that most voters reading such fake news already supported their candidate. In other words, they somehow favored voting for President Trump; or they already were not too enthusiastic to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Besides this media campaign, there were the hacking events against the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Also, there were attempts to attack state election offices where intruders sought to hack voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona.

However, there is no evidence to proof that even a single voting machine was hacked. As the article Voting machines in America are reassuringly hard to hack; Voter rolls are not from The Economist points out, “Rigorous software studies and vote counting revealed that there is no evidence of manipulation, change or votes eliminated during the 2016 elections”.

Also, this article from Politico: What we know about Russia’s election hacking states that “Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say they haven’t seen any evidence of digital tampering with election organizations, individuals or systems — though that doesn’t rule out some broader effort to undermine public faith in the U.S. political system or sow unrest”.

Although voting machines were not hacked and not a single vote was changed, Russia might be still trying. “It is 2018, and we continue to see Russian targeting of American society in ways that could affect our midterm elections” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated. Therefore, the US should be seeking to adopt a more secure, accessible and reliable election system – one that can only be achieved through modernization.

One out of three US voters have concerns about the accuracy and reliability of the voting technology used at their polling place, and one out of five Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential contest do not fully trust that the national election results were tabulated accurately. However, they also propose a clear solution: eight out of 10 voters believe that upgrading the nation’s voting technology will strengthen and build trust in future elections –a fact the administration and its commissions should not ignore.

To achieve this, there is not only the matter of modernizing and upgrading the voting systems. All sectors involved (media, government, NGOs) and influencers should debunk the myths that are generated daily by false news that seek to warp democracy in the United States. By the way, here an Expert advise on how to fight fake news.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Controversy surrounds election automation in DRC

The controversy around the upcoming DRC elections has only increased after the South Korean Government distanced itself from Miru Systems, the Korean company that will be providing voting equipment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI in French).
The decision of the Korean government to cut ties with Miru for this project comes as a surprise to many as the government, through its International Cooperation Agency (Koica), has funded and supported basically every international election project in which Miru has been involved.
The Korean Government seems to be lining up behind other world powers who have expressed their concern about the way automation is being imposed. In February, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stated: "an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk." Several other countries also manifested their skepticism about the idea of introducing technology in an already highly-polarized political landscape.
Another critical setback for the automation project is the refusal of A-Web, a Korean non-profit organization, to participate in the election providing support. “Until last year, A-Web, a Korean non-profit organization, provided technical support to CENI regarding the use of the voting machines. However, A-Web severed ties with the Congo, consistent with the position of the Korean government," the embassy statement read.
Three years ago, Miru had basically no international experience. However, things changed when it partnered with A-Web and Koica, the Korea International Cooperation Agency founded by the government to administer grant aid and technical cooperation programs.
With Korean funding from Koica and A-Web’s endorsement, Miru signed a series of election business deals, in many cases bypassing public bids.
Between 2014 and 2015, the troika formed by A-Web, Miru and Koica provided election technology and support to Kyrgyzstan. The funding provided by Koica allowed the country to purchases optical scanners from Miru. A-Web provided election support and observation.
A-Web, Miru, and Koica were also very much involved in the 2017 referendum held in Ecuador. South Korea donated 1,850 Miru scanners. And for the 2018 Legislative and Municipal elections held this year in El Salvador, Miru provided optical scanners to digitize tallying reports. Again, Koica provided funds, A-Web election support and election observers.
In spite of the success this troika has had, something different may be happening this time around. While declining to be part of the election, Seoul emphasized that it couldn’t force a private company -Miru in this case- to refuse participating, "The Korean government possesses no legal right to forcibly discourage a private Korean company from exporting its products."
With two of the members of the troika out, Miru is left alone combating the impression that automation will lead to a more transparent and trustworthy election process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Only time will tell.

Video 1 from Noticiero Hechos Estelar. El Salvador.

                                       Video 2 from Noticiero Hechos Estelar. El Salvador.

Friday, March 30, 2018

El Salvador: An open path to election modernization

During the recent Legislative and Municipal elections held on March 4, El Salvador’s elections tribunal implemented a software solution to consolidate, aggregate and publish results, which allowed them to offer reliable and timely preliminary counts. 

Back in 2015, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE in Spanish) took three weeks to come up with an official tally. With this fresh memory in mind, and given the recent events in neighbouring Honduras (where they had to wait 21 days for results, amid protests and unrest that left 33 dead), the TSE decided to take no risks. In addition to the software solution used to announce winners only a few hours after voting ended, the TSE also utilized another technology solution to audit its own preliminary results. 

Mission accomplished. The preliminary count was published in real-time as the tallying reports were being processed. Although these results were not official, public opinion knew in less than 24 hours what the voting trends per party were, with 79% of the voting records processed. A hundred percent of the records were made available online 36 hours later. Quite a feat considering previous elections.

Although some politicians tried to belittle the work of the TSE and the companies that processed the data (especially after an incident was reported with the preferred votes in San Salvador and La Libertad), these results are auditable. And most importantly, the official results shown a month after the vote fully matched the preliminary count.

One additional benefit of the incorporation of technology to process preliminary count, was that once the unofficial results were made public, the TSE was able to begin their official count without much political pressure. Knowing what the voting trends were calmed the waters and allowed authorities to finish aggregating tallying reports.  

Unlike what transpired in 2015, authorities, political parties, the media and citizens were able to follow the preliminary count on a public website. It was precisely this level of transparency and auditability what allowed people to detect the inconsistencies found in the departments of San Salvador and La Libertad. Parties and citizens were able to compare the digitized voting records against the results being published.

Although the election observation missions from the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) acknowledged the complexity of El Salvador’s voting system, they praised the efforts made by TSE with the addition of technology. The modernization of all the processes to generate preliminary results, helped the country to overcome the issues of 2015.

These 2018 elections, held in the most densely populated country in the Americas, are a clear demonstration that implementing technology in the vote count -one of the most crucial phases of any election-, makes the overall process faster and more transparent. Results were available on Election Night and were audited in real time.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Expert advice on how to fight Fake News

The term ‘Fake News’ was named Word of the Year 2017 by the Collins Dictionary, after it saw an unprecedented usage increase 365% since 2016. Unfortunately, it was the 2016 US Presidential election that motivated this avalanche of fake news created to sway public opinion, favor some candidates and sow discord went viral.
A recent study conducted by the Politics Department at Princeton University revealed that one in four Americans read at least one false news story purposely fabricated to mislead. Understandably, the magnitude of this problem has election officials looking for ways to create appropriate conditions for future elections. Having correct information available for all voters is a crucial condition for all free, fair and transparent elections.
Luckily, non-governmental organizations, academics, journalists and communications experts are now joining election officials in trying to educate the population on how to detect and combat fake news.
Here are three tips recommended to stop the spread of false information:
-          Identify the source and follow your instinct: In this digital era, thousands of web pages and social media accounts are created each day. Therefore, when you read an article, you must check the reliability and trajectory of the journalist, “influencer” or media outlet.
In case you do not recognize who is behind the piece, it is always good to google the headline or part of the story to see if it has been replicated in other reliable outlets.

-          Follow the Three S rule: Before sharing a piece of news, first STOP to think if the title of the article is relevant. It may be pure clickbait material. Then, do your SEARCH on the author of the article to verify its veracity. And last but not least, SUBSCRIBE to newsletters or bulletins of reliable media to receive truthful and accurate information.

-          Use tools for fact check: Given how fake news have proliferated, and the impact they have had, many fact-checking organizations or media outlets have emerged., Politifact and Snopes can come handy for those who want to know if something is real or the product of a Fake News laboratory.
In addition to these tips, it is important to keep in mind that, during a campaign period, you should always keep an eye on social networks, making a lists of verified accounts of political parties, media and candidates to follow.
And one last recommendation. Do not get carried away by what others share. Develop your own database. By doing so, not only will you stay safe and informed, but you will educate others by sharing truthful and reliable news.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Controversial elections in Honduras leave fraud allegations, deaths and uncertainty

The Honduran presidential elections held in November 2017 resulted in a wave of protests - with more than 33 deaths -, fraud allegations and the demand of the Organization of American States (OAS) to repeat the election process.
Initial results showed Salvador Nasralla leading the vote count. The lead was substantial enough that a magistrate on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal estimated victory by Nasralla, characterizing his lead as “irreversible”. However, suspicions arose when the trend was suddenly reversed.
The observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) has basically declared the election to be null. To investigate what had happened, OAS commissioned a data analysis from Georgetown University professor Irfan Nooruddin. In his report, which reviewed the sudden change in the results, he states: “the difference in vote patterns between early- and late-reporting polling stations shows marked changes that raise questions as to the accuracy of the late-reported returns... The differences are too large to be generated by chance and are not easily explicable, raising doubts as to the veracity of the overall result”.
Nooruddin goes to conclude: "Based on this analysis, I would reject the premise that the National Party won the election legitimately."
Shortly after the election, a citizen movement was created through social media to call up demonstrations, not only in the capital Tegucigalpa but in different cities of the country. These protests led to violence and at least 33 deaths.
In spite of the street protest and the strong reaction of international observation missions, authorities took 21 days to declare incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, as the winner.
The recommendations of the OAS international observers to repeat the elections were ignored. Furthermore, the Government advanced a bill to regulate information on social networks and minimize citizen mobilizations.
The political and social future of Honduras is now in the air. How will Honduras embark on new election processes after authorities refused to take into account the demands of opposition parties, election observation missions and the international community?