REV-2021. By Nackepelo

First Findings of the Moscow's Remote Electronic Voting Technical Audit

The remote electronic voting (REV) - or online voting - held in the Russian capital during the September 17-19, 2021 elections was scandalous, to say the least. The tabulation of the results was delayed, the "observers' node" was turned off at 20:00 on September 19 (the start of vote count), and, when published, the result of the online voting radically changed the results of the Moscow election as a whole, making a strong skew in the direction of pro-government candidates.

Commenting on the allegations of irregularities and manipulation, the Moscow Department of Information Technologies explained the delay in the counting by the use of deferred voting (re-voting) - a special function within the REV that has raised many questions in itself.

In response to these events, two groups have been formed by the Russian public to scrutinize the process.

The so-called "Technical Audit Group" was formed on September 22 to audit the REV results.

Vladimir Chernetsky, an IT specialist and a member of the Moscow Civic Chamber, headed the group. Also, the group included REV expert and programmer Dmitry Kuznetsov, expert Dmitry Nesterov, programmer, REV Precinct Election Commission (PEC) member Denis Sibeldin, programmers Yevgeny Fedin, Alexander Khovansky, Golos Co-Chair Grigory Melkonyants, and others.

The first interim report the group intended to prepare within three days, but it was decided to request additional data from the operator of the REV system and to prepare this report later (by September 29) for a more comprehensive analysis.

The group members set the following tasks for the audit:

  • Based on the available data, double-check the accuracy of the REV vote count.
  • Review and assess doubts and theories of possible irregularities raised by candidates and experts.
  • Identify and request additional information necessary to verify all possible versions of irregularities in the REV system.

The group interacts with various experts, including those representing various candidates and parties, such as representatives of the headquarters of candidate Anastasia Brukhanova.

The second group, called the "Public Audit Group," has also been created and will prepare a report by the end of the year analyzing the state of the REV, the standards and principles it should meet, and the prospects for its use.

Grigory Melkonyants - Co-Chair of the "Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos'" - was asked to lead the group, with Nikolai Volkov from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and Vladimir Chernetsky from the Moscow's Civic Chamber as deputies. They are currently forming a group of experts with very different views on the REV and will begin the work shortly. Given the drastically opposite views on online voting, the group intends to consider different positions and reflect them in the report.

 

Below we offer an overview of the preliminary findings of the Technical Group

(full report may be found here).

1. The group reviewed numerous falsification scenarios to either find supporting evidence in the workings of REV or to identify logical and factual explanations for certain peculiarities evident through the statistical analysis of the results. New scenarios/theories continue to emerge, so this work will continue.

2. After analyzing the claims of falsifications, it became clear that most of them were a result of either a lack of understanding of how the REV system works (including the lack of information about the actual functions of the system) or a lack of consideration for additional factors that could have caused given peculiarities in the results. This rather sidetracked the topic that the group felt from the beginning required a really thorough review, namely the mechanism of so-called "re-voting" and accounting for the last vote.

3. It also became clear that the data for analysis are insufficient for checking the correctness of the "re-voting" mechanism; hence the reports states that it is impossible to conduct an independent recount to check all REV algorithms.

4. Since the accuracy of "re-voting" was central for the group's work, a number of measures were suggested for further inspection, including:

Additional verification of the correctness of the algorithm's accounting for the voter's final vote is possible through the "control" run of the system analogous to the control run of electronic voting machines (KOIBS) ahead of the voting. The participants of the control run reveal their choice known to the public and perform "re-voting." Each vote is recorded in the testing protocol. The REV system summarizes the results, which are checked against the test protocol.

Then, after the control run, one could download the data of voting on September 17-19 and check how the system processes these votes in order to compare with protocols of the REV PEC.

5. The group also plans to check the control sample of voters (namely, their personal accounts) who took part in the voting based on sociological methods to exclude the allegations of "fake voters."

6. The group also requested additional information as part of the verifications of the scenarios under consideration, including data of technical monitoring of the voting system (operation of program queues, depersonalized data on the time of issuing ballots to the voters on the list, technical description of the algorithm for counting the "re-votes," documentation such as system architecture, data flow diagram, outlines, software used, and other.

The work continues.

CPRF rally in Moscow, 2011. Photo by Wikimedia

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REV-2021. By Nackepelo

The "remote electronic voting" or online voting held in the Russian capital during the September 17-19, 2021 elections was scandalous, to say the least. In response, two groups have been formed by the Russian public to scrutinize the results.

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