Early Elections 2021: Electoral Security and Technology Usage in the Electoral Process

Aug 11, 2021


17 July 2021

2:00 - 3:00 pm


After welcoming and introducing the speakers, the facilitator, Mr. Gilan Al-Jubouri, peace building and elections activist opened the 3rd session of Point Iraq 3.0, which was held on The Station building on Saturday 17th July, 2021 with an introduction in which he said: "elections issue is a keystone in Iraqi society and is considered substantial, especially that elections are upcoming facing great challenges". He asked Dr. Ali Abdulelah, an Elections Advisor to the Prime Minister's Office, Electoral Support Teams: "since you are close to decision-making positions, what are the procedures taken by the Commission and the government to enhance community confidence and urge it to participate in the elections, when there is a problem called Electoral Security as there are doubts about the performance of the digital techniques used in the electoral process?"


 Dr. Ali Abdulelah answered: "The Independent High Electoral Commission has been established in 2004 according to international standards by United Nations experts specialized in establishing electoral management institutions. Thus, this institution is not generated by a simple idea, but is a giant administrative institution, yet we look at it in the same way we look at the rest of the institutions that are far from integrity or transparency", referring that: " The actions taken inside the Commission, whether they were administrative, financial or technical, are taken into consideration accurately, conform to international standards and are supervised by international experts since 2004 and so far.


He added that: "The current government has supported the Commission significantly and has worked on overcoming all the difficulties that it faced during the material period". He said that: "The Supreme Security Electoral Committee was formed and included in its membership representatives of most of the security ministries and the relevant directorates. A profound plan was developed to secure the stages of the electoral process, especially during the day of voting, and includes the participation of army and police units in tapes way to secure polling stations and the electoral process".


He noted that: "there are requests to secure the candidates who are more than 3,500 candidates. At the same time, there are suggestions now being taken into consideration in the Council of Ministers to secure candidates by granting them identity cards for carrying weapons or by providing them one or two body guards, but they are still just unresolved suggestions", adding that: "The real security will be on the day of voting, especially the process of transporting the equipment and supplies of the electoral process. This is a great role we are waiting for to be taken by the Government, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior".


About areas that are needed to be secured and covered by the Commission or government, the facilitator asked about the most prominent challenges facing elections now in the electoral security file? Mr. Sarbest Mustafa Rasheed, head of a Step Organization for the Democracy and Elections and the head of Jaff Network for Monitoring Elections, said: " I believe that electoral security has many synonyms or supplements, and is of two aspects: the administrative, legal and financial aspect, and also the technical aspect related to the administration that runs the elections, as well as, it has another synonym that is the electoral violence, electoral risks and cyber security, these are all synonyms for security. In Iraq, unfortunately, what is circulated by the media is the security aspect, not the technical aspect".


He added that: "the authority that runs the election process must be secured from distortion and defamation, besides securing political candidates, electoral campaigns and political parties too, from the assassinations and distortion, as well as securing female candidates from media distortion", pointing that: " when a citizen feels insecure in his house or street and feels that his or her children are insecure, they may have a lack of desire to head towards the electoral process".


In addition, he said that: "The risks of the electoral process are internal and external, caused by the deliberate distortion of the authority that runs the elections, as well as the issue of disinformation, and the lack of accurate and actual information of the authority that runs the elections. This point of the electoral process is considered a major issue that the Commission has to solve before the day of voting".


He referred to the influence of the "political situation and political conflict on power, sometimes the environment aspect such as health situation, floods, disasters, poor economic situation of the voter and poor services... etc. I think that the last reason was the main motive of the weak participation in 2018 elections".


Thereafter, Mr. Auras Abdulameer Khudhr, Director of the Data Management Department of the Independent High Electoral Commission in 2018 elections, and is responsible, in the current special voting file, for the experience that the Commission has reached in the use of modern technologies in the electoral process and its contribution to the promotion of citizens' confidence in the procedures of the Commission, as well as the extent of its reliability in holding transparent elections, saying that: " the Commission uses modern devices that are rare in the Middle East, which include: voter recognition devices, results acceleration devices and transmitter and receivers, besides that  the servers in the Commission are all modern devices using conveyor bundles encryption techniques".


He added that: "Each voter has a card that contains his own biometric information from his ten fingerprints and picture. His information gets checked through the first device at the polling station, which is the verification device that is produced by a Korean company. The device works on a triple conformity that means conformity between the real fingerprint of the voter and fingerprint stored inside the card as well as the fingerprint stored inside the verification device. In relation to those three criteria, if any dysfunction occurred in one of those standards, the voter is unentitled to vote, thus he can only vote through his own card, as no stolen cards, or others, can be used".


Moreover, he said that: "on the other hand, results acceleration device is a discreet device that sends the results from the station to the national center. It gives us three results, the first are the results sent to the Commission by RTS device, while the second are stored inside SD RAM inside the device, and the results are shown in the form of tapes that are available to all observers, including the observers of the political entities, as they can check them with the results that the Commission announces later". He pointed out that: "After the results reach the Commission, all stations are gathered in special servers through BBN channel that is impenetrable. While the second type of encryption is in two phases, the first phase is 265 Bit and the second stage is 128 Bit. The period between the transmission of the results from the station and its arrival to the Commission through a broadcasting system that is similar to Thuraya system is within 4 to 5 seconds". He added that: "After that, the flashes (SD RAM) are collected to carry out a bilateral comparison between the results existing inside the station and the results arrived through broadcast and then we carry out the process of the final announcement of election results".


Then, the facilitator of the session, Mr. Gilan Al-Jubouri, moved to Mr. Hawker Jattu, the Coordinator of Shams Network for Monitor Elections, as he asked him about the observations that are possible to be provided by monitoring networks, as well as the procedures we need today as a civil society that the Commission has to carry out to strengthen our confidence and strengthen our tools and our sharing of information.


Mr. Hawker Jattu said: "Any election depends on three parties for its integrity and transparency, the first and most important is concerned with the political emergence, as we have confirmed in many fields that there are no indicators that the overall political parties emergence in Iraq have reached to voter persuasion level. Thus, their goal is to get a seat whether legally or illegally. Secondly, the thing that the Iraqi people consider reliable for building their confidence in the electoral process is the authority which runs the electoral process, which is the Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq and the measures, regulations and all means taken for deterrence", adding that" one of the means of deterrence that has been taken in consideration is to find a discreet database instead of database based on ration card information, so the Commission worked on the adoption of the biometric system, a sophisticated system that contributes to limit the level of manipulation and counterfeiting, but it is accompanied by great difficulties, as the voting center employee must be conscious electronically, which, in turn, added new tasks to the Commission represented by setting, training and preparing the polling station staff and preparing them for the electoral process, which, in turn, made the vote and voting process more difficult for the citizens. A question arises which is who does use this technology? We see that there is a need for the Commission to carry out additional electoral processes related to its performance, adding that the Commission has not accumulated its expertise because of laws that have been legislated and which led to discharge many of the experienced Commission staffs".


He added that: "the third thing that Mr. Sarbest Mustafa talked about is the size and type of observation on the progress of the electoral process by all parties and stakeholders, as every observatory process should be built on transparency, thus, no institutions can be observed without transparency, as all information should be available to people on the website of the Commission. We, as Shams Network, have been prevented from monitoring elections in 2014 because of our insistence on requesting information (the Korean company contracts and other), as the publication of information reduces faking news, especially in a country like Iraq, where fake news is spread".


He indicated that: "in 2010, we presented a report of violations that have been approved by Board of Commissioners and referred to Complaints and Appeals Committee that led to eliminate 83 polling stations because of the violations included within the report, although no complaints on these violations have been submitted by parties and political entities".


Mr. Gilan Al-Jubouri said that civil society has a range of recommendations and concerns about the electoral process, communication with the Commission and the availability of information, asking Dr. Ali Abdulelah a question: "according to your information, what are the actions taken by the Commission to reassure civil society about finding a safe way to transfer information with all transparency? This is what Mr. Sarbest and Mr. Hawker referred to.


Dr. Ali Abdulelah said that he is no longer a part of the Commission now, so he cannot answer all questions, focusing on the much of knowledge he has of issues that he work on directly. He said: "The purpose of technical and technological measures by the Commission is to reduce human interference in the electoral process due to poor usage of political and social environment by political entities, which are out of the control of the Commission", adding that: "the question here is, is there a malfunction caused by the Commission in the media aspect or the issue of not providing networks with information? That may occur, but as technical and security purposes, it came to complement the electoral process safely and gives the Iraqi voter the impression that electronic measures are not measures that everyone can manipulate, as it is said commonly on social media during the 2018 elections".


He added that: "citizens talk about forging the electoral process, but they do not know what mechanism is used for fraud. Then, why do they make such accusation? Surely, there are violations during the polling day, because of the fact that the polling stations are employees whom we contract and who are trained for the limited days for the purpose of completing the voting process. Therefore, they are not staffs in the Independent High Electoral Commission, as the sirs previously noted that observation networks are the ones which limit fraud processes inside polling stations. Within the upcoming elections, there will be international observers, as the UN Security Council approved to send an international observing mission, as well as Carter Center and the European Union". He added: "The measures of the Commission are all transparent and the evidence is that we know those measures and talk about them. Yes, there is a malfunction caused by the Commission, as well as some defects in its staffs, besides that the Independent High Electoral Commission Law, which has been enacted by the Iraqi Representatives Council was unfair and unjust to the leaders and experts in the elections, as they were removed from the Commission after restructuring the Commission in which the law included".


The session facilitator said that, in fact, all questions addressed by the audience to the speakers through the application are related to confidence. Mr. Sarbest, according to your election experience, as a former commission president, what measures and recommendations do you suggest to the Commission to support mutual confidence?


Mr. Sarbest answered: "I am with Mr. Hawker. Democracy must start from the house and then school and the university and then in the street and then in the parties up to the elections". Adding that: "the responsibility of the authority that runs the electoral process is different from the responsibility of the authority that observes the elections, as the responsibility of the electoral process should be a responsibility to the nation, the society and the electoral process, besides that it must be a national and international responsibility, which is therefore supposed to take deterrent measures to ensure the integrity of elections, while the responsibility of observation networks is in observing the electoral process, with two axes only, the first is the discreet of the proceedings made by the Commission, and second the extent that such measures are compatible with legal framework, as the legal framework often is the reason of the creation of these problems ".


He added that: "The issue of the election transparency is the responsibility of everyone. The Commission is not the only responsible for it; it is the responsibility of the government and the House of Representatives at the legislation of an electoral law. My only and repeated advice to the Commission is to open up more with its partners, political parties and candidates firstly, with observation networks and civil society organizations secondly, with means of media thirdly, and finally to be honest with the Iraqi voter when it makes its information available for the Iraqi voter to look at them. These steps will be the cause of regaining voter confidence in the electoral process".


Another question directed by the public, have you communicated with technicians from outside Iraq for training and developing to secure the electoral process, maybe communicating with the United Nations or NDI?


Mr. Auras indicated in his answer that: "Since the establishment of the Commission and so far, it works on taking advice from experts, as in each department of the Commission, there is an expert to two who provide technical support as well as programmatic support and logistical support. The Commission is not isolated from the world, as experts from UN and IFES support the Commission since its formation.


The facilitator said to Mr. Hawker Jattu: "as an international observer, do you think international observation strengthens confidence in the elections?"


Mr. Hawker said: "The Security Council has a good decision that gives for the first time the United Nation Mission an observatory role, as according to the decision, the observation mission must issue a report to the Secretary General and mention the details of the intensive observation of electoral standards, freedom, integrity, etc., but the international effort remains limited, as the number of international observers will not exceed one thousand, and most of them in Baghdad and Erbil, so the internal effort and the work of observation networks is important, everyone has to support the Commission.


At the end of the session, the session facilitator thanked for the speakers to participate actively at the meeting by enriching the discussion with their information and their practical expertise, and thanked the public for questions they directed to the speakers during the session.