The following article was submitted to Tony Curzon Price at opendemocracy.net a few weeks ago for publication. After some prevarication on his part, he then went into radio silence mode. Good to know that the Defenders of Democracy are so democratic that they do not even give any reason for non-publication. But after you do something or invent something which is potentially world-changing then you tend to discover (often the hard way) that the Establishment has ways of protecting the Status Quo….
So – Tony – if you still want to publish then welcome….
As history unfolds in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and God knows where next, we have to consider how to avoid countries falling into these dangerous situations in future.
When one thinks carefully, the only guarantee against a dictatorship lasting more than 4 or 5 years is elections where the will the people is accurately reflected in the final declared result.
If we think carefully, we will find that the present method of trying to guarantee that outcome – International Election Observation Missions – does not actually work.
The words chosen by Tony Blair on 1 February 2011 television interviews are illustrative: Blair used the expressions ‘proper elections’ and ‘full free and fair elections’, but not the usual expression ‘free and fair elections’. Reading between the lines, it is obvious that the terminology ‘free and fair elections’ does not actually mean what it says.
I have spent most of the last 18 years based in Zimbabwe, and have worked with Electoral Commissions in Rwanda and Iraq. I have also had technical and logistical discussions with Electoral Commission Kenya (in 2007).
This is 2011. We put a man on the moon a long time ago. We send missions to Mars. Our technology is limitless. But – we cannot apparently create Fraud Proof or nearly-Fraud-Proof Voting Technology. Why? Because we don’t want to.
Why don’t we want to?
If we had fraud proof voting systems, Sadaam Husein would maybe have lasted one term. Gaddafi would be gone. Mugabe a memory. Omar Bachir probably in retirement. But also all the pro-western dictators would fall along with the above anti-western dictators. There are more pro-western than anti-western, and the bottom line dictates that the West benefits by the suppression of Fraud Proof Voting Systems.
So – having lived through various frauded elections in Zimbabwe and experienced the deep and tangible depression across the Nation which followed each of these frauded elections, I found myself in mid-2006 inventing a Fraud Proof Election System.
I took it to my (British) Embassy in Harare. The response? ‘Sometimes democracy can be a dangerous thing!’. The Chinese reaction? ‘Stop – your system – it is dangerous!’. The reaction of the British Ambassador Malawi? ‘Politically unacceptable!’. Andrew Ellis, Number Two at International IDEA in Stockholm (one of the world’s foremost pro-democracy organisations)? – ‘Weir’s system… has undesirable implications!’ IFES reaction? They banned me from the GEO Meeting in Washington DC 6 weeks before it took place end of March 2007. And I had worked for these guys in Iraq 3 months in 2005. Madeline Williams – then Head of Elections and Democracy for USAID in Washington DC – was suddenly and inexplicably transferred to a routine desk job in Egypt shortly after proposing to me that we run the 2007 Nigerian General and Presidential Election using my System; this was a very serious demotion.
Stina Larserud at International IDEA in 2006 and early 2007 was quite helpful – we had a technical to-and-fro where she put a series of valid technical objections. I modified the product to counter those objections. Finally there were no objections left on the list. She responded ‘IDEA are not able to continue this conversation…’. Door closed.
2006 and 2007 I went all through FCO and DFID from bottom to top and top to bottom. Uniform negativity and hostility. I did it again with DFID in 2010. Same game, same result – brick wall.
If DFID really believe in Democracy and democracy promotion, then they would start a project to develop their own Fraud Proof Voting System. They dismiss my system on the grounds that it is impractical and unworkable. But if they believed in the Concept then they would get together a collection of brains for a weekend, a week or even a month – election people, software people, management consultants, thinkers etc – until they produced at least one and possibly several working scenarios for Fraud Proof Voting Systems. They show no signs of doing anything like that.
The market for Voting Systems is very small. If DFID queer your pitch, you find that IFES, IDEA, Carter Center, UNDP don’t talk to you any more.
But now events may be overcoming reality. The International Community’s extreme opposition to Fraud Proof Voting may have to be totally reversed if they wish to avoid the possibility of Islamic extremists taking power across the Middle East, either as the existing Tyrannical Dictatorships (a quote by Andrew Neil) topple, or at the second elections which will take place 4+ years from now.
Summary – there has been on the table since 2006 a workable Fraud Proof Voting System, which could have been eased into operation by now. Opposition from Britain and America has completely stymied this project. The chaos, injuries and deaths in Tunisia and Egypt are directly at the doors of Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
It is time for Fraud Proof Voting Systems to become a global political issue.
Mr Alex Weir, London and Harare.
Appendix – How the system works – find the details at http://www.cd3wd.com/seev/index.htm.
The system uses mobile phone sms/text message, but does not depend on mobile phone ownership to vote – only on access to mobile phone or satellite phone to send an sms. Secret encrypted banking-style sealed envelopes are distributed against show of National Identification Card over a period of 6 months before the election. Voters Roll is handled normally as a separate but related process. Each voter’s envelop is different, even if there are 500 million envelopes (for Chinese election). There is an auditing system and indeed 2 independent external auditors are used – one is from a pro-western country and one from an anti-western country. The SMS’s are sent outside the country, the processing is done outside the country. Only if the processing centre and the 2 external auditors all agree on the final result is it judged correct. This is designed to avoid fraud by the incumbent government, the opposition, and by internal and external Intelligence Agencies and foreign governments.
The sms messages are simply a series of numbers. Anyone who can intercept, read and even change those numbers will not have any idea what to change them to – there is a 10,000,000 – to- 1 chance against them changing to any different numbers which are legitimate. And the numbers give no clue whatsoever as to who was voted for. The sms sender gets a confirmation message from the vote processing centre which matches other numbers on his or her envelop – that is the sender’s assurance that the process is working correctly (or not as the case may be!). The processing centre of course knows which way every single individual voted. That information is trashed some weeks or months after the election is over – only the aggregated information is kept – and that voter-level information is never divulged to government or to political parties.