Why elections fail

The legitimacy of a government depends on whether the voters believe that the election reflects their wishes. Failure can create civil unrest and violence. The rule of law suffers, and the government has difficulty running the country. Decline follows, exacerbating public disobedience. It is a pattern common to failed states.

An election is a complex exercise with an immutable deadline. Failure looms.

A government willing to subvert the election to be re-elected has a range of opportunity. This is particularly true when the Electoral Management Body (EMB) lacks independence. Politically motivated appointments of commissioners, particularly the chair, is particularly undesirable, and frequently leads to suspect elections.

Detailed planning is key to success. EMBs adopt the professional project planning tools necessary to manage their elections, but in an election, it is rare to meet a professional project planner giving guidance on getting the benefits from those tools.
Budgets are a constraint, and planning mistakes and missed deadlines force changes with costs. When the commission has ignored donor recommendations, the donors are disinclined to pay to fix the mistakes they anticipated. The negotiations about finance leads to further delay, and crises dominates operations. A failed election results.

Technology is a challenge. It is often portrayed as the solution. Software is not a substitute for the disciplines required to run an efficient election. The introduction of complex technological solutions frequently exacerbates existing problems, particularly when they are untried, and implemented under unrealistic timeframes.

At the core of the EMBs operations are the voter register and the result reporting systems. These data are confidential, and security is crucial. However, the biggest risk of fraud, as in commerce, is insider intrusion. Paradoxically, at EMBs, this is where the least controls are found. Manipulation of the results is becoming increasingly evident, and the international communities unwillingness to expose the fraud for fear of undermining the legitimacy of elections is reducing the urgency to address the problem.

Election observation missions have the potential to mitigate the risk, but that will not happen until they introduce systematic controls in their reporting that ensures the election fraud is detected, quantified, and exposed in real time.

Many developing countries do not have a formal address system. Allocation of voters to polling stations is dependent on locating the polling stations close to where the voters live. Voters are disenfranchised when they do not know where they are listed to vote.

When election results are contested, the Dispute Resolution Body must be respected, and should announce judgement within a strict timeframe.
Identification of voters is a challenge that continues to undermine the credibility of elections. Building an independent identity framework is expensive, often duplicating the efforts of other government agencies that are obliged to know their clients.

Commerce offers some solutions.

Ensuring that the results are accurate requires having systems and procedures that mitigate fraud and errors, ensuring that pronouncements that elections are free and fair are more than marketing hyperbole, and that they are beyond dispute. An interim audit well before the election provides the confidence that the results can be relied on. Ensuring that operational internal controls based on the principles of separation of duties and reconciliation gives stakeholders advance warning of potential problems. When the controls are wanting, the commission have time to implement improvements, and the potential for an audit of the results can be anticipated. When the commission admits the deficiencies and implements improvement, a second interim audit acts as confirmation that the changes are real.

If the commission fails to remedy the deficiencies, stakeholders are alerted to adopt alternative ways of checking that results are accurate. Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) is an option.

Some leading international election observation organizations use ODK to facilitate observation reporting. This platform can be readily adapted to PVT, and with co-operation between local and international observers, it is possible to replicate the official result reporting system ensuring that detection of errors or manipulation of results is detected and quantified, as it happens.

Planning complex projects is a profession, and until the commissioners and donors start to appreciate that professional guidance is necessary, failed elections resulting from missed deadlines will continue to bedevil democracies.

The solution to voter identification is co-ordination and cooperation between agencies and the building of a framework that provides businesses with confidence that the identity system confirms ID reliably. Privacy activists raise a legitimate concern that a unified identity platform places citizens at risk. The answer is the building of secure systems supported by careful legislation that severely punishes failure to keep the data safe and the theft or manipulation of the data for illegitimate purposes.

The cost of elections can be alleviated. The coordinated sharing of resources between EMBs is possible. Similarly, building a modular open source election platform for voter registration and result reporting would spread the cost of development, and allows the sharing of innovative solutions to common problems.

Undermining the implementation of these solutions is a denial of these problems exist and a lack of cooperation between government agencies and international donors. The United Nations which is best placed to lead the change is dysfunctional and often more a cause of the problems than a source of solutions.

Until we have change, we will continue to have failed elections.

More at: Why elections fail

Afghanistan betrayed

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the results of the September 2019 Presidential election on February 18, 2020. The timing of the announcement is curious. Just afterwards America revealed that a peace (of sorts) has been agreed with the Taliban, to be signed on February 27. Once signed, negotiations will be handed off to the Afghan government. But until the release of the results, there wasn’t a government to negotiate. It seems fishy. It is.

There are plenty of unanswered questions about the results.

The IEC conducted an audit on the preliminary results. The methodology of the audit is undisclosed. And the numbers keep changing. Cursory explanations do not withstand scrutiny.

The first preliminary results tallied 1,929,333. Then DermaLog (the provider of the biometric equipment) cancelled 86,225 votes that they say are duplicates. That leaves a total of 1,843,107 votes. The IEC’s website discloses the preliminary result on December 20, 2019 as 1,824,401. No explanation for the missing 18,706 votes.

The post audit tally is 1,823,848. Of that total Ashraf Ghani, the incumbent supposedly won 923,592, a mere 11,668 above the threshold required for a runoff election. The lack of transparency raises suspicion. No wonder Dr Abdullah and the other losing candidates refuse to accept the results.

The cancelled votes also don’t make sense.

Voting was validated using the Voter ID card, facial recognition and fingerprints. The invalidated votes are made up as follows:

Category Votes
Voter ID Cards 47,527
Facial recognition 5,822
Fingerprints 37,006
Double uploaded 5,141
Sub-total 95,496
Less duplicates -9,270
Duplicate votes 86,226

These figures are nonsensical. The duplicates for ID cards, facial recognition and fingerprints should be identical. Each voter is identified using all three criteria. There is potential for some small difference when the face is matched and the fingerprint is not, and vice versa, but these differences should be less than 1%.

If both biometrics were not used in all instances, then identifying double voting becomes impossible. The instances where facial technology was used cannot be matched to instances where fingerprints were used. This opens the possibility for selective implementation of the technology in such a way that the outcome can be manipulated.

The voter ID card would not match the biometrics when the voter uses someone else’s ID card for double voting. However, when the system is working, these votes should be identified as invalid before they are considered as duplicates.

The number of invalid votes for failed biometric matching has not been published, which raises another question about the technology.

Dermalog have refused to provide answers.

The biometric technology has not worked, making the results unreliable. The only credible solution is to hold the election again, as is happening in Malawi.

All the technical issues must be resolved:
• ensuring that both biometrics are captured for every voter;
• checking that the Voter ID card matches the biometrics of voter on record;
• synchronizing the instrument times using atomic time clocks, and;
• ensuring that the voter’s photo is valid.

Afghanistan has a voting age population of over 16 million. An election by 11% is not credible. The Afghans have a right to feel betrayed, again.