Concerns about election IT systems in Latvia: LTV's De Facto

Take note – story published 1 year ago

Politicians agreed months ago that the Central Election Commission (CVK) could no longer secure elections, so it needs reform. The problems swelled last November when the CVK's work was actually paralyzed by a criminal case regarding the procurement of the IT system development. There is currently no solution to the IT issues, so next European Parliament elections could be quite cumbersome for voters, Latvian Television's De Facto reported on April 30.

For the past decade, members of election commissions could use scanners and a special program for counting votes. The program will not be used in the next elections to the European Parliament. It belongs to SOAAR, with which the CVK no longer co-operates due to criminal proceedings.

As reported earlier by LSM, SOAAR information technology company has won major procurements of CVK and other public authorities in recent years. The information available on the website of the Procurement Monitoring Bureau shows that the company won the procurement ordered by the CVK at the beginning of 2022 for the development of the electoral management system, where the amount of the contract was EUR 963,515. Other major procurements for the election management systems in municipalities and maintenance of the system have been won in recent years, too.

“The bright side is that there is not a lot of public participation in the elections to the European Parliament, namely there are not many voters. Accordingly, all votes that are in the electoral management system can be secured manually,” said the head of the CVK, Kristīne Saulīte, who was appointed by the Saeima on February 2.

CVK Secretary Ritvars Eglājs added that some of the precincts, especially the small ones, also now choose to count votes manually. But he acknowledged that the IT system made the counting more transparent because of the involvement of the entire commission, which minimizes the possibility of errors.

On the other hand, the lack of IT systems will have a greater impact if voters are allowed to vote only at a pre-defined station. Also the exchange of data between precincts, which in recent years allowed votes to be taken to any station and no longer sending notices with the designated voting place, was ensured by SOAAR. If a voter is tied to a specific station, it could result in a low turnout.

Both politicians and the Central Election Commission regard the possibility of voting in any precinct as vital.

However, for several months now, the authorities have been unable to agree on who should deal with the provision of IT systems. An electronic voter register with information on each voting party is owned by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP), but the institution does not have the capacity to provide data exchange between precincts that would prevent voting twice.

The State Regional Development Agency responsible for e-government also does not have the necessary resources. Still last week, the main candidate to take over duties was the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LVRTC), which takes care of the safety of the systems. "That is what we will also continue to do – it is resource accommodation and cyber security. As regards the extension of services, both studies and discussions are still ongoing," Ģirts Ozols, chair of LVTRC's Board of Governors, said Wednesday.

The head of the LVRTC acknowledged that in order to get the systems ready, the Center had to start “yesterday”.

The negotiations on the provision of IT systems have now been taken over by the State Chancellery. Its director, Jānis Citskovskis, reported last week to the Saeima Public Administration and Local Government Committee responsible for the electoral field that no institution will be able to provide data exchange between precincts. Therefore, private sector needs to be considered: “We have now started “scenario two” in order to find a solution to ensure that the voter register is maintained,” Citskovskis said.

Deputy State Secretary of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, Gatis Ozols, said that a company is currently being checked with PMLP, which could ensure data exchange between stations.

The Ministry intends to address IT industry associations so that they can inform their members about the electoral needs: “We will also send the associations those potential minimum qualification requirements that should be met by these companies if they show interest in being able to work with this kind of system at all,” Ozols said.

Meetings with the tenderers could take place next week, said Ozols, even though the voter register needs an audit. PMLP has indicated that independent audits will be purchased in the electronic procurement system in the coming months, and the audit could take two months. 

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