Friday, December 28, 2012

Assembly Elections in Gujarat are decisive for India’s future

Narendra Modi. Photo: Yahoo! News.

Voters in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh closed the Indian electoral calendar this year with the election of their legislative state assemblies in December. Gujarat’s election was particularly noteworthy, as BJP candidate Narendra Modi was seeking his third consecutive term in office as chief minister. 

More than 71% of Gujarat's 40 million eligible voters cast their ballots, which shows the great interest citizens have taken in deciding the fate of their country. Since 2007, voter turnout has been in the rise in the South Asian nation, as Indians now believe that locally made decisions contribute greatly to the robustness of the country. In a large and diverse country, the idea of nationhood comprising regional parties with their own cultures is “far better than trying to impose everything from the center”, says Yogendra Yadav, election analyst. This idea underlines the importance of this year’s assembly elections, as Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi is forging his way from the Gujarat assembly all the way up to the Prime Minister’s seat. 

With almost 50% of the votes, Modi was denied the landslide victory he was seeking, but he was nonetheless named Gujarat’s chief minister for the third time in a row. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), obtained 115 out of 182 seats in the assembly. Mr. Modi has been ruling the state since 2001, and this renewed appointment at the assembly paves the way for him to run for Prime Minister in 2014. Although not everyone agrees with the progress that has characterized his government —the modernization of infrastructure has been a key point in his mandate—, his repeated victory proves that he could have a great chance to propagate the renovation policies implemented in Gujarat over the rest of India. 

Speaking of modernization, it is worth mentioning that India has been using voting technology since 1999, which makes democracy highly efficient for a country with about one billion people and hundreds of millions of votes to tally. Incidentally, Gujarat was the first state to experiment with Internet voting in 2011.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

E-voting is already taken for granted in schools

Image: ccarlstead
Although some countries are still reticent to implement e-voting in their governmental elections, the modernization of polling methods is already a reality for many educational institutions. Numerous schools and universities use the benefits of technology to choose their student councils, as it has been proven that e-voting is far superior to manual voting methods.

The practice of e-voting is widespread in schools around the world. A simple online search leads to a seemingly endless list of institutions that have been using electoral technology for years. It could even be said that paper balloting is a thing of the past for them, as teachers and members of student councils have discovered that voter turnout increases dramatically when voting is carried out electronically.

A good example of this is Wayne State University, in Detroit. In 2004, it established an online voting system for its internal referendums. Before that year, only 900 people at most could participate in Student Senate elections, out of a possible 31,000 eligible voters. Switching from paper balloting to electronic voting brought a 51% increase in voter turnout, as students became able to cast their ballot at a time and location of their convenience. Moreover, there was a substantial decrease in resource and cost requirements, and human error was significantly reduced as well.

Some schools use electronic voting systems for anti-bullying campaigns. Since e-voting safeguards students’ anonymity, they can feel safe to report who’s a bully and who’s being bullied. Only teachers have access to information on who has voted for whom in each category. Thus, there is also the guarantee that students will definitely be heard, and therefore, their problems will be addressed.

Electronic voting in schools is not limited to internal affairs. Electoral technology is also used to engage students in politics from an early age. Each year, the Youth Leader Initiative (YLI) carries out the largest student-only mock election in the US. Any school can sign up for it, and since it is online-based, it offers flexibility for schools to hold their own mock election when it best accommodates their schedules. The program is supplemented with classroom lesson plans on topics such as primaries, caucuses, the American electoral process, political ideology, and the foundations of American government. Results for the elections become available online as soon as the exercise period ends.

Schools are an example for larger institutions that are still hesitant to implement electoral technology in their elections. The positive aspects of e-voting are clearly reflected on the way it has become prevalent in educational institutes across the US and the world. Modernization is coming little by little, but schools have already taken a giant leap towards it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Popular technologies: The Facebook vs. e-voting race

If there is one uncontroverted truth in this post-modern age of ours, where everything is deemed as relative, is our dependence on technology. We cannot escape it. Staying fit, heating our meals, going to work, communicating with friends, technology has invaded every single aspect of our daily life.

Now, the ubiquity of technology has brought positive and negative effects. One of the many positive impacts of technology in our society is the administration of legitimate elections through technological solutions. Technology offers the means to achieve credible, transparent, and efficient elections. Countries such as the Philippines, Venezuela have had their most legitimate electoral results in their history thanks to election automation. In the light of such remarkable success, the number of countries using it is constantly rising.

As of today, approximately 1.1 billion voters cast their vote electronically. The following chart illustrates the countries in which the vote is tallied electronically.


For clarity's sake, let´s use a reference. Facebook, the social network that took the world by storm in 2004, is still lagging behind e-voting in terms of individuals using it. On October 4, 2012, Facebook announced it had reached the astounding figure of 1 billion users. That is the equivalent of saying that one in seven people on this planet is considered, by Facebook's standards, an active user.

According to the website “Since Facebook launched, the social network’s seen 1.13 trillion “likes” and 140.4 billion friend connections. 219 billion photos are currently being shared, while 17 billion check-ins have been made. Since the music listening app launched in September 2011, 62.6 million songs have been played 22 billion times — that’s around 210,000 years of music.”

Although these figures are impressive, e-voting is still affecting a greater number of people. There are many countries in which Facebook's penetration is low and that represents a potential for growth. Also, by acquisitions and partnerships, the social network could enter the Chinese and Russian markets. However, several countries such as Russia, Honduras, Ecuador, Switzerland, Denmark, among others, are analyzing the best electoral technology in the marketplace to adopt. This race is getting interesting.

Monday, December 17, 2012

E-guvernare: A Case of E-Government Success

Photo: Freedigitalphotos
Our increasingly connected world has evidenced the need for governments to find new ways to come closer to their citizens, reducing red tape and making their lives easier. In this regard, Romania has become an example for the world, as it has implemented successful policies aimed at integrating technology into public life.

In 2001, communications and information technology were declared national priorities for the development of Romanian economy. As a result, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology concentrated its efforts on the creation of Information Society services and conception of laws for the regulation of personal data processing, protection of privacy in telecommunications, protection against cyber crime, regulation of electronic signatures, e-commerce, e-procurement, and e-tax. Thus, in 2003, E-Guvernare was born.

E-Guvernare is an Internet portal where citizens can perform different legal tasks in an easy way. Paying taxes, obtaining an authorization for construction, getting a driver’s license, setting up a new business, registering a vehicle, or even obtaining a new passport are processes that can be simplified with the help of E-Guvernare. All the forms necessary to perform these and many other processes are available.

According to a research paper by Popeanga Vasile and Vatuiu Teodora, E-Guvernare is “the best way of organizing public management in order to increase efficiency, transparency, accessibility and responsiveness to citizens, as well as to reduce bureaucracy and corruption.” E-Guvernare makes overall interaction with the administration “more efficient and comfortable while reducing costs for both public and private entities and increasing the public trust in the administration.”

The success of this new way of connecting governmental institutions with their citizens even led a neighboring country, Moldova, to launch a similar initiative. The website provides access to information and forms from all of the country’s ministries, plus news on the technological development of the Moldovan government. This way, citizens are just one click away from their administrative institutions.

Scholars are already analyzing E-Guvernare’s case in search for the possibility of spreading this example to other nations. Some researchers have even concluded from their observations that the access to online information and knowledge advances democracy. Romania’s experiment has been working well for some years now, so it shall not be long until other countries catch on and become much more accessible to their citizens through the use of technology.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Credible elections to find durable peace

Sri Lanka is looking forward to a more fair and legitimate
voting process (Image Wikipedia)
Although the possibility to register votes by electronic means has been around for a few decades, automated voting is part of a young industry, in which not all providers have proficient technology, and clients (electoral commissions) still have a lot of learning to do in terms of technology adoption. Previous poor implementations in countries such as Germany, Ireland or the United States generated animosity in the eyes of public opinion, and prevented citizens from benefiting from the many advantages e-voting has to offer.

Fortunately, experiences in countries such as India, Venezuela, and Brazil which started automating elections decades ago, and more recent success stories in the Philippines, Mongolia, and Estonia, are shedding some light on this nascent industry.

Sri Lanka, is one of those nations looking at the positive experiences India has had with electronic voting in order to implement it and achieve legitimate results which are trusted by all parties involved. After the debated reelection of President Percy Mahndra Rajapaksa in 2010, election automation became an evident necessity. A Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission questioned the credibility of the election stating ''very clearly, the question as to whether Sri Lanka is any longer capable of conducting a free and fair election has been raised in this election,'' (…) ''It is not only the electoral process that is under challenge. The very process of receiving, preserving and counting the ballot at the commissioner's office itself is an issue that has been prominently raised.''

In spite these recent scandals, this young nation seems to have given a crucial step towards better electoral processes as the government showed the political will to use technology to improve the transparency of the electoral roll. Now, according to the Chief Government Whip Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena, it is ready to further advance in that direction. "New legislation has to be enacted for an open elector registration system to be established. Copies of the computerized register of voters, on compact disks, are already being made available to recognized political parties on the request of secretaries of political parties," he said.
According to Mr. Gunawardena, Sri Lanka is looking closely at India's experience in electronic voting. As the northern Indian neighbors Nepal and Pakistan did, this young nation will seek advice from one of the pioneers in e-voting.

Only three years ago, the armed forces of Sri Lanka were still fighting separatist movements. Throughout time, experience has proven that the most effective means to settle differences are legitimate elections. Hopefully, the legal frame will be arranged within a reasonable time frame so the nation can automate its electoral process and execute credible elections which will lead to everlasting peace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Technical glitches tarnish Ghanaian presidential elections

Biometric authentication has been implemented in Ghanaian elections. Photo: The Iconoclast News

The adoption of electoral technology by itself is no guarantee that an election will be carried out efficiently. After all, the process must be done by a competent entity that can ensure reliable results. Ghana took a great leap towards the modernization of its elections by implementing biometric authentication at the polling centers, but its poor management and other aspects of the electoral process have practically voided the benefits of the new measure.

On February 15th, 2012, Africa’s Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Gwadwo Afari-Gyan, announced that Ghana’s 2012 elections would feature the use of biometric authentication to identify voters at the polling station. The process used was somewhat rudimentary compared to what countries like Venezuela have experienced with the Integrated Authentication System, but it included fingerprint scans of all ten digits, in this case. A digital picture of the voter was also taken and printed on his or her voting card.

Theoretically, this should have ensured a fair exercise of democracy, and even though it did stop some attempts of double registration in different districts, the lack of public order entailed certain difficulties. Two verification machines were stolen in the city of Tamale, and ‘macho men’ —heavy, muscular individuals used by political parties to disrupt elections— set ballot papers, coalition sheets and verification machines on fire in Ablekuma. Besides, the Ghanaian Electoral Commission (EC) was accused of hiring an Israeli company to transmit election results. Dr. Afari-Gyan assured the public that all scrutiny and transmission processes are being carried out exclusively by members of the EC. His intervention inadvertently revealed another faulty aspect of Ghanaian elections: in spite of the implementation of biometric authentication, voting in Ghana is still being done manually, and results from each polling place are transmitted via fax to the central authorities. Unsurprisingly, numerous technical glitches led to long delays and extensions in the electoral event.

As of December 9, no definite winner had been declared yet. This is because technical snags in the biometric data verification equipment were so widespread that they hindered the whole democratic process, proving how improvisation can do more harm than good.

Ghana took a sensible step toward the improvement of its elections, but good intentions are not enough. The African country needs to rethink the way it protects its democracy, as electoral technology needs to be provided by a serious provider that can guarantee that its technological equipment will not become an obstacle to suffrage. The government also needs to double its efforts to warrant security and order at all electoral events.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Technology makes it possible to vote from space

Sunita Williams at the International Space Station. Source:
Last November 6th, Sunita Williams cast her ballot for the US presidential elections, just like millions of other Americans did. There is a small detail about this apparently mundane fact, though: she had the option to do it in outer space.

Sunita Williams is an astronaut on board the International Space Station. While she and her colleague Kevin Ford chose to vote from Russia before heading to space, other astronauts don’t have to fret over not being on Earth to cast their vote. This is thanks to a 1997 bill, which has made it possible for astronauts to use technology to exert their right to suffrage even when they are away in orbit. This measure has benefited several people already, and the effectiveness of its implementation points out at the need to modernize voting in order to make it easier for everyone to vote, no matter how geography or mobility affects them. There has been some advancement toward this goal with the implementation of the absentee ballot, but it’s not enough yet.

Absentee ballots have been the answer to citizens’ potential mobility problems. Sometimes it’s impossible for a citizen to reach his or her appointed polling station due to health problems or to being abroad. In order not to lose this potential voter’s ballot and increase voter turnout altogether, various nations have enabled different models of absentee ballots: proxy voting (someone is appointed to vote in the elector’s stead), postal voting, and e-voting.

Voting in outer space is carried out through a form of e-voting involving secure e-mail connections. Mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston beams up a digital version of the ballot card for the astronauts to fill up, and they beam it back to Earth via secure e-mail. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that it won’t be long before voting technology is adapted to space stations in order for astronauts to vote exactly the way they would on our planet. 

With e-voting, the right to suffrage reaches out to citizens in such a way that even those in outer space can vote. If the most extreme scenario for accessibility is already possible, why aren’t we making it easier for people in less remote areas to vote? They, too, have the need for voting technology in order to make their voice heard.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nigeria, electronic voting for a transitioning nation

An electoral official arranges ballot papers in Uyo, Nigeria, on April 26, 2011.
(Photo: AP/Christian Science Monitor)
On September 20, 2012, Kofi Annan, Chair of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, and former Secretary-General of the United Nation, published in CNN an article titled Why we should grade countries on their elections.

Kofi Annan stated "Democracy is a universal value and aspiration, unbound by region, ethnicity, culture or religion. In the last two decades, it has spread across the world in unprecedented ways.

Elections are fundamental to the ethos and principles of democracy. They provide citizens with a say in the decisions that affect them and governments with a legitimate authority to govern. When elections are credible, free and fair, they can help promote democracy, human rights and security.

But when elections are fraudulent, as we have seen in a number of countries, they can trigger political instability and even violence. This means that for democracy to fulfill its potential as a means of peacefully resolving social and political conflict, the integrity of elections is crucial."

Nigeria is a great example to illustrate the ideas Mr. Annan vividly expressed in his article. Since 1999, the nation has been experiencing a difficult transition process, from a 30-year dictatorial military regime that ruled the nation to a functional democracy. Although democracy became the preferred governing system around the world during the last few decades, nations are still struggling to conduct fair, free and transparent elections. Nigeria is no exception.

Throughout time, Nigerian elections were marred with all sorts of irregularities. Not too long ago, in 2007, Human Rights Watch researchers found evidence of vote-rigging throughout the country. "Instead of guaranteeing citizens' basic right to vote freely, Nigerian government and electoral officials actively colluded in the fraud and violence that marred the presidential polls in some areas," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "In other areas, officials closed their eyes to human rights abuses committed by supporters of the ruling party and others."

In spite of the long history of government abuses, Nigeria has made some progress in election administration. In April 11, the most populous nation in Africa, held a series of electoral process deemed by international observers as a great step forward.

A clear determination to hold credible elections, and strengthen their democracy, allowed Nigeria to conduct a process in which, the ruling party and opposition won seats in the parliament, and some incumbent congressmen lots theirs. Just like in any modern and civilized democracy.

Julia Hedlund, IFES Program Manager in Nigeria, stated in an interview, that the outcome was well received by Nigerians and observers. The INEC, Nigeria's electoral body, undertook certain steps that made the difference. Two of those steps that stand out were the revision of the voter register, and the inclusion of Biometric technology. Technology, a factor bringing accuracy, efficiency and transparency to election administration throughout the world, was key to what might be considered Nigeria's first truly democratic elections in this new era.

As Nigeria moves forward, and continues transitioning towards a more stable, representative and fair democracy, authorities from INEC must consider expanding the use of technology to grant the elections with the level of transparency and legitimacy needed to build trust in institutions and the overall system. Legitimate results are paramount to any country trying to build a democracy in the wake of a long dictatorship.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The importance of biometric authentication today

Biometric authentication strengthens the security of e-voting
(Photo Smartmatic)
“One voter, one vote” is a principle central to the preservation of democracy. Based on it, governments have strived to improve their electoral systems. With the advent of electoral technology, biometric authentication has become a solution that prevents identity theft and vote stuffing. This system has already been used in Venezuela with excellent results, and it could be employed as well in the US.

For the past decade, Venezuela has been at the cutting edge of electoral technology and has continued to gain the admiration of the world with the implementation of new tools to reinforce its advantages. The technology used by the Latin American country at the presidential election this year guaranteed that the ballots cast reflected the intent of each real citizen who attended the polling stations. With the Integrated Authentication System (SAI), each voter had to be identified through a fingerprint scan in order to activate the machine and exert his or her right to suffrage. The procedure was always explained to each and every voter by a delegate from the polling station, and there were extensive drills before the elections to get citizens accustomed to the use of the machine.

Biometric authentication is not a terribly complex procedure, and yet it strengthens the security of e-voting and safeguards its transparency. As we’ve stated in previous posts, the simplest benefit of biometric identification is that it helps prevent dead people from voting, which is the oldest form of identity theft. For this reason, other countries have also begun to think about implementing this form of technology. In the US, the debate is on.

In spite of the recurring cases of fraud in US elections, some political sectors are convinced that requiring an ID at the polling station is equivalent to disenfranchising the minorities, who represent a significant portion of the voting population. As discussed here, it all boils down to a problem of balance between access and integrity. Are governments meant to grant access to suffrage to as many people as possible, even if many of these people will not be alive or even real when they are not required to confirm their identity in order to vote? If so, how can countries guarantee their citizens that their intent is being reflected in the results of their elections? How could the unrestricted access to vote—and fraud—aid in the construction and preservation of democracy?

Biometric authentication is not meant to be a weapon to disenfranchise citizens. On the contrary, it is a tool to give citizens the certainty and relief that it is their real voice that is being heard when election results are revealed. Now that Venezuelan elections using biometric authentication have been carried out with positive results, the US might want to look up how simple yet effective voter identity authentication has been.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Audits guaranteed transparency in Venezuelan elections

Diplomatic body accredited in Venezuela audited voting machines
(Photo AVN)
We’ve emphasized many times how important it is for elections processes carried out with e-voting to be audited in order to offer maximum reliability to both governmental institutions and citizens. Venezuela is a great example to follow in this matter, as this year it celebrated its presidential elections for the 2013-2019 period, and the voting platform used was subjected to multiple audits both before and after the electoral exercise.

According to the National Electoral Council (CNE), the highest electoral authority in the country, audits were performed on the following aspects of the election: voting machine manufacturing, e-voting software, machine pre-delivery check, infrastructure, biometric authentication system (SIA), production of the biometric authentication system, data transmission network, vote tallying, election closure, voting minutes, post-election phase, printed registries, and indelible ink. These inspections guaranteed the transparency of the election where incumbent President Hugo Chávez was reelected with 54% of the votes.

Pre-election audits were conducted from August 13th to October 6th, one day before the big event. The audits were performed by CNE representatives and delegates from the political parties. Some sectors were concerned about whether the voting machines would guarantee vote secrecy, but electoral technology is one step ahead, and audits proved that there was nothing to fear. The random reallocation of votes is the mechanism the machines use to maintain this crucial part of suffrage, and the auditors put it to the test exhaustively. Another noteworthy ingredient to add to the advantages of e-voting regarding its auditability is the fact that the voting machines print vote receipts on paper, which are used to confirm the results obtained electronically. Vote receipts also served as tools for citizens to become auditors as well. Post-election audits were carried out on October 8th, 15th and 16th.

Jimmy Carter, former US president and founder of the Carter Center, remarked that there is no electoral system in the world with as many audits as Venezuela. According to Carter, Venezuela’s electoral system is the world’s safest and most transparent, as its high-security mechanisms block any outside attempts of manipulation and citizens can verify through the vote receipts that their selection was stored in the machine.

The multiple guarantees regarding auditability that e-voting offers are, among other benefits, the reasons why it should be the cardinal method to carry out an election. The South American nation is a role model of democracy adopting technology.

Monday, November 12, 2012

“We have to fix that”

Long lines at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library
on Election Day in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

During his acceptance speech on early Wednesday morning, reelected President Barack Obama addressed the need to fix the US electoral system. Speaking before a crowd of cheerful supporters, he said "I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time, or waited in line for a very long time, by the way, we have to fix that."

Although this was probably one of the few times the electoral system has been part of an acceptance speech, the problems encountered are not new. Since the Butterfly Ballot scandal in 2000, hundreds of incidents have been reported by authorities of all levels, election watchdog groups, media and citizens.

These elections were marred by long lines across the country, but especially in Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Poorly trained election officials were misguiding voters in relation to ID requirements to vote. Deficient voting machines, like the one caught on a video in Pennsylvania giving Romney votes cast for Obama, also made the voting experience cumbersome.

Although President Obama’s intent is quite plausible, the road in which he is about to embark might turn bumpier than expected. HAVA, the Electoral Assistance Commission, Universities across the nation, ONG’s, have all made considerable efforts to improve the US electoral system, yet they have been unsuccessful confronting the conflict of interests that exist between States and the Federal Government, and the inconvenient level of partisanship that electoral bodies have shown across the nation.

In a recent interview by Rachel Maddow, Rick Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science at UC Irvine, and author of "The Voting Wars," made it quite clear. Although the constitution provides the mechanisms to create a national authority to advance the reforms needed, the political will from all stakeholders to produce such transformation is still missing.

Rachel Maddow articulately stated “voting is a Federal issue, with federal laws to protect it…. Elections are a state affair”. Congress has on its hand the possibility to transform the system, however, letting congress, or any other institution conduct elections, would mean letting go some power and attributions the States hold at the moment. Looking at recent history, both parties have been imposing over the population all kinds of laws and regulations to affect the voter base of the other party. It is part of the Voting War Hasen mentions in his book. For example, and according to Professor Hasen, long lines were a deliberate effort by Republicans to depressing democratic turnout. By cutting back on the number of days and hours early voting was available, Republicans were, allegedly, hurting democratic votes.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott, signed a law shortening the number of days for early voting to eight from 14. This was one of the main reasons it took Floridians so long to vote and to obtain results.

If Obama is to take Mr. Hasen’s recommendation, he has to create the political momentum to have Congress assume the authority granted by the constitution to set rules for congressional elections. Then, he could proceed to ask States to follow the path of Congress.

In spite of the threat posed by a possible fiscal meltdown, a nationwide debate on the healthcare reform, and a lagging economy, Obama must find the time and energy to impose the political agenda needed to fix the electoral system, if the US is to continue showcasing its democracy as an example to follow.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pre-electoral audits, a missing piece in the integrity of the US election system

The 2000 elections were a turning point in the way elections are administered in the US. After the contested race between Al Gore and George W. Bush had to be decided by the US Supreme Court almost a month after Election Day, numerous initiatives such as the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the creation of the Electoral Assistance Commission, and the proliferation of watchdog and electoral transparency groups, dramatically improved the electoral landscape of the US.

In spite the progress, there is still room for improvement. Audits, a crucial step to certify the correctness of election outcomes, are still scarce and do not cover, in most cases, the electoral process in its entirety.  

At the moment, audits standards and procedures refer mostly to the process of hand-counting a sufficiently large random sample of the cast paper ballots and contrasting it with the digital record electronic voting machines provide. Although post-electoral audits are important, instead of focusing only in detecting fraud, a greater emphasis should be placed on preventing malfeasance of any kind of error from happening.

According to Verified Voting, the most important benefits of a thorough audit processes are:
  • Revealing when recounts are necessary to verify election outcomes.
  • Finding error whether accidental or intention.
  • Deterring fraud.
  • Providing for continuous improvement in the conduct of elections.
  • Promoting public confidence in elections.
Voting technologies, which continues to gain popularity across the 3,600 jurisdictions of the US, provide numerous opportunities to review the components of the voting systems, and guarantee that the outcome of the electoral processes exactly reflect the will of voters. Those opportunities should be exploited. From the configuration of the electoral roll and electronic pollbooks, passing through the creation of voting instruments, source code of voting machines, and post electoral audit, every step of the election should be audited.

During the 2012 general elections, more than half of the states conducted post-election audits, however, authorities have not agreed on how to enforce pre-electoral audits. The focus of authorities has been on certifying that the technology in use complies with the minimum standards, but little or no attention has been given to each election and especially to the numerous steps of the electoral cycle preceding the event.

As voting technologies continue to spread around the world, a considerable body of knowledge is being developed. The US should take advantage of this by sharing experiences with Brazil, Belgium, the Philippines, Venezuela or Estonia, and every other nation trying to improve election administration through the adoption of technological solutions. Venezuela stands out as an example of what can be done in terms of pre-electoral audits. In a recent article published, available at, Eugenio Martinez (a seasoned Venezuelan reporter) points out that for the Presidential Elections in Venezuela, before Election Day, more than 17 audits were performed to certify all elements of the voting platform worked properly. This was one of the main reasons why a contested election, in the midst of a heated campaign and a highly polarized political environment, ended with immediate official results being accepted by all parties minutes after polls closed. Reviewing the Venezuelan voting platform and developing ties with Venezuelan electoral authorities and its technology provider Smartmatic could be a great start. The US cannot afford another electoral meltdown as it has all the means to avoid it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The 2012 US general elections, a historic view

This marked the 57th quadrennial presidential election for the United States
Doug Mills/The New York Times
Yesterday, November 6th, 2012 Barack Obama became the 15th US President to be reelected for two consecutive presidential terms. Only Franklin Delano Roosevelt has had more than two terms (1932-1945). 

CNN’s preliminary data shows a turnout of approximately 56% of the voting-age population. Although, this reflects a decrease in relation to the 2008 general elections, the overall trend showing a steady increase prevailed. Two demographic groups that seem to have played an important role in Obama’s favor are young voters and Hispanics. According to the most recent information available, young voters (ages 18-29) and Hispanics increased their participation in 1% as compared to 2008. Obama managed to capture 60% of young voters and 71% of Hispanics this time around. 

Joe Biden was again Obama’s Vice President candidate. From all Presidents US has had since George Washington’s first presidency from 1789 to 1797, 37 were chosen in elections. John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Chester A. Arthur, Andrew Johnson, Calvin Coolidge, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald R. Ford, succeeded incumbent Presidents following their abandonment of office due to illness, death, or in the unique case of Ford, Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

According to USA Today, President Obama won by a margin of 97 electoral votes (303 to 206). In 1936, Franklin Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon by the biggest difference ever recorded in a US election, 515 electoral votes. The smallest difference in electoral votes occurred during the 1824 presidential elections in which Andrew Jackson had only 15 electoral votes over his closest contender. The decision was taken into the House of Representatives which decided to appoint John Quincy Adams as President.

In terms of popular votes, President Obama obtained an approximate 2% margin over Mitt Romney. Only 5 presidents have received a greater number of popular votes but lost in electoral colleges. The last one being Al Gore during the 2000 elections. In 1876, Rutherford Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden with a difference in popular vote of 1 vote.

Obama is the 21st Democrat President. Republicans have managed to win the presidency with 22 candidates. Only 4 presidents in the history of the US have lead this nation coming from parties other than the Democratic or Republican parties. It is important to mention that two independent candidates, Angus King and Bernie Sanders, managed to obtain seats in the Senate.

In spite the difficulties presented by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast Cost, the US managed to pull out another successful election. Mitt Romney, the losing candidate from the Republican Party conceded defeat around 1:30 am on November 7, 2012.