Thursday, November 30, 2023

Election Modernization in the Philippines at Crossroads


The Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) made a very risky and surprising move on November 29, when it banned its long-time technology provider Smartmatic from bidding on the 2025 contract for election technology in the Philippines. The move could spell the end to one of the most successful examples of election modernization in the Asia Pacific region.

Comelec’s new leadership has chosen to sever ties with Smartmatic, despite the company's longstanding role improving Filipino elections and the integrity of the outcomes, which have held up to every audit and legal challenge. Petitions by political activists calling for Smartmatic's disqualification have been dismissed by Comelec, which has cited a lack of evidence to justify such measures.

In the weeks preceding the rulings, Comelec Chairman Garcia firmly stated that the committee would only consider disqualification if substantial evidence was introduced in a legal setting. On September 22, Garcia affirmed, "The presumption of innocence prevails. We will meticulously observe the progression of this matter, particularly the nature and substance of the evidence presented in court.” Additionally, in a PhilStar interview, the Chairman underscored, "The Comelec cannot disqualify on the basis of speculation, rumors, or mere allegations." Despite the absence of such evidence and the lack of a judicial proceeding, Comelec nevertheless moved forward with the disqualification of Smartmatic.

Responding to the disqualification, Smartmatic pointed out that Comelec failed to follow the standard legal process for disqualification and never gave the company a chance to prove its innocence. “This ruling is made without any legal basis and appears to be an excuse for what was clearly a pre-determined decision to exclude Smartmatic from the bid, irrespective of merit. Our reputation and goodwill have been unjustly besmirched and the right to join the bidding withheld unjustly,” reads the company’s statement.

Since its first participation in Philippine elections in the Mindanao province in 2008, Smartmatic has continuously supplied election technology and services to Comelec. The company won open bids for subsequent national and local elections from 2010 through the most recent elections in 2022. During this period, the country saw marked improvements in both efficiency and accuracy, as well as citizen safety from post-election violence.

Barring further explanation from Comelec, the committee’s decision is curious and may, indeed, backfire on it. Comelec’s choice was, supposedly, driven by its desire to maintain the integrity of its processes and elections. Yet by sidestepping its own rules and due legal process, Comelec is opening itself to those who would question its integrity and thus, the integrity of the elections in its charge. At a time when the committee is being heavily scrutinized for yielding to political and economic pressures, choosing to circumvent due process seems to be an odd choice that may irreparably harm the cause of election integrity Comelec works so hard to protect.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Insider's Insight: Kenya's Journey to Modernized Elections


Wafula Chebukati, the former Chairman of Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), recently gave an insightful speech at the 19th International Electoral Affairs Symposium and Awards in Lisbon, Portugal. In his address, he emphasized the transformative impact technology had in preserving the integrity of the historic 2022 Kenyan elections.

As explained by Chebukati, the elections were significant, not only in Kenya's history but also in demonstrating the potency of technology in supporting credible democratic processes. Amid immense challenges long associated with Kenya's electoral landscape, and with the specter of the annulled 2017 elections still looming, the country achieved a milestone: highly credible elections that were recognized both nationally and internationally.

The successful integration of technology played a critical role in this achievement. The IEBC harnessed biometric technology to enable poll workers to validate voter identities and to digitally capture tally reports. Digital copies of tally reports were automatically published online in real time. The prompt publication of tally reports on the night of the election boosted transparency.

Despite the ensuing defamation campaign post-results announcement, where certain factions attempted to discredit Chebukati, the IEBC, and the technology, the legitimacy of the results was upheld by the Supreme Court. Broadcast online, these hearings made it evident that the deployment of technology materially contributed to transparency and integrity in the 2022 Kenyan elections. "The transparency with which Form 34As were transmitted and the bullet-proof technology systems utilized resulted in no single point of failure," stated Chebukati.

This landmark voting event coordinated over 460,000 poll workers across 22,229 polling stations, serving 22 million citizens. The technological advancements adopted not only ensured a smoother voting process but also offered a robust defense against claims of irregularities.

Chebukati's address at the Lisbon Symposium serves as a beacon of promise for other countries grappling with similar challenges in their electoral systems.

The International Centre for Parliamentary Studies (ICPS) is an organization dedicated to enhancing policymaking and governance by facilitating interaction between parliaments, governments, and societal stakeholders. The Symposium and Awards ceremony was held on November 13 – 16 and election specialists from the world over.