Thursday, May 23, 2019

Electronic Voting in Iraq: Mission Unaccomplished

Fifteen years after US President George W. Bush gave his “Mission Accomplished” address, Iraq continues its struggle for democracy. Regrettably, key institutions like its Independent High Electoral Commission have proven inefficient in laying the foundations for a thriving democracy. What is worst, they are failing to learn from their own recent experiences. 
In May 2018, Iraq headed to the polls for its first election in the post-ISIS era. What initially appeared to be a relatively decent election gradually emerged to have involved massive potential fraud, forcing a manual recount of the results of a failed electronic voting system. These botched elections cast into serious doubt Iraq's ability to strengthen its own democratic institutions and conduct future election processes.
The tragic episode of the 2018 elections could have had a positive spin, had authorities learned the lesson. However, the fact that they are mulling over the idea of using the same unreliable technology, is a sad testament to the struggle facing Iraq’s fragile, corrupt and inefficient institutions.
Most of the complaints reported after the 2018 election in Iraq concerned the alleged compromise of the optical scanners provided by Miru Systems. The $135 million system purchased by Iraq’s elections commission was intended to help the critical vote-counting process. Yet, as reported by media outlets, tests of electronic voting machines produced varied results, giving credence to the fraud claims.
Miru Systems is no stranger to this type of controversies. Currently, its leadership is having to answer questions before South Korea’s parliament about its dealings with election commissions in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Argentina and El Salvador. Prosecutors allege that a corruption scheme allowed Miru to win contracts. The Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB), which helped MIRU to win contracts around the world, is also under investigation in South Korea
Though it is yet to be proven if Miru Systems applied in Iraq similar questionable techniques to close deals, it is already evident that the end result is far from ideal. 
Miru’s voting technology was analyzed by academics from the United States and Argentina. According to election expert Joseph Hall, experts “were able to show how completely insecure the Miru system was, including: publicly posted cryptographic keys allowing total modification of the system or vote data; radio transmission of each ballot, which was easily intercepted; and using chips embedded in each paper ballot (RFID tags) to load many more than one vote per ballot.” Argentina stopped the procurement and legislative authorization process to obtain these machines shortly after the security researchers publicly presented these flaws to Argentinian legislators.
Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission must rebuild trust after the 2018 mayhem. The nation needs an election that leads to the kind of political stability that generates trust and creates the conditions for a thriving democracy. So far, transparent, efficient and modern elections continue to be a “Mission Unaccomplished”.