Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Calming effects of credible polls noted in Philippines; losing bet finds no cheating

Source: Emilio @13thfool

The run-up to the 2022 Philippine elections went down as one of the most acrimonious and polarizing few months in the Southeast Asian country’s history. Emotions ran high as partisans for frontrunners Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., and former Vice President Leni Robredo went at each other tooth and nail throughout the campaign.

Marcos eventually won by a landslide, sewing up 31 million votes to Robredo’s 15 million. The generally regarded smooth conduct of the elections also worked to quell the noise and defuse tensions, paving the way for an uneventful transition of power.

Despite calls for her to contest the results, Robredo chose to quietly accept them, an act which many observers believe was crucial in de-escalating tensions and calming the country.

Recently, Robredo went on record with author and journalist Ninotchka Rosca in New York City, to state more explicitly that her team found no evidence of cheating, giving observers hope that her statement would finally quash the lowkey-but-persistent calls to challenge the election results.

“Right after the elections, we formed a team of lawyers and we formed a team of computer experts to look into allegations of cheating,” Robredo said in an interview.

“We participated in all the third-party audits that were conducted, and our lawyers and our computer experts did not see anything. We don’t want to file a case only to keep your hopes up,” she added.

She also referenced the elections in 2016, where she narrowly defeated Marcos in the vice-presidential race, which the latter contested via an electoral protest. The case dragged on for years and provided fodder for a disinformation campaign that observers say hurt Robredo’s image. The case was terminated in 2020 when the Supreme Court upheld Robredo’s win.

“We did not want to do what was done to me in 2016,” she added.

Robredo’s lawyer, Emil Marañon, admitted that their camp actively looked for evidence of fraud but found none.

“Trust me, we started with disbelief [about the results] and we are dying to find something to answer the call of the supporters [to protest], but there was none. The numbers checked,” Marañon said.

Robredo’s statements are the latest testimony to the credibility of the 2022 vote. The election watchdogs Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) had said within days of the elections that it could not find any irregularities surrounding the conduct of the polls.

Election credibility in the Philippines has been on the rise since the country adopted an automated election system. A post-election survey by Pulse Asia revealed that 90% of Filipino voters believe the elections to be credible and want all future elections to be automated.

According to Pulse Asia President Ronald Holmes, Filipinos generally feel that cheating was less pervasive in the 2022 elections and that “the vote count was faster and the results remain credible.”

"The level of trust is still significant. [The] majority trust the results of the elections that they are accurate and thereby credible," he added.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Election integrity and speed election results publication


A full week after polls closed in the US midterm elections of 2022, the counting had yet to wrap up in many counties and states. The drawn-out count had the nation on tenterhooks as it awaited results in battleground states that could dictate the makeup of Congress. For many Americans, the delay brought back fraught memories of 2020 when it took several excruciating days for the winning presidential candidate to be determined.

News consumption has changed drastically in recent years. With social media circulating information worldwide at lightening speeds we have become accustomed to immediate access to information. In this context, election authorities are asking Americans to wait an entire week while diligent poll workers process paper ballots – an impossible ask.

The speed of election results is a variable that needs to be evaluated urgently by election commissions. It’s no longer enough for election officers to facilitate voting and counting votes accurately. Together with voter participation, or the security and accuracy of results, speed is a key variable to preserve election integrity. In the absence of results, information voids will be filled with conspiracy theories of all kinds.

One of the main causes of the delay in the US is the large number of voters who choose to participate using the modality of voting by mail. According to data from the US census, in 2020, 43% of voters exercised their right by sending their ballot by mail. The rising popularity of vote by mail is clear evidence that voters appreciate convenience. Yet, this is a voting method that presents many challenges for those who administer the election. Each envelope received must be reviewed to validate the voter's signature, and then be passed through an optical scanner that registers the voter's vote. The use of drop boxes in some jurisdictions also holds up the process as it necessitates physical retrieval of ballots and segregation into correct precincts.

Although participation rates in the US soared in the last couple elections, for decades it trailed that of many other industrialized nations. According to a Pew Research Center study, election participation in the US ranked 31st among OECD countries. Facing participation declines, election authorities prioritized participation and promoted voting by mail. The increase of division and polarization that surround our elections, and the ubiquity of disinformation should make election officials reconsider their priorities.

The 2022 midterm elections have made it abundantly clear that authorities need to implement technology-based solutions to speed up vote counting and processing. It is time to give voters who want the convenience of casting their ballot remotely the option to vote online. Estonia, a Baltic nation with a long-standing tradition of fighting Russian hackers could be a good example to emulate. Since 2005, Estonians have had the option to securely cast a ballot online or to head to a polling station to cast a ballot with pen and paper. Online voting is now the preferred voting option.

Allowing voters to cast their ballot online would decrease the number of ballots election workers process manually. Results could be immediately published on election night. This small, yet important reform could go a long way fighting the disinformation that abounds in the critical hours of election night.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Uneventful Brazil polls silence critics


Despite dire predictions, Brazil’s first round of elections proceeded smoothly and concluded without hitches. The country’s election system proved to be up to scratch as it was able to count over 100 million votes by midnight, enabling poll authorities to publish results online without delay.

A mission formed by observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) has released a report lauding the “orderly and normal manner” of the vote.

“The mission salutes the people of Brazil, who turned out to vote yesterday, Sunday, to express their will in a peaceful and democratic manner. Under a highly tense and polarized atmosphere, Brazilian citizens showed maturity and civic commitment,” the report said.

Similarly, markets were upbeat about first-round results. In a note to investors, J.P. Morgan sounded guardedly optimistic about the polls.

"The risks around political polarization, with non-acceptance of the ballot results must be monitored, but so far there have been no notable events to report," it said.

The undramatic polls contrast markedly with the gloom and doom scenario being painted by incumbent president Bolsonaro during the run-up. It might be recalled that Bolsonaro went after the election system hammer and tongs, relentlessly questioning its credibility, and warning of widespread unrest should he lose.

Analysts had feared that Bolsonaro’s polemics was a dangerous tactic to hold on to power, as the incumbent had trailed his rival, ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in all pre-election surveys. Yet Bolsonaro mustered 43.2% of the votes to Lula’s 48.4%, an impressive showing for the perceived underdog. Under Brazil’s election laws, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote in the first round of voting, a runoff election between the highest scoring candidates will be held.

Analysts note that the stronger-than-expected showing of Bolsonaro had seemingly silenced his rhetoric against the voting system. With the prophesied anomalies turning out to be duds, the whole narrative appeared to have been defanged.

Bolsonaro’s sudden silence on the matter is likely to be taken by the public as a walk back and an acknowledgement that the election system he had been denouncing in fact works. This tacit retraction could prove crucial to the country’s post-election stability as Da Silva, despite failing to score an outright win, still pulled 6,000,000 more votes than Bolsonaro, and enjoys an advantage going into the taut mano-a-mano matchup set on Oct. 30.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Belying fraud allegations: Court upholds Angola polls, African Union lauds successful vote

In a deathblow to the 2022 aspirations of the Angola’s opposition, the Constitutional Court of Angola junked the electoral protest lodged by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), declaring the case to be bereft of merit.

The decision upheld the win of the MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which had dominated the African country’s political landscape for nearly five decades. It also handed President Joao Lourenco a second term.

UNITA leader Adalberto Costa Junior had cried foul over alleged discrepancies between the count of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and his party's own tally. The poll body, on the other hand, had mightily defended the process to be fair and transparent.

UNITA claims that its parallel count shows it edging MPLA with the most razor-thin of margins — 49.5% vs 48.2%. A parallel count by civic movement Mudei indeed mirrors UNITA’s numbers.

In the face of the final and unappealable decision, UNITA and other opposition parties have called for peaceful demonstrations against so-called irregularities.

The biggest red flag seems to be the poll body’s failure to release results sheets from individual polling stations as they did in 2017, denying UNITAS the opportunity to compare it with parallel counts. Angola’s NEC only published aggregated results from 19 provinces. Exacerbating the bad optics is the fact that the CNE is largely MPLA-controlled, and that four out of the sixteen commissioners have repudiated the results.

The opposition also decries the lack of election observers, where only 1,300 were present to cover a country twice as big France, and questions why MPLA was given more airtime than others.

Yet even as the controversy hogged the headlines, analysts largely view the allegations as a fly in the ointment in an otherwise successful election. This, as election observers led by the influential African Union (AU), have cited the largely peaceful conduct of the polls.

AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat had lauded the exercise as an important milestone in the history of Angola, saying that "once again, the people of Angola have demonstrated their resolve for continuous search for democratic and participatory governance in their country.”

The chairperson went on to congratulate Angolans for turning out in droves to exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders, commend he smooth conduct of the polls, and praise the everyone involved for conducting themselves peacefully throughout the electoral process.

Mahamat has also urged Angolans to continue committing to peace and democracy, appealing for a peaceful and lawful resolution to all election disputes.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Kenya shuns past, holds first peaceful vote in years

International election observers heaved a sigh of relief as the Kenyan elections came to a close without violence in a stark departure from past polls that had been pockmarked by killings.

“On election day, voters exercised their right to vote in a general peaceful manner throughout the day,” lauded Ivan Stefance, head of the EU observation mission.

In a statement, Bruce Golding, former Prime Minister of Jamaica and the current chairman the Commonwealth Observer Group commended the people of Kenya for the “peaceful and orderly manner in which they exercised their right to vote on 9 August 2022.

“It is our hope that by bringing this electoral process to a successful conclusion, Kenya will serve as an inspiration for the Commonwealth and indeed, the rest of the world, that relevant lessons have been learned from the past, and that each successive election is an improvement on the previous one,” Golding said.

Although the matter is more nuanced, many observers are already singling out this year’s successful implementation of technology as a significant factor in keeping violence at bay.

“The mission commends the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for the successful use of technology for voter registration voter identification and transmission of results. It has improved efficiency and increased the transparency for the election process in Kenya. At least those of us who were here in the last election can attest to that,” said Jakaya Kikwete, Head of the East African Community Observation Mission, and former President of Tanzania.

Dr. Ernest Bai Koromo, former president of the Republic of Sierra Leone noted the improvement in the overall voting exercise across the country. “Polling stations opened on time, voters were identified easily by digital kits and no major security incident was reported," he said.

“As a result of these changes to the Results Transmission System (RTS), the provisional presidential election results were publicly accessible on the IEBC portal. The Mission welcomes introducing these transparency measures to improve the integrity of the electoral process,” Koromo added.

The IEBC earned plaudits from the Commonwealth Observer Group for learning from past lessons, saying that “the Group notes that the IEBC applied a lessons-learned approach from the 2017 elections and adopted new software and hardware through the requisition of the KIEMS kit from a company called Smartmatic. It was noted that the IEBC undertook two simulation exercises of the KIEMS kits for the electronic transmission of results, the second of which our Advance Team was able to observe. We acknowledge these efforts, as the transparency they displayed contributed to building confidence in this key feature of the electoral process.”

The Kenyan election saw Deputy President William Samoei Ruto, 55, winning narrowly with 50.49 percent of the votes over his rival Raila Odinga, 77, who took 48.85 percent. Although Odinga is contesting his loss, political observers largely believe the election results to be credible.

Election watchdog ELOG (Elections Observation Group), a federation of more than a dozen NGOs, said that its parallel vote tabulation (PVT) estimates were consistent with IEBC’s official results.

“In light of our assessment of the Election Day processes and given that IEBC figures fall within the projected ranges, the PVT projections, therefore, corroborate the official results,” said the group’s chairperson Anne Ireri.

Kenyan citizens and election observers had been on tenterhooks during the lead up to the elections over fears that this year’s exercise would be a repeat of the bloody elections in 2007 where 1,200 people were killed and in the 2017 violence which left 24 people dead across the nation.

Monday, August 1, 2022

E-voting wins big among Philippine voters; earns praise worldwide

Nine out of ten Filipino voters prefer future elections to be automated, according to a new Pulse Asia survey.

The findings are part of the result of the survey commissioned by brain trust Stratbase ADR in the wake of the country’s general elections in May.

Since the country had starting using e-voting in 2010, approval for elections had sharply risen, from 30% in the last manual election to 82% in the most recent automated election.

Aside from 90% of voters finding the elections credible and trustworthy, the survey also revealed that 95% of the 1,200 respondents’ voters found the vote counting machines (VCMs) easy to use.

The polling firm observed widespread acceptance of the automated election system notwithstanding isolated reports of some voters waiting in line for hours in the stifling heat.

"We find here that nine out of 10 Filipinos are satisfied with the vote counting machines, significantly higher in [the] Mindanao [region], [where] you have 99% expressing satisfaction with the vote counting machines," Pulse Asia President Ronnie Holmes said in a forum.

The survey showed that two-thirds of Filipino adults believe that the 2022 elections are "more credible now" compared to the presidential polls in 2016, while 18% said these were "as credible as before." Only 6% said the election results were less credible this year.

The survey findings are consistent with the results of the mandatory Random Manual Audit where the electronic results registered a 99.95% match with manual count of ballots from 746 randomly selected precincts.

The elections also earned plaudits from the international circles.

Ned Price, US State Department Spokesman said that “the casting and counting of votes were conducted in line with international standards and without significant incident.”

The head of the observation mission from the Carter Center, Peter Wardle, noted that the elections were well-run, saying that “We found in our analysis of the election process that there were no significant gaps in the process and in particular, to pick up the theme of trust, we were impressed by the fact that in the Philippines, there are a number of mechanisms which are running either alongside or as a check on the automated voting to help build trust in the process.

Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshiwaka Kazuhiko cited the smooth conduct of the election.

“I was honored to have witnessed first-hand this incredible exercise of democracy. I look forward to working with the new administration in bringing Japan and Philippine ties to greater heights,” he said in a tweet.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Presidential candidate in Brazil to seek own voting system audit

In the feverish run up to the Brazilian elections in October, President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking an audit of the voting system, a move that comes after the embattled leader had relentlessly questioned the credibility of the country’s voting systems.

“As allowed by electoral law, we will hire a company to do the audit,” Bolsonaro said.

“People want transparent elections in which the vote is effectively counted for their candidate.”

The president’s sweeping claims had been met with backlash, the most furious of which had come from Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court judges who had flatly refuted Bolsonaro’s allegations and categorically declaring that Brazil’s electoral system is free of fraud.

Luis Barroso, president of Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court, once fired back at Bolsonaro saying “threatening the realization of an election represents anti-democratic behavior. Polluting the public debate with disinformation, lies, hatred and conspiracy theories represents anti-democratic behavior.”

Surprisingly, Bolsonaro appears to have made a fatal misstep as a recent Genial/Quaest opinion survey shows that his bombastic attacks on the voting system is turning off moderate voters. Furthermore, despite the vitriol spewed against the voting system, trust of electronic voting machines among Brazilians has increased to 22% of the electorate from a low of 27% in September, the survey revealed.

More alarmingly for Bolsonaro, the poll also showed that voter support for him dipped after three months of gains against former Lula.

The survey indicated that if the elections were held in April, Lula would have won 46% of the votes against 29% for Bolsonaro. Lula is on track to reaching 50% of the votes and winning the election right in the first round, according to the survey. In case the contest goes to a second-round runoff, the survey said that Lula would defeat Bolsonaro by 54% versus 34%.

"Voters believe the president is wrong to confront the Supreme Court, to question the credibility of electronic voting machines," said survey director Felipe Nunes.

Moderate voters are the swing votes that could be key to winning the election because most supporters of Bolsonaro or Lula have already decided who they will vote for.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Filipinos buck pandemic, heat; hold successful elections


Despite the oppressive summer heat that peaked at 90°F and the lingering presence of Covid, voters turned out in record numbers as officials staged an efficient Philippine 2022 election with minimal disruptions.

The 2022 elections were accurate and fast. On election night, results were published with 85% of election returns electronically transmitted to canvassing centers. The process was the fastest yet in the country’s history, which international observer election watchdogs have deemed to be above-board.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the May 9 elections were conducted according to international standards and without any major incident.

Turnout exceeded 53 million – or 80% of eligible voters – a substantial showing in a country that had been averaging a 76% turnout for the past two decades.

Despite the abundance of disinformation, Filipinos trust their election automation. According to two independent surveys, most Filipino voters trusted the results of the country’s 2019 elections (89%) and they are overwhelmingly satisfied with the automated election system (87%). Another survey revealed that 9 out of 10 Filipinos want all their future elections to be automated.

This is a trend that has held fast since the first automated elections in 2010 – and with good reason. The automated system has yielded accuracy above 99.9% since it was first introduced. Further, results are published just hours after the polls close, not weeks or months as it had been with manual elections.

While trust in the electoral process and turnout are seeing a decline in most parts of the world, Filipinos are finding a good reason to be proud of their election.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Spanish tech firm embroiled in Colombian election mess


Spanish technology company Indra finds itself in the center of controversy after being involved in the recent Colombian legislative election where a difference of 7% was found between the preliminary count and the final count of the votes.

In the final count announced by the Registrar five days after the election, more than 400,000 new votes were found in favor of Historic Pact, the party of the candidate Gustavo Petro. The discrepancy resulted in the party going from from 16 to 19 senators to the detriment of the Conservative Party, the Green Alliance, and the Democratic Center, which lost one senator each.

The usual difference in most Latin American countries that have preliminary results systems ranges from 0.5% to 1%. In Colombia, the difference between the two counts had never been greater than 1%.

The unusual discrepancy in the results comes as the South American country is gripped by political tension and is feared to erode perceived electoral integrity, an ominous development ahead of the looming presidential elections.

In these cases, international election watchdogs advise electoral officials to declare as clearly and precisely as possible the origin of these discrepancies, in order to ensure that public confidence in the system is maintained. Contrary to this, the Colombian Registry has not given clear answers. Currently the Registrar is being harshly questioned by various political sectors that demand answers, including Senator María Fernanda Cabal, and former President Andrés Pastrana.

Suspicions stemmed from the questionable hiring of Indra on December 29, 2021, while the country was on a break for the holidays. In a bidding process that the Registrar's Office had initially declared void, Indra competed with itself and received the contract to oversee the preliminary counting software at the national level.

Questions deepened after Gustavo Petro and two senior Indra officials had a meeting in Madrid, presumably brokered registrar Alexander Vega. The clandestine meeting was exposed by former president Andrés Pastrana, who filed a disciplinary complaint with the Attorney General's Office against the registrar.

Today, just two months before the presidential elections, Colombia is facing a clamor for a total recount of votes by different political forces and demands for Alexander Vega to resign due to the irregular handling of contracts in the Registry.

Election experts fear this to be the worst legitimacy crises in the electoral process in decades and a stinging reminder of the need for the country to get serious in modernizing its electoral process. With the use of a modern and efficient voting system, Colombia could put an end to the decades-old problem of results manipulation as well as any problems related to ambiguous ballot markings.