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.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Bulgaria's Voting Innovations Slash Invalid Votes Amid Disinformation Onslaught

The adoption of voting technologies in Bulgarian elections has notably enhanced the efficiency and accuracy of vote counting and tabulation, leading to a substantial decrease in the number of invalid votes. In the National Assembly elections on July 11, 2021, invalid votes constituted a mere 0.34% of the almost 2.8 million votes cast—a significant improvement when contrasted with the 2019 local elections, where the absence of voting machines resulted in an alarming 15% of votes being declared invalid. This advancement marks a considerable step forward in bolstering the integrity of Bulgaria's electoral process.

Since first implementing voting technology in 2014, Bulgaria has expanded the use of electronic voting machines with a distribution of roughly 9,500 devices nationwide as of recent elections.

According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the implementation of machine voting in the 2021 Presidential and Early Parliamentary Elections was largely successful despite logistical challenges. Significantly, the OSCE's statement acknowledges that machine voting prevented the possibility of casting an invalid or blank ballot, emphasizing the effectiveness of this technology in fostering more valid voter participation.

International observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), also praised the impact of voting machines, describing it as "positive" and underscoring their role in eliminating invalid ballots, which has been an ongoing issue in prior elections.

However, the advancements in Bulgaria's voting technology landscape have been somewhat overshadowed by disinformation campaigns. Particularly during the 2021 elections, representatives from the GERB party made several allegations of machine manipulation without presenting any substantiating evidence. These unsubstantiated claims have fueled skepticism and have potentially hampered the public's trust in the efficacy and integrity of the voting machines.

The spread of election disinformation linked to voting technology in Bulgaria appears to be driven by political agendas. During the 2022 Bulgarian general election, Goran Georgiev of Sofia’s Center for the Study of Democracy closely observed the unfolding events. In a marked display of skepticism, GERB’s leader Borisov condemned the employment of voting technology and alleged, without presenting evidence, that unauthorized individuals had manipulated the voting machines. Georgiev highlighted the significance of this election, as it was the first in over a decade where GERB failed to secure a parliamentary majority.

Overall, while electronic voting machines in Bulgaria have demonstrated a notably positive impact on the electoral process, it is crucial for Bulgarian authorities and international stakeholders to address the challenge of disinformation to safeguard the progress made in modernizing elections.

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.