Well, the good news is that technology has steadily advanced in recent years to a point where, no matter how passionate the partisanship, the safeguards are readily available to ensure honest reports anywhere and everywhere. The Venezuelan election is a superb case in point and there is much that can and should be learned from the solutions that were in place there.
Full disclosure: my company was a big part of that solution. But while I am not disinterested, I am confident that even a brief review of what was achieved in Venezuela has broader relevance for anyone interested in the proper workings of the democratic process.
Indeed, the solutions extend far beyond the operations of any single company. Since 2004, we have worked alongside electoral authorities throughout the globe, working for experts in charge of running elections in Belgium, the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, Venezuela, and some other countries – as well as collaborating with recognized organizations and political entities that monitor elections, such as the Carter Center, the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States. We have taken advantage of their experience and wisdom, incorporating their many great ideas and recommendations in order to make our own contributions stronger and more comprehensive.
In Venezuela, we have not only worked with electoral authorities but with the political parties themselves as well as national and international observers. The result was historic: the first end-to-end automated election in history, with the most advanced system in existence, as voiced by politicians from the far left to the far right, from Patagonia to Switzerland and everything in between.
It was also the first election ever to use biometric voter authentication, guaranteeing one-person-one-vote. These systems were tested – in the most turbulent political fires – to such an extent that, in terms of its long-range importance, this election may be remembered less for the fact that Chavez was reelected and more for the fact that, like it or not, he was reelected honestly and that the means were at hand to prove it unequivocally.
If there was one key feature to support this boast, it was the unprecedented and unparalleled level of auditability that was achieved. During the months preceding the election, the source code, the priming procedures of voting machines, the operation of the biometric authentication system, electronic ballots, digital signatures, shared passwords (between opposition and government) and all software components, were thoroughly scrutinized and successfully validated by representatives of all parties involved, in several test runs and through more than seventeen audits.
It goes further. On Election Day, each Venezuelan voter had the opportunity to verify, through the printed vote receipt (also called Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail), that his or her intent was registered accurately. Besides all these audits, and after polls closed, political parties, authorities, observers, and citizens audited nearly 53% of voting machines by contrasting the printed tallies of each machine with the printed receipts of the votes that voters had deposited, one at a time, into ballot boxes.
In all those audits, no discrepancies were found whatsoever, not even a single vote.
Other features of the system likewise contributed, in record time, to reliably arrive at official results that the contenders unequivocally accepted. As in any other fully automated process, human error was eliminated as a factor potentially able to impair results. By eradicating the high levels of discretion that electoral operators used to have in manual elections, they could not be subject to any kind of political pressure. Credibility in the court of public opinion was thus maximized. Turn-out was 81%, on a country where vote is not compulsory, which is a record by any standard, and that it clearly shows very high trust in the voting process in a country so polarized, that almost no other institution gets more than 60% credibility among the whole population.
Within minutes after the last polling station closed, authorities had in their hands enough objective data to proclaim the will of the majority and persuade even the most acrimonious supporters of the losing candidates that the results were accurate. We know that there are many areas of the world where such systems will still need to be installed, and that there may be stubborn resistance from some candidates and their supporters to any state-of-the-art solution guaranteeing that vox populi rings out loud and clear.
But, thanks to what was so conspicuously achieved in Venezuela, global watchdogs now have leverage to insist on the fullest compliance by all sides in any election anywhere. As the company that created and deployed the decisive technologies in this week’s Venezuelan election, we take exceptional pride in effectively eliminating all excuse for anything less than foolproof oversight.
We stand ready to support any mission to ensure that that message is heard around the world, no matter how poor the nation or how tainted its past political culture.
Mugica is the CEO of Smartmatic.