3 November 2000: adoption of the Bamako Declaration[i], Section B of which emphasises the holding of free, reliable and transparent elections in the Francophone world.
13-14 October 2012: opening of the 14th Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Heads of State and Government of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) converged around the theme “Francophonie: facing the environmental and economic challenges of global governance”. At the end of the summit, the Horizon 2020[ii] strategy was adopted. This new digital strategy for La Francophonie must take into account new technological advances now affecting all areas of human activity. On this occasion, Abdou Diouf, former President of Senegal and Secretary-General of La Francophonie, declared: “This new strategy incorporates major innovations into the efforts of La Francophonie in order for digital technology to act as a driver of development and bolster citizen participation, expression of democratic freedoms and the place of the French language on the web by becoming a priority for Francophone solidarity.”
1 January 2016: entry into force of the Sustainable Development Goals[iii]. These will continue to shape the policies and direct the funding of the United Nations Development Programme for the next 15 years. They include Goal 16: peace, justice and effective institutions.
27 October 2017: One-on-one discussion between Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) of the DRC.
25 May 2018: presentation by General Siaka Sangare, of the OIF, of his report on an audit of the electoral register of the DRC[iv].
17 September 2018: Presentation by Westminster Foundation for Democracy, a British public body, in its report on a study of voting machines, of a list of 14 recommendations of technical and organisational measures that must be put in place before the machines are used.
With a view to modernising the voting process, the CENI of the DRC opted to use voting machines in the general elections on 23 December 2018. This decision caused controversy among the political class, the population and NGOs, which are calling for the voting machines’ removal under the gaze of the international community on the grounds that they would amount to cheating machines.
The machines in question are Touch Vote System machines designed and prototyped in the DRC and mass-produced in South Korea.
Technically, they are all-in-one machines that each consist of:
- A card reader, which grants the polling station president access to the machine’s features,
- A 21.5-inch touch screen, which allows the elector to self-identify and choose among the candidates, and
- A printer, which enables the elector, once they have made their choice, to print out their ballot paper and deposit it in the ballot box.
Thus, depending on the operating procedure selected, the vote is registered twice: the first time by the machine when it validates the vote, and the second time by the elector when they deposit their ballot paper in the ballot box.
The reliability of the voting process revolves primarily around the security and quality of the machine and secondarily around compliance with the conditions and requirements imposed by the electoral law in force.
As of today, the CENI considers the machines to be deliverable and receivable, which presumes that they all meet the requirements listed in the specifications. Although the reliability of the machines used by the DRC is clearly confirmed, a manufacturing defect due to oversight, negligence or malice cannot be ruled out.
Each machine has software programs installed that allow it to function and perform voting operations. These operations include: configuration of the machine, identification of the elector, selection of a candidate by the elector and printing of the ballot paper. The machine also incorporates a database containing the list of electors and the list of candidates, depending on the nature of the voting process. Must all these operations be listed in the functional specifications in order to be taken into account in the design of the machine?
It should be noted that all these operations are exposed to threats and vulnerabilities for which the specifications must indicate corrective and preventive actions. Zero risk cannot be guaranteed. Hacking and sabotage represent risk scenarios in addition to those created by oversight, negligence or malice.
Voting takes place under the conditions imposed by law: the voting process being ostensibly secret, the elector faces the machine while voting alone in a voting booth, then prints out their ballot paper and faces the assessors while depositing it in the ballot box. At the end of the voting process, in order to speed up the counting of the votes, assessors and observers prefer to count the votes in the machine and, should any debate or uncertainty arise, compare these votes to those in the ballot box.
Politics are for politics.
Voting machines are tools to be used in the electoral process only for the purpose for which they were designed, i.e. to address difficulties observed in previous voting processes, difficulties in announcement of results and sociological evolution in voting (increases in numbers of electors, candidates, political parties, etc.). Therefore, it seems rather beside the point to reject voting machines in their entirety, and with them achievements in technological evolution and digital transformation. It seems much more constructive to engage in a debate on:
– technical issues, i.e. the failures of the electoral process (creation of the list of electors, enrolment, voting and announcement of results);
– regulatory issues, specifically technical regulation and possible adaptation of legislative frameworks; and
– issues of geopolitical strategy to fight against predation on electoral data by major digital powers. Does not the removal of the Touch Vote System, with the population and the international community as witnesses, call into question the Horizon 2020 strategy? Should not La Francophonie focus today on upgrading its mechanisms and resources for intervention in order to support the digital transformation of electoral processes? Clearly, digital transformation represents an opportunity whose benefits can only be reaped when society is ready to reap them.
Adapt or Disappear
More than ever, digital technology, thanks to its cross-cutting nature, is establishing itself in political elections in Africa and the Francophone world. It is no longer up to single players or political leaders to pronounce themselves for or against digital progress in electoral processes. In the absence of a legal framework, the use of new technologies, in particular social networks, represents an opportunity for all players, including civil society, to display their desire to live in a harmonious society that is growing in the incorporation and use of new technologies.
The holding of free, reliable and transparent elections without outside interference in the Francophone world and Africa in the future essentially requires the control of electoral data at the level of each State, and thus represents a major challenge for State sovereignty.
On 12 October 2018, in Yerevan, Armenia, the OIF elected a new Secretary-General. She is starting her term in a context in which new information and communication technologies are interfering with all aspects of the lives of Francophone citizens. Few institutions, let alone their leaders, will be able to escape digital transformation. The political situation in the DRC is sufficient proof that, from now on, digital technology will be at the heart of electoral processes. The OIF must face this reality and modernise in order to stay true to its principles.
Chrysostome Nkoumbi-Samba is Associate Director / Consultant within the NP Consulting Firm. His also Country Risk Instructor in the MSDN MBA at the ILV (Paris-La-Défense), and a temporary Cybersecurity Teacher at EFREI (Paris). He advises and assists managers in digitalization processes and in securing their information assets. He was previously an international civil servant of Organization Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) where, for almost twenty years, he initiated, advised, accompanied and managed the IT transformation of the Organization’s business lines and strategic projects.