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.