E-summary for 2020 Regional Elections – are we ready?

Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati Election and Democracy Forum (Perkumpulan Pemilu dan Demokrasi – “Perludem”)’s Executive Director

IO – The Government, the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”), and electoral organizers have agreed in DPR’s General Hearing (Rapat Dengar Pendapat – “RDP”) on 21 September 2020 that Regional Elections will indeed be held on 9 December 2020. One of the points they agreed on in the RDP is the need to anticipate health protocol violations and COVID-19 pandemic infections by revising the Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum – “KPU”) Regulation No. 10/2020, including emphasizing the rule that the vote count will be performed by e-summary. 

The question is, “Are we ready?” 

E-summary is a recommended solution for our electoral problems, especially those related to the sale and purchase of votes that frequently occur during the vote count summary stage, which has always been performed manually and in several The year 2020 dealt another blow to Indonesia’s sugar industry. Sugar shortages during the early stage of Covid-19 pandemic and soaring retail sugar prices presented serious challenges and raised questions about the future of the country’s domestic sugar industry. To stabilize the sugar price at a retail level, the government issued Presidential Regulation No. 58/2020 on Import Licensing Simplification. Raw sugar import permits were granted to several sugar factories, including state-owned sugar mills, allowing refined sugar to be traded in modern markets. This came on top of the Agriculture Ministry Circular Letter No. 593/2019 which changed the sugarcane production sharing to a buyout scheme by the sugar factories. The two pieces of policy, which were meant to be temporary, have threatened the survival of the domestic sugar industry. At the start of the milling season in June 2020, sugar factories, especially in Java, faced raw material shortages. The government intervened by setting the auction price between the 12 sugar mills and the Indonesian Sugarcane Farmers Association (APTRI) at Rp11,200 per kilogram on July 10, 2020. However, many sugar facstages. Pratama and Salabi stated in the book Panduan Penerapan Teknologi Pungut-Hitung di Indonesia (“Guidelines to the Implementation of Voting-Vote Counting Technology in Indonesia”) published by The International IDEA and Perludem (2019) that e-summary technology has the following benefits: (1) it increases transparency by transmitting vote results in the booths directly and electronically; (2) it shows both actual voting figures and visualizing them in summary centers; and (3) it provides electoral data access to the media and stakeholders in real time. 

In fact, the 2017-2022 KPU has issued a roadmap for implementing technology in Indonesian elections, which recommends the use of an e-summary. However, this “ideal” concept cannot be implemented ideally if it is badly prepared. Implementing new technology in elections cannot be done in a short amount of time, and it should not be done as trial and error. 

The International IDEA (2019) notes the stages required for implementing new technology in the Elections: review, procurement and implementation. We cannot rush the execution of these stages. We need to establish clear and detailed plans that set out timelines and expected results during the planning, procurement, pilot project, and implementation. Meanwhile, Elections are but a month away. Procuring such sophisticated technological equipment in such a short time is impossible, as we need to ensure that the procurement transparent and the facilities and system are certified and tested.  

What We Learned from the 2019 Elections 

Vote count summary during the 2019 Elections was manual and staged. However, KPU has the Counting System (Sistem Penghitungan – “Situng”) app that it used in the effort to get electoral results published quickly. It was used as a comparison, not to state official results. Even though it is not the official result, problems with the Situng caused the public to question KPU’s competence, and even questioned the validity of electoral results. 

If even Situng e-summary as comparison was seriously questioned and doubted by the public, how will we be able to use the new e-summary system to officially announce electoral results? KPU should learn from this bitter experience. Implementing new technology cannot be rushed, especially since the e-summary is claimed to represent formal results of our elections. We need to consider the fact that the technology to be used must earn public trust. If the public does not trust it, electoral results can easily be delegitimized. Public trust can only be earned through the electoral organizers’ professionalism, which in turn will be garnered if the system’s workings are clear and the staff operating it gets thorough and comprehensive training on e-summary. 

KPU has performed e-summary simulations for the 2020 Regional Elections, but they are not widespread enough – they were only performed in major cities such as Jakarta and Depok. This is naturally insufficient to test e-summary for performance in the 270 regions that will participate in the 2020 Regional Elections, as each region have different conditions and existing support infrastructure. More importantly, this limited effort is not enough to socialize the intricacies of e-summarizing to all electoral stakeholders out there. 

Holding Regional Elections during a pandemic is far from easy. We need sufficient time to prepare for electoral technicalities, which in turn need to be regulated accordingly. It is such an intricate and important issue that we need Law-level rules to regulate it. The use of an e-summary to count the votes and its results as official results cannot rely on mere KPU Regulations. 

E-summary as part of the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 pandemic is extremely important. We need to remember that Regional Elections – and other elections – are not mere five-yearly routines. They are the very bones and foundation of our democracy, and accordingly, we must prepare them carefully.