Information Technology on the Electoral Process in Venezuela: Is it a way of helping a troubled democracy? IFIP 1994

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1 Information Technology on the Electoral Process in Venezuela: Is it a way of helping a troubled democracy? IFIP 1994 Luis Germán Rodríguez & L. Irene Plaz Power Universidad Central de Venezuela Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas Apartado Postal 4455 Apartado Postal Caracas 101 O-A Caracas 1020-A Venezuela 1

2 ABSTRACT Information technology has been introduced into electoral processes in many countries long time ago, in other words. it is not a new activity, instead there is a good deal of experience in this area. On the other hand, it is quite clear that democracies are legitimated through electoral processes. According to the current Venezuelan political context, it is necessary that the electorate trust the way of carrying out the elections so the type of democratic government the country has had over the last 35 years can continue. It has been said to the Venezuelan electorate that the confidence on the electoral process can be increased by using information technology. This paper determines and analyzes those factors recognized by the main political actors in the Venezuelan electoral process as keys that guarantee the success of the current process of informatization. Political actors are defined herein as those organized groups which participate in the electoral contest and as such. they should be involved in the design and execution of the electoral process itself. Besides, research tries to characterize how political actors understand the way those factors are considered in the systems and the controls to be implemented. Thus, the weakness of the process is detected and in this way, the stability of the political system to be legitimized during the elections can not be questioned. Finally, due to the general lack of confidence towards the national political sector, it is convenient that the mentioned sector states the reasons why it wants to computerize the electoral process. For that, it has been planned to determine their motivation for going on with the computerization of the electoral process. 2

3 INTRODUCTION \In Venezuela, from several electoral processes (about 20 years ago) it has been studying the possibility of implementing informatics as an auxiliary tool to electoral process, but these initiatives are just plans yet. Most of these attempts are still projects, and only some of them have become pilot experiences due to the introduction of charges on deceitful procedures in the acquisition of equipment and systems needed. However, it must be acknowledged that throughout this period the political organizations of the country have gotten some knowledge and experience that will enable them to face this task in a correct and competent way. Some important and recognized features of existing computerized electoral systems are, for instance: first, the difficulty in checking the results, that is to say, the participation of administrators without appropriate knowledge and resources leads to the introduction of systems devoid of systematic inner controls, which can generate electoral results that can not be reproduced. This situation opens the possibility of frauds which are impossible to be discovered. Its pernicious consequences can be predicted, especially if people are aware of the delicate political situation of the country. Second, by using voting machines, the administrators of the elections can not demonstrate if the results that they have certified are right, because data produced is not enough to verify the correctness of the results as those systems must protect the secret identity of the voter, that is, voters' privacy. For such reasons, factors determining the success when using IT supporting electoral processes must be understood and managed so the population can trust in the correctness of the elections, and as a result of which they can have a bit more of confidence in the democratic system. The necessity to know under what criteria informatics is been introduced into the electoral process is born in an atmosphere of political uncertainty. That is why it is important to know what factors the main actors of the electoral process have recognized as fundamental to guarantee the success of informatization, and at the same time it is important to know to what extent they are taking such factors into account when they give alternatives to implement it. 3

4 On the other hand, in a national climate of distrust towards the political sector of the country, it seems convenient that this sector specify its motives to introduce informatization in the electoral process at this moment. It is very significant that after the last state elections (December, 1992) there were some accusations of electoral crimes which forced the repetition of the polling in four states (out 22) of the country. Both times, organizers carried out pilot experiments using optical readers and microcomputers for the counting of votes. In addition, slowness to obtain the final results of this electoral process increased to dangerous limits the political tension in the country.such delays along with the accusations of electoral fraud are the most important reasons which explain why the automation of the electoral process was studied with such insistence through Thus, different sectors of the national life (politicians, businessmen, computer professionals, etc.) have expressed themselves in favor of automation. An interest for studying this aspect of national life appears in the team work of Informatics and Society (1), and there lies the origin of this project. Research was organized by the teaching staff and counted on student's participation during the adjustment stage of the instrument. Students worked in data collection and during the field work in getting information from the different political groups that would participate in the presidential election process in It is important to underline that research was done before the presidential and legislative elections, which came at the end of 1993, but some observations were concluded after election results were known. 4

5 CONTEXT AND METHODOLOGY The study had two general objectives. The first was to determine which are the factors that the main actors of the electoral process consider as fundamental in the effective use of informatics to support elections. And also, to compare this opinion with those established aspects considered as fundamental in experiences based on the literature (Frenkel 1988, Mercury 1993, RISKS , Saltman 1988). The second general objective was to determine the motivation that leads political actors to support or reject the introduction of informatization in the electoral process. In order to achieve this objective researchers designed an instrument to collect the pertinent information in political organizations (political parties and electing groups) and then they began to collect data. The interview was addressed to the people of the different organizations involved with the automatization of the process. There were carried out 20 (twenty) interviews in 14 (fourteen) political organizations, which represented to the moment of data collection more than 92% the valid votes in the presidential elections of 1988, more than 92% of the valid votes in state elections in 1989 and more than 90% of valid votes in state elections of Eventually, data showed that they represented more than 98% of valid votes in the presidential elections of December It is important to highlight that two of the 14 organizations, Accion Democratica (AD, social democrat) and COPEI (Christian democrat), have traditionally controlled the political panorama in Venezuela as an hegemony during the last twenty years. A sign of this hegemony is that since elections in 1973 (a total of six electoral processes) between the two above mentioned organizations have obtained at least 70% of the valid votes. In 1989 presidential elections, their common total was 72 % of the valid votes. This situation seems to have undergone a change only after the elections of December 1993 when the political arena seems be evenly shared by four organizations, specifically: the two groups above mentioned, La Causa 5

6 Radical (LCR) and a coalition (Convergencia) formed by dissidents from the traditional parties, mainly COPEI and various minor parties. It is necessary to make that specification because the Venezuelan body charged with the organization and execution of electoral processes, the Consejo Supremo Electoral (CSE), is controlled by members of the political parties that get the highest number of votes in the national elections. Thus, it can be explained why the so called traditional parties, AD and COPEI, have controlled the CSE during several lengthy periods, while other political groups have had little or no participation in the CSE. Likewise, it reflects to a large extent the access to information and to the decision making process in the different groups. In summary, as a consequence of the current Venezuelan electoral system, political organizations act as election organizers and therefore they must handle the factors which determine the quality of the process, in others words, they act as judge and jury. The analysis of the results of this study emphasizes the participation of the political groups in the organization of the Presidential and the legislative elections of

7 THE MAIN FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED As far as socio political factors that intervene in the process is concerned, research shows that almost all of the 14 consulted organizations, 12 of them (85.7%), accept that the automation of the electoral process is a necessity and the same percentage accept, although not with the same actors, that it should be implemented during the current economic crisis. It should be observed that the most important advantages of this implementation would be the speed obtaining the results, followed by a reduction in the probabilities of election fraud, and finally the chance to increase voter confidence in the electoral process. Only the traditional parties, AD and COPEI, claim to have been consulted and have knowledge of how the automated process was designed and the selection of alternative technologies; this is readily explained given that they have controlled the CSE for twenty years. The remaining organizations claim no knowledge or only partial knowledge of the criteria used in the design, and, by the same token, state that they were not consulted in the organization of the process nor in the assessment of available altematives. The majority of the organizations view the attitude of the electorate towards to the use of voting machines as positive; the important exception to this being the so called traditional parties and three very minor organizations which oppose the use of voting machines. In the case of AD y COPEI both agree in pointing out the need to first educate and accustom the voter to the use the equipment. On the other hand, with respect to automated polling, nearly all, with the exception of only two minor parties, expect favorable public response. Thus, it is not surprising that in the elections of December 1993 is was decided to test in a pilot program the automated counting of votes but the main parties of the CSE opposed the use of voting machines. It is remarkable that no organization mentioned the difficulties in detecting election fraud associated with the use of these voting machines. With respect to organizational factors, the organizations that represent more than 99% of the electorate consider that the CSE is able to organize 7

8 automated elections. Some of these,,'."" organizations (four out of fourteen) doubt the political will to implement this voting method. This is the opinion of the political groups that collected 8.5% of the valid votes in the elections of The most relevant features that the electorate sees in the CSE, and those which qualify it to organize an automated electoral process, are, first and foremost, its access to financial resources (about 90% of the collected response) and much less favorably, its managing capacity (46% of the favorable response). However, only the so called traditional parties and three minors parties ( which accounted for less than 0.5% of the votes in 1993) consider that the CSE experience is sufficient to design and implement the internal controls the process requires. Curiously, only the traditional parties and LCR claim to have had knowledge of the requirements established to guarantee the correctness, integrity and security of the process and towards the participation in the design and implementation of it. It would be important to point out that LCR was the fourth political force of the nation before the elections of 1993, with 8% of the votes in 1992, but currently is one of the three primary forces with 22% of the votes in The remaining political organizations claim to have been excluded from the process. When analyzing the knowledge of the specifications of the systems to be used, it should be noticed that, except for the traditional parties again, almost all the organizations claim not to know the specifications or that none were not established. Questions were raised concerning: audit trails, programs deposit, checking of the sameness of the programs used, voting tests, discrepancy management in polling, counting and telecommunications. A higher index of knowledge, but with little significance in terms of global result, was noticed with respect to the voting machine tests (42, 8%) and to those of vote counting (50%). The reason may be that these tests were organized with the companies which supplied the systems and although the publicity was impressive, the precision of the tests was not the strongest point of the work. If it is practically ignored the existence of internal controls in the process and they have not participated in the specification, design, and implementation of the automated process, then, what is the basis of the answer given by 8

9 groups which represent 99% of the electorate of 1993 that claim that the CSE is able to organize this type of electoral process?.it must be kept in mind that the main organizational feature of the CSE, according to 90% of the consulted groups, is its access to financial resources, which are partially aimed at financing the electoral campaign of parties, while the less acknowledged feature, 46% of positive responses, is its managing capacity. Confronted with this result, it is of keen interest to know why 64% of the interviewed organizations, accounting for 88% of the total votes in 1992, consider that Venezuela's political groups are prepared for this type of process. Their answers seem to show the contrary Looking deeper, the research shows that the fourteen organizations consulted, except one which did not get even 0.5% of the valid votes in the elections of 1993, consider that the CSE should train them or inform them about how the automated process would function. At the same time, only four of them, one of the traditional parties (COPEI) and three others, claim that the CSE was supplying them with the required training and information. If training is a need and almost none of the organizations are receiving it, then it is clear that political groups are not able to start up the implementation of an electoral automated process. It seems difficult to explain that one of the traditional parties, AD, has complained of lack of information about automation given that throughout the study its definitive participation was evident in every stage of the process. The apparent incongruity can be explained recalling that its members receive the great part of all the information and experience of the CSE, therefore they considered that they are not trained by the Council because they can not separate their double role as officials of the CSE and members of the organization. The organizations claim that they were training the personnel that would work with them during the elections as observers and representatives before the Electoral Boards of each region. When trying to specify the aspects included in the training, it was confirmed the lack of knowledge regarding the 9

10 automation process. The more problematical issues to their eyes, and the most studied in these groups, are those related to control of access to places (before, during and after voting) and to documents, control of vote transporting and contingency plans for serious environmental changes. These topics were included in the in-house training of 28.6% of consulted groups. However, it has to be taken Into account that the control of access to places and documents, and the control of vote transporting in Venezuela is a responsibility of the Armed Forces, (FAN), which develops a special plan for the elections that encompasses such objectives. In other words, these functions are independent of the political parties. Their major responsibility in this sense is to send their copies of the electoral acts to the respective polling centers. With respect to the preparation for the contingencies caused by serious environmental alterations, it can only be said that it is an anomaly noted in the research since such a result does not correspond to the organizational maturity showed in other aspects of the electoral process. The relevant points of the process and where it was found that the political groups supplied the least in-house training were: practice of pre-electoral tests of programs, checking of audit trails to check the equipment functioning, voting and polling, control of access to files, control of telecommunications systems, and a contingency plan in case of telecommunications system failure. None of these aspects appeared in the preparation of 78.6% of consulted organizations. As can be seen, these issues are more inherent to automation itself but ignored by the organizations supposedly prepared to implement an automated process 10

11 WHO WANTS IT: WHAT FOR? Definitely, Venezuelan political actors think that the implementation of an automated electoral process should be recommended. This was demonstrated in this research and is corroborated by on going press declarations. Its suitability is mainly justified through the fact that the aim is to generate public confidence in the process eliminating the chance of frauds and in the speediness to obtain election results. Other confirmation of the above described situation is a report made by the Information and Broadcasting Commission of the CSE, which appeared in a press report at the end of December, 1993 (El Diario de Caracas, 27 Oct.93, p.20) The CSE affirms in the report that the two big failures of the governmental body are first, to have a structure excessively involved in politics, an aspect previously mentioned in this study; and second, to have failed to automate the process. Including informatics in the CSE will mean a more transparent electoral process and a faster obtaining of results. It can be noticed again the way is associated the use of information technology with positive effects to avoid election fraud and to know counting results faster. The correspondence between this research and the mentioned press report can be explained recalling the "other" failure the CSE claims to have: to be a body organized and managed by the same political parties, including all the political groups studied in this project. Objections to automated electoral processes are presented, in this research, by two minor political parties, together accounting for less than 0.2% of votes in the elections of 1992, and also by LCR which garnered 8.11% in the same elections. One of the minor groups complained, when interviewed, that there would not be time to organize the automated process. The other two organizations state that the internal structure of the CSE does not guarantee that automation will solve the problems that Venezuela has experienced in its electoral processes. Only the second argument expressed represents a direct objection to the organization of the process. It is also clear that such a position, opposed to automation, is defended by a minority. 11

12 HOW BIG IS THE MENACE TO THE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM?: Warning!! Venezuela's democracy is experiencing a difficult social and political situation where people's confidence in the system has been reduced by the type of participation that its main leaders have had during the last thirty-five years. Available alternatives to overcome this situation include electing national leaders individually rather than by party slate. In Venezuela, electoral process are organized by a political body, CSE, which is controlled at the same time by the same political parties that take part in the other sectors of national life and which have caused the above mentioned situation. c There should be differentiated the parties with a long participation in national life, in many cases founded before the establishment of the current democratic system, from those political groups with only a recent involvement in the Venezuelan political arena. Both types of organizations were included in this project and the results reflect with a high level of fidelity the framework where decisions affecting the electoral process are made. A cause of worry is that organizations that participate in the national political life believe that automation will eliminate fraud directly or create confidence in the electorate. The result is even more significant considering the way, groundless from a technical point of view, this relation between informatics and confidence is established in the process. An important evidence in this project is the wide lack of knowledge of these organizations regarding specifications of the systems to use. In order to reinforce the few favorable perspectives of using informatics to strengthen the Venezuelan democracy, it was noted that political groups representing 88% of the electorate in 1992 claim to be prepared to use automated elections. In the wake of the results of this research, it is obvious they are not. Informatics could represents a valuable hope to consolidate the Venezuelan electoral system. For this it is necessary, but not sufficient, that the organization of the process cease to belong to the political groups that 12

13 control it. The CSE has already acknowledged in the report of its Information and Broadcasting Commission that one of its two main goals will be the "depoliticalization" of the CSE in It remains to seen if there exists the political will to do it. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This project was accomplished thanks to the valuable collaboration of our colleague, Prof. Jose Manuel Martinez, students of Informatics and Society (class March-August 1993) of the Computer Science School of the Faculty of Sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. 13

14 REFERENCES Frenkel, Karen. "Computers and Elections". Communications of the ACM. Vol. 31, Ng 10. act. 1988, pp Mercury, Rebecca. "Corrupted Polling". In Inside Risks, Communications of the ACM. Vol. 36, Ng 11.Nov.1993, p.122. RISKS Forum (Several issues ).Electronic conference moderated by P.G.Neumann. Saltman, Roy G. "Accuracy, Integrity and Security in Computerized Communications of the ACM. V Vol.31, Ng 10. act. 1988, pp This team work carries out various activities in the Computer Science School of the Faculty of Sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. Among the activities there are two classes of "Informatics and Society" and "History of Computing in Venezuela". Both classes comprise research about the national informatics situation. 14

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