Friday, April 6, 2018

Controversy surrounds election automation in DRC


The controversy around the upcoming DRC elections has only increased after the South Korean Government distanced itself from Miru Systems, the Korean company that will be providing voting equipment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI in French).
The decision of the Korean government to cut ties with Miru for this project comes as a surprise to many as the government, through its International Cooperation Agency (Koica), has funded and supported basically every international election project in which Miru has been involved.
The Korean Government seems to be lining up behind other world powers who have expressed their concern about the way automation is being imposed. In February, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stated: "an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk." Several other countries also manifested their skepticism about the idea of introducing technology in an already highly-polarized political landscape.
Another critical setback for the automation project is the refusal of A-Web, a Korean non-profit organization, to participate in the election providing support. “Until last year, A-Web, a Korean non-profit organization, provided technical support to CENI regarding the use of the voting machines. However, A-Web severed ties with the Congo, consistent with the position of the Korean government," the embassy statement read.
Three years ago, Miru had basically no international experience. However, things changed when it partnered with A-Web and Koica, the Korea International Cooperation Agency founded by the government to administer grant aid and technical cooperation programs.
With Korean funding from Koica and A-Web’s endorsement, Miru signed a series of election business deals, in many cases bypassing public bids.
Between 2014 and 2015, the troika formed by A-Web, Miru and Koica provided election technology and support to Kyrgyzstan. The funding provided by Koica allowed the country to purchases optical scanners from Miru. A-Web provided election support and observation.
A-Web, Miru, and Koica were also very much involved in the 2017 referendum held in Ecuador. South Korea donated 1,850 Miru scanners. And for the 2018 Legislative and Municipal elections held this year in El Salvador, Miru provided optical scanners to digitize tallying reports. Again, Koica provided funds, A-Web election support and election observers.
In spite of the success this troika has had, something different may be happening this time around. While declining to be part of the election, Seoul emphasized that it couldn’t force a private company -Miru in this case- to refuse participating, "The Korean government possesses no legal right to forcibly discourage a private Korean company from exporting its products."
With two of the members of the troika out, Miru is left alone combating the impression that automation will lead to a more transparent and trustworthy election process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Only time will tell.

Friday, March 30, 2018

El Salvador: An open path to election modernization



During the recent Legislative and Municipal elections held on March 4, El Salvador’s elections tribunal implemented a software solution to consolidate, aggregate and publish results, which allowed them to offer reliable and timely preliminary counts. 

Back in 2015, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE in Spanish) took three weeks to come up with an official tally. With this fresh memory in mind, and given the recent events in neighbouring Honduras (where they had to wait 21 days for results, amid protests and unrest that left 33 dead), the TSE decided to take no risks. In addition to the software solution used to announce winners only a few hours after voting ended, the TSE also utilized another technology solution to audit its own preliminary results. 

Mission accomplished. The preliminary count was published in real-time as the tallying reports were being processed. Although these results were not official, public opinion knew in less than 24 hours what the voting trends per party were, with 79% of the voting records processed. A hundred percent of the records were made available online 36 hours later. Quite a feat considering previous elections.

Although some politicians tried to belittle the work of the TSE and the companies that processed the data (especially after an incident was reported with the preferred votes in San Salvador and La Libertad), these results are auditable. And most importantly, the official results shown a month after the vote fully matched the preliminary count.

One additional benefit of the incorporation of technology to process preliminary count, was that once the unofficial results were made public, the TSE was able to begin their official count without much political pressure. Knowing what the voting trends were calmed the waters and allowed authorities to finish aggregating tallying reports.  

Unlike what transpired in 2015, authorities, political parties, the media and citizens were able to follow the preliminary count on a public website. It was precisely this level of transparency and auditability what allowed people to detect the inconsistencies found in the departments of San Salvador and La Libertad. Parties and citizens were able to compare the digitized voting records against the results being published.

Although the election observation missions from the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) acknowledged the complexity of El Salvador’s voting system, they praised the efforts made by TSE with the addition of technology. The modernization of all the processes to generate preliminary results, helped the country to overcome the issues of 2015.

These 2018 elections, held in the most densely populated country in the Americas, are a clear demonstration that implementing technology in the vote count -one of the most crucial phases of any election-, makes the overall process faster and more transparent. Results were available on Election Night and were audited in real time.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Expert advice on how to fight Fake News


The term ‘Fake News’ was named Word of the Year 2017 by the Collins Dictionary, after it saw an unprecedented usage increase 365% since 2016. Unfortunately, it was the 2016 US Presidential election that motivated this avalanche of fake news created to sway public opinion, favor some candidates and sow discord went viral.
A recent study conducted by the Politics Department at Princeton University revealed that one in four Americans read at least one false news story purposely fabricated to mislead. Understandably, the magnitude of this problem has election officials looking for ways to create appropriate conditions for future elections. Having correct information available for all voters is a crucial condition for all free, fair and transparent elections.
Luckily, non-governmental organizations, academics, journalists and communications experts are now joining election officials in trying to educate the population on how to detect and combat fake news.
Here are three tips recommended to stop the spread of false information:
-          Identify the source and follow your instinct: In this digital era, thousands of web pages and social media accounts are created each day. Therefore, when you read an article, you must check the reliability and trajectory of the journalist, “influencer” or media outlet.
In case you do not recognize who is behind the piece, it is always good to google the headline or part of the story to see if it has been replicated in other reliable outlets.

-          Follow the Three S rule: Before sharing a piece of news, first STOP to think if the title of the article is relevant. It may be pure clickbait material. Then, do your SEARCH on the author of the article to verify its veracity. And last but not least, SUBSCRIBE to newsletters or bulletins of reliable media to receive truthful and accurate information.

-          Use tools for fact check: Given how fake news have proliferated, and the impact they have had, many fact-checking organizations or media outlets have emerged. Factcheck.org, Politifact and Snopes can come handy for those who want to know if something is real or the product of a Fake News laboratory.
In addition to these tips, it is important to keep in mind that, during a campaign period, you should always keep an eye on social networks, making a lists of verified accounts of political parties, media and candidates to follow.
And one last recommendation. Do not get carried away by what others share. Develop your own database. By doing so, not only will you stay safe and informed, but you will educate others by sharing truthful and reliable news.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Controversial elections in Honduras leave fraud allegations, deaths and uncertainty


The Honduran presidential elections held in November 2017 resulted in a wave of protests - with more than 33 deaths -, fraud allegations and the demand of the Organization of American States (OAS) to repeat the election process.
Initial results showed Salvador Nasralla leading the vote count. The lead was substantial enough that a magistrate on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal estimated victory by Nasralla, characterizing his lead as “irreversible”. However, suspicions arose when the trend was suddenly reversed.
The observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) has basically declared the election to be null. To investigate what had happened, OAS commissioned a data analysis from Georgetown University professor Irfan Nooruddin. In his report, which reviewed the sudden change in the results, he states: “the difference in vote patterns between early- and late-reporting polling stations shows marked changes that raise questions as to the accuracy of the late-reported returns... The differences are too large to be generated by chance and are not easily explicable, raising doubts as to the veracity of the overall result”.
Nooruddin goes to conclude: "Based on this analysis, I would reject the premise that the National Party won the election legitimately."
Shortly after the election, a citizen movement was created through social media to call up demonstrations, not only in the capital Tegucigalpa but in different cities of the country. These protests led to violence and at least 33 deaths.
In spite of the street protest and the strong reaction of international observation missions, authorities took 21 days to declare incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, as the winner.
The recommendations of the OAS international observers to repeat the elections were ignored. Furthermore, the Government advanced a bill to regulate information on social networks and minimize citizen mobilizations.
The political and social future of Honduras is now in the air. How will Honduras embark on new election processes after authorities refused to take into account the demands of opposition parties, election observation missions and the international community?