Monday, May 31, 2021

Defying Covid-19, London holds successful elections


When Covid caught the world by surprise last year, London was one of regions in England which bore the brunt of the pandemic’s fury leaving a staggering 4,000 residents dead by April.

Election authorities had no choice but to postpone their May elections one year, a draconian move they hoped would buy them more time to figure out a way to uphold the right to suffrage while a pandemic raged. With a whole year to plan, the city made sure to refine its processes and implement enhanced safety protocols. Aside from the mandatory mask and social distancing measures, authorities decided to extend the normally 1-day count to two days.

Mary Harpley, Greater London Returning Officer (GLRO), said shortly before the May 6 polls that the new counting process would be different due to the Coronavirus pandemic. “Much planning has gone into ensuring that the safety of Londoners and election staff is prioritized. We look forward to running a safe, fair and efficient democratic process in partnership with the London boroughs, to allow London's 6.2 million voters to have their say on 6 May.”

With such a large voting population scattered across 33 boroughs, London has one of the most challenging local election landscapes in the UK. They employ three different counting systems: first-past-the-post, a supplementary vote system, and a form of proportional representation. To facilitate vote counting GLA authorities employ election technology.

London’s e-counting solution ensured ballot papers were scanned and processed quickly and accurately, with full auditability of results, which resulted in increased transparency and integrity. The electronic count of 10.6 million votes was validated by the Constituency Returning Officer and the Greater London Returning Officer.

The centralized processing of the voter-marked ballots, hitherto a one-day process, began on May 7th, and was carried over to the next day to ensure a Covid-19 safe environment. High-speed scanners deployed in the three count centers made sure that count was delivered with speed, efficiency, auditability, and all the while requiring less staff.

Deputy Greater London Returning Officer, Alex Conway commended everyone involved in the exercise, saying that “the commitment of their teams meant the rapid shift to delivering a COVID-safe election was a real success.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Undeterred by new Covid surge, Vietnam goes ahead with parliamentary polls

In yet another demonstration of the resiliency of the electoral process, Vietnamese voters turned out at the polls recently to elect representatives to the 500-seat National Assembly, amid a new surge of Covid-19 cases. The country has earned praises last year for having one of the better pandemic responses in the region but has been battling an outbreak since late April.

Strict health protocols were implemented to prevent transmission, with voters being required to mask up and subjected to temperature checks before even queuing. Hand sanitizers were also freely available at polling centers, which were equipped with loudspeakers broadcasting reminders to keep a safe distance.

Observers were quick to point out how this election saw only 74 independents out of the total of 866 candidates vying for the parliamentary posts. In fact, the Communist Party in Vietnam, one of the last such governing communist parties in the world, still controls much of the power structure in the country and is largely intolerant of criticism.

Nonetheless, the regular and uninterrupted holding of elections is seen as crucial in maintaining the country’s trajectory towards freer trade, a more open society and eventual full democratization.

The nearly 69.2 million registered voters also voted for members of the people’s councils at provincial and district levels.

“I hope all voters, knowing their role as the owners of the country, will join the vote to select the most trusted and worthy candidates to represent their voices,” National Assembly chairman Vuong Dinh Hue said before the election.

Hue noted that the Sunday’s elections was the first “amid the most dangerous coronavirus outbreak that’s spread to nearly half of the number of provinces, with many of them under lockdown.”

Election results are expected to be announced in two weeks.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Technology powers Albanian elections for the first time; observers hail initiative as a success


When Albanian voters went to the polls on April 25, most of them were identified and authenticated using a new electronic voter identification system, an innovation that many observers are lauding as a success.

Reinhold Lopatka, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation cited the introduction of electronic technologies as an “important and welcome improvement for Albania.”

The international election observation mission 65 observers from the OSCE PA, issued a statement with preliminary conclusions on April 26. “I had the pleasure of witnessing the high degree of efficiency of the biometric identification system used throughout the country. This is an important step, which can only increase confidence in the electoral process," commented Lopatka.

The initiative of the Central Elections Committee (CEC) to implement technology was born out of a need to curb voter fraud. Historically, Albania had been racked by allegations of voting manipulation. Authorities had tried to modernize elections before, but after failing to implement a voter verification solution and an electronic counting solution in 2013, it put the introduction of election technology on hold.

"Last year's political agreement prompted important reforms and led to the introduction of electronic technology, which served to increase confidence in the electoral process," said Ursula Gacek, Head of the OSCE / ODIHR Election Observation Mission in Tirana.

Observers also wished that the CEC was able to roll out the technology to all precincts, an undertaking that was hampered by lack of material time in which the agency was only given three months to implement the landmark initiative.

"I wish technology would be used more in the next elections, " said Azay Guliyev, Special coordinator and short-term leader of the OSCE / ODIHR mission.

Lealba Pelinku, a deputy commissioner, is optimistic of future elections, saying that “when the CEC succeeded in three months, I am convinced that in the next elections electronic voting will be a 100% success!”

Aside from the biometric voter identification system, the CEC also piloted e-Voting solutions in selected precincts, indicating that Albania could be headed toward full automation of its elections.

"We observed some of these centers and I can say that it was an extraordinary success," said Valdete Daka, Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission in Kosovo.

Mrs. Kristina Kostelac, Election Administration Analyst / CEC Observer, on the other hand, said that their group “welcomes the adoption of relevant bylaws by the CEC that enabled the use of new technologies, including the Electronic Voter Identification System (EVIS) and pilot projects of the CEC.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pandemic no barrier to Ecuadorian elections


In what is being hailed by observers as yet another incontrovertible proof that democracy will not be derailed, Ecuadorians braved the pandemic in droves last Sunday to cast their votes for the runoff elections.

Andrez Araus, the left-wing candidate, conceded to former banker Guillermo Lasso, who rode to victory with 53% of the votes in the runoff elections. Arauz had earlier led the first round of voting with more than 30% on Feb. 7, while Lasso slid into runoff by edging indigenous candidate Yaku Perez by half a percentage point.

“I congratulate him on his electoral triumph today and I will show him our democratic convictions,” said Arauz, a known protégé of outgoing president Rafael Correa.

To minimize risks, the CNE has implemented biosafety measures overseen by the 85,000 members of the armed forces and police. Voters have been ordered to wear a mask, bring their own bottle of hand sanitizer and pencil, keep a 5-foot (1.5-meter) distance from others and avoid all personal contact in the polling place. The only time voters were allowed to lower their masks will be during the identification process.

Vice President Maria Alejandra Munoz said after the first round that these elections are "crucial" since they are taking place in a different context, "because we have not experienced a pandemic like the current one and the consequences that not all Ecuadorians are included in the short-, medium-, and long-term solutions could be dire."

CNE President Diana Atamaint said that the election was the most important day of the exercise of democracy. “Today, Ecuador wins and democracy wins," said Atamaint.

She admitted that organizing the elections during the pandemic has been a "challenge," but that the necessary sanitary conditions have been created to "care for the health of Ecuadorians and for democracy."

A total of 13,099,150 Ecuadorians, including 410,239 living abroad, were registered to vote in the elections, which had some 38,808 polling stations nationwide.

Ecuadorian voters also decided the occupants of 137 seats in the National Assembly and five seats in the Andean Parliament.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Philippine High Court unanimously upholds 2016 win of Vice President; junks 5-year old protest


In a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), recently affirmed the 2016 win of Vice President Leni Robredo, thrashing the protest filed by defeated candidate Bongbong Marcos, Jr and finally ending his five-year effort to overturn the results of the elections.

Marcos, the son of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country for twenty years before a popular revolt overthrew him in 1986, had lost the vice-presidential race to Robredo in 2016. He then filed a protest before the PET, asking the tribunal to invalidate the results of the elections due to fraud but had been unable to prove a single allegation.

“Out of the 15 members of the tribunal who were present in today’s meeting, I was informed that seven members fully concurred in the dismissal [of the poll protest] while eight concurred with the result,” said Supreme Court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka in an online briefing.

He added that protest was thrown out “for lack of merit.” Along with the Marcos suit, the PET also dismissed the counterprotest that Robredo’ filed, effectively putting closure on the high-profile issue that had hogged public attention for half a decade.

The landmark case was the first ever such petition to be resolved on its merits, with all four previous cases handled by the PET either being extinguished after the petitioners had died or ran again for public office, rendering moot their electoral protests.

The decision puts to rest the last of the handful of protest cases filed after the election. The fact that the number of cases have been dwindling since the Philippines stated using the automated elections system in 2010 , and that not one of the protest ever prospered in court, is being viewed by observers as a testament to the accuracy and transparency of the news voting system.

An insider said the Supreme Court justices were “in unison” that Marcos’ complaint should be dismissed since he had shown no “substantial recovery” in the manual recount of votes done in selected precincts that he himself had identified.

Records show that Marcos’ claim of electoral fraud was not established during the manual revision and recount of ballots from polling precincts in the provinces of Iloilo, Camarines Sur and Negros Oriental.

The PET had also earlier refused heed Marcos’ petition to void the certificate of canvass that Congress used in proclaiming Robredo’s win, the same document used in declaring President Duterte’s victory in 2016.

The decision was met with approval from different sectors, with many hoping that it puts to rest the acrimony. The influential Makati Business Club commended the Supreme Court’s “rare unanimity” in deciding the case saying that it removes a major source of unnecessary and damaging political uncertainty. The group went on to say the dismissal of the protest validates the country’s electoral process, and strengthens the unity the Philippines need to win the war against COVID-19 as well as accelerate the jobs and economic recovery needed by Filipinos.

In a statement, election watchdog Democracy Watch said that the decision is “a step forward for Philippine democracy as it affirms the integrity of our electoral system and, by extension, the soundness of our democracy as a whole.”

The group further cited the country’s present Automated Election System as being adopted by the Commission on Elections to protect the Filipino vote and that since its adoption, Philippine elections have been “largely unmarred by fraud, as is seen in the election of President Aquino in 2010 and President Duterte in 2016. In fact, the continued positive ratings of President Duterte reflect the validity of automated elections.”

Observers attribute the end to wholesale fraud which went unabated under the old manual count system to the country’s adoption of the automated elections system in 2010. Since then, the Philippine system has been one of the most audited elections systems in the world, with the 2019 polls registering a staggering 99.9953 percent match with the manual count.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Alleged poll mess sparks Myanmar putsch


Myanmar’s precarious democracy again teeters on the edge of dictatorship after the military seized power and detained the country’s top civilian leader State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi was arrested along with several other senior figures from the ruling party following an early morning coup on Monday. The move came after weeks of threatening rhetoric from the military which has vowed to “take action” over alleged irregularities in a November election swept by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Suu Kyi, who made international headlines as political prisoner and iconic leader of Myanmar’s democracy movement, came into power after a 2015 landslide election win. In November, the NLD won 83% of available seats, in what was widely regarded as a vote of confidence on the country’s fledgling democratic government.

Although her international star dimmed after her handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis in 2017, she remains hugely popular at home.

Evidence of fraud is scant, but it has not stopped the military from savagely attacking the November 2021, alleging discrepancies such as duplicated names on voting lists in many districts. The military had also been critical of the Union Election Commission (UEC) which has declared the elections were "done fairly and free," and that it could not have been "more transparent."

The UEC had said that the result was final and there would "not be an election re-run". The army had also alleged that early voting showed "errors of neglect" in voter lists and a "widespread violation of laws and procedures".

Ironically enough, the military itself was the architect of Myanmar’s 2008 constitution and democracy. Then, it did not see fit to completely abdicate power to civilian authority, so they instituted a permanent role for itself in the political system. Under Myanmar law, the military gets an unelected quota of 25% of parliamentary seats.