Procurement, Production and Delivery
The procurement and production processes are vitally important to building trust in the process. The procurement specification should cover everything that is required from the technology provider. It is especially important that the procurement of such technologies is conducted in an impartial manner through a transparent, competitive bidding process. Conducting such a process takes a significant amount of time and involves several different steps, as detailed below. The evaluation of bids should provide sufficient written documentation so that observers can learn whether the decisions were made strictly on the basis of the evaluation criteria laid out in the procurement documents. Contractual documents should be made available to stakeholders to the extent the law allows. Observers should use these contractual documents as tools to monitor the extent to which vendors meet their obligations. Because there is a need for frequent communication between supplier and election management body to ensure that the technology solution delivered meets the exact needs of the users, sufficient time for this interaction should be factored into the production and delivery timeline.
Once the decision to conduct a pilot or to implement electronic voting or counting technologies more generally has been made, a critical first step is procuring the equipment needed to implement the technology. A comprehensive specification is essential for this procurement process. Ideally a specification will have been developed during the decision-in-principle process and refined during the pilot, if there was one. Regardless, it is crucially important to ensure that a specification is developed that covers everything that is required from the technology provider.
A comprehensive specification should include the following issues:
- Type of Technology – The specification should indicate whether the election management body is interested in electronic voting, electronic counting, remote voting or a combination of these.
- Scale – The quantity of any equipment or services required may influence the ability of the supplier to deliver these items on time and therefore should be clearly specified, especially if custom-made equipment and software need to be developed. The anticipated number of voters using a system will also impact the suitability of systems and will be highly relevant for solutions such as remote voting systems.
- Timeframe – The timeframe for delivery will also have a significant influence on suppliers’ ability to deliver and, potentially, on the cost of equipment and services as well.
- Voter Authentication – Any requirements for voting machines to also authenticate the identity of voters should be clearly identified, as should the mechanisms that will be used to conduct this authentication, such as biometric fingerprint identification.
- Audit Mechanisms – Any requirements for audit mechanisms should be clearly outlined.
- Results Transmission Mechanisms – The means by which results are to be transmitted or transferred from individual voting or counting machines to the central vote tabulation system should be defined.
- Power and Environmental Conditions – Any requirements for machines to operate for periods of time without mains power or to function in extreme temperatures, humidity or dusty conditions should be identified.
- Electoral Systems – The electoral systems that the electronic voting or counting equipment are to be used for should be identified. It may also be prudent to ensure that the equipment is able to cope with other electoral systems that are not currently used but might be adopted in the future. The specification should also indicate if each voter will need to cast multiple ballots and whether different electoral systems will apply to different ballots.
- Accessibility Requirements – Any requirement for the equipment to deal with multiple languages and voters with disabilities should be detailed, including the need for visual, audible and tactile interfaces, as applicable.
- Security Requirements – Security requirements for the electronic voting or counting machines, as well as any security standards that they should comply with, should be detailed.
- Access to Source Code – It is seen as increasingly important that electronic voting and counting solution source code be open to external inspection, if not fully open source, and any such requirements should be included in the specification.
- Additional Services – Other required services, such as project management, configuration, training and support during implementation of the electronic voting or counting technology, should be identified.
- Consumables – The specification should indicate whether it is acceptable for consumables, including paper, ink, cutters, batteries, memory storage units and devices, to be proprietary or whether they must be generic. If only supplier consumables can be used, will the supplier guarantee availability throughout the lifespan of the device, which might be as long as 15 years?
- Additional Software Systems – There may also be a requirement to procure a results transmission, receipt and tabulation system or a more general election management system that would include the electronic voting or counting system.
Comprehensive specifications will form the basis for the procurement of electronic voting or counting equipment.
While not part of the specification of requirements for electronic voting or counting technologies, the request for proposals issued with the specification may also seek information on a range of other issues relevant to the suitability of the proposals made by suppliers. These include:
- The institution that will own the intellectual property rights for the procured electronic voting or counting solution (for example, the EMB or the supplier)
- Responsibility for the repair of faulty or damaged equipment (whether it lies with the EMB or the vendor) and whether the EMB is authorized to make any repairs
- Mechanisms for configuration of electronic voting or counting machines prior to each election
- The vendor’s responsibilities regarding transferring skills and knowledge to the EMB for training its staff and staff operation of the technologies
- Consequences for the integrity of stored or in-process data transactions in the instance of a sudden loss of power to equipment
- Maximum capacity of electronic voting or counting machines in terms of the number of electoral races and candidates that can be accommodated
- Means of verifying that loaded software is the approved version
- Mechanisms to demonstrate that the electronic version of the ballot box is empty at the beginning of voting and/or counting
- Capacity of the electronic voting system to display photographs or symbols for ballot entities
- Mechanisms for review and confirmation of voter choices on the electronic voting solution
- Specifications and reliability of any printing device attached to the voting machine
- Mechanisms for ensuring the protection of data and secrecy of voters’ choices
- Mechanism for generation of results at the end of voting or counting, and the ways in which these results are transferred or transmitted for tabulation
- Details of the election management system used with the electronic voting or counting technology, including whether the supplier is responsible for providing the tabulation system (software and hardware)
- Responsibilities and capacities for troubleshooting and other servicing before and during Election Day processes
- Life expectancy of electronic voting or counting equipment
- Maintenance and storage requirements for equipment between elections
Given that the use of electronic voting and counting technologies presents particular challenges to the transparency of and trust in the electoral process, it is especially important that the procurement of such technologies is conducted in an impartial manner, ideally using an open and transparent competitive bidding process. The conduct of an open and impartial procurement process takes time and may involve many different steps and accommodations, including:
- Consultations with technical experts during the preparation of specifications
- Establishment of eligibility requirements for bidders
- Submission of expressions of interest by suppliers
- Evaluation and prequalification of suppliers based on the expressions of interest
- Publication of the final request for proposals (RFP)
- Conduct of a vendor conference to answer questions concerning the RFP
- Time allocation for drafting and submission of proposals
- Evaluation of proposals
- Submission and responses to clarifying questions on proposals
- Publication of the selection decision
- Time for contracting the selected supplier
As can be seen from this long list, the procurement process can be lengthy, and election management bodies need to plan accordingly.
Often a committee is established to review proposals received by suppliers; the committee then evaluates the bids according to the criteria established and decides on which proposal best meets the needs of the election management body. The criteria that will be used for evaluation should be defined before the procurement process and, ideally, communicated in the RFP. Evaluation criteria might include compliance with technical specifications, experience in delivering similar solutions, quality and experience of the project management team offered by the vendor, access provided to source code and cost of the proposed solution.
The work of this evaluation committee should be transparent, and the committee should provide sufficient written documentation so that observers can learn whether the decisions were made strictly on the basis of the evaluation criteria laid out in the procurement documents. Opening the evaluation process to observers would further help to promote transparency.
Even after selection of a vendor, there should be sufficient time allocated for reaching agreement on a contract. Many vendors have their own contract templates, as do many procuring entities. Discrepancies often arise as to the specific details, such as where the equipment will be delivered (to the airport or to the warehouses of the EMB, for example), the schedule of payments, the schedule of deliveries, factory acceptance test plan, the court system that will have final jurisdiction in case of legal dispute, any exemption from taxes or the party responsible for any taxes, and whether the equipment can be used for other purposes besides the conduct of elections.
The contract should include a timeframe for the delivery of equipment and services. The election management body will need to carefully monitor the progress of the supplier in meeting its contractual obligations and must have in place contingencies for the possibility that the supplier does not deliver on time. The election management body may consider including penalties in the contract for late delivery of equipment and services to protect itself against costs associated with late delivery and provide incentives for the supplier to meet its delivery obligations.
To the extent possible under existing administrative statutes or legal mandates, contractual documents should be made available to stakeholders. In this way, observers can evaluate the contractual terms and assess, for example, whether the timeline is realistic and what the obligations of vendors are if the timeline or other terms are not met. Observers can then also monitor the extent to which vendors comply with their obligations during the process.
It should also be noted that considerable communication will likely be required between the supplier and the election management body as electronic voting or counting equipment is developed, in order to clarify and add detail to the specifications used in the procurement process. This will especially be the case where a custom-made solution, rather than an off-the-shelf solution, is delivered. This interaction between supplier and election management body is essential in ensuring that the technology solution delivered meets the exact needs of the users, and adequate time for this interaction should be included in the timeline for production and delivery.