Mexico city debuts Internet voting initiative

Mexico, a country that has been trying for years to overhaul  its electoral system, has finally taken a major step forward by formalizing one of the first remote voting projects in Latin America.

Although the initiative does not yet cover elections contemplated in the constitution and is yet limited to the election of community-based Citizen committees and People’s Councils,  it is a process backed by authorities and approved by the Federal District Electoral Institute (IEDF).

The pilot involves the use of an Internet voting mechanism, a simpler and more rudimentary version of the system used in countries like Switzerland and other democracies which have become more savvy in the use of internet technology for elections. Nevertheless, the initiative is important in that it introduces the use of electoral technology in the Mexican capital.

The voting mode to be used between August 31st and September 1st (traditional voting takes place on September 4th) covers two options: remote voting or in-situ voting at polling stations. For the former, a computer, tablet or personal cellphone can be used, whereas for the latter the voter will have to travel to strategic points in Mexico City to vote using equipment owned by the Institute.

According to the characteristics of the system made public by the IEDF, the residents of the capital who wish to vote remotely must pre-register on the Institutes’s website, in order to get an Internet voting key mandatory to activate the system.

The pre-registration password will be just one of the security mechanisms: when voting, citizens must enter a set of requested data (their user key, the OCR number in their voting credential and the Internet key), after which they will receive a message on their cellphones with a single use code (token) required by the system, and which is only valid for a brief period of time.  Only then will the screen show the voting options.

Councilwoman Olga González stated that the double authentication process for voters “will guarantee the one voter, one opinion, one vote principle”, a fundamental characteristic of every voting system that claims to be safe and transparent.

The scope may be modest, yet obervers hope that it will demonstrate to voters the immense gulf that separates the manual and automated elections and provide the impetus for the country to finally modernize its elections.

Argentina’s thorny path to electoral automation

Argentina is getting ready to discuss an electoral reform whose impact will be determining for the country’s democracy.  Both the National Government and provincial ones are proposing deep revisions to their voting systems, which makes it imperative to have a thorough look at the choices the authorities are evaluating in order provide their citizens with clean, transparent and secure elections.

Reviews on both printed and electronic media show strong divergences in the nature of the reforms proposed. Although there is a consensus on the need to automate elections, there are different opinions about which technology is the most appropriate for the nation.

The proposal of the executive, to be discussed in parliament, seems to lean toward an automated counting system similar to the one in Salta province; that is, a mixed system of printed ballots and vote scanning.  Even though this system has had moderately successful results in the region, it has also created doubts on its capacity to safeguard the voters’ will.  It was recently implemented in Buenos Aires and was strongly criticized by technology experts from Ekoparty.

At the same time, the regions of Tierra del Fuego and Santa Fe put a couple options for reform on the table.  The first one is concerned with fixing strict norms for the implementation of e-voting, while the second one (still to be debated) deals with the choice between two automated voting models and a mixed system that uses paper ballots and mechanized vote counting.

These examples paint a clear picture of the thorny path Argentina is traversing. In addition to doubts about the single electronic ballots (BUE) and the reform proposed by the national Government, other questions have been raised, such as those by federal electoral judge María Romilda Servini, who addressed issues of mistrust on the voter registry.

With the discussion raging in full force, the southern nation must guarantee that the debate is broad and transparent.  This electoral reform must be the chance to safeguard the vote of Argentinians, both technically and logistically, by means of the technology chosen. Their choices should also be protected from those who still aim at tampering with the votes, the results, or the processes themselves.

Argentina needs to make the right choice. The best e-voting practices are available for all to see, and can be regarded as guidelines for the country, both for a gradual application of the technology and for selecting the model that bests suits them. The decision made will be crucial for democracy.

E-voting and electoral guarantees

In times when manual voting has had unfortunate consequences for countries across the region (Colombia, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Argentina and Haiti), it is worth taking a look at the characteristics of electronic voting, a model that presents itself as the transparent and secure alternative supporting the will of the people.

Manual elections have a long history of failures, mainly due to the fact that results depend on flawless behaviour from many players (poll centre workers, witnesses, political parties, electoral body officers, etc.), as well as on the proper filling of forms and statements, information transmission, and safe transport of materials to tallying stations.

To fight fraud and create greater trust, a voting system must be capable of faithfully recording votes, preserving their secrecy (of both choices and voter identities), showing a vote count that respects the will of the people, guaranteeing that results are tamper-proof, allowing the auditability of different processes, and also being user-friendly to all voters.

All of these conditions are met through electronic voting, which offers tools that minimize human intervention in the most important tasks, and therefore gets rid of errors and fraud. The process relies on equipment specifically designed and built to process, count and transmit vote results that are absolutely trustworthy.

One of the strong points offered by this technology is biometric authentication through fingerprints.  Every voter has his/her fingerprint captured for identity authentication and to avoid double voting or identity fraud.

Another interesting element is that e-voting allows for performing audits before, during and after the election.  These are usually conducted in the presence of the electoral body and political party representatives; the latter, having opposing interests, want to make sure the process has integrity, and to validate its security elements actually provide exact and reliable results.  Venezuela is an example of the vast possibilities for audit that this technology presents.

A major advantage of automation is that its design can be tailored to the idiosyncrasies or technical requirements of each country, which makes the voting process easier.  In Brazil, where a number is assigned to each candidate, the choice was to create a voting device with a keypad to replicate their original voting method.

Additionally, automated vote count and results transmission  have possibilities which are practically impossible to replicate with manual counting.  Voting machines were designed to add votes electronically and also encrypt them, therefore avoiding errors in the vote count or the filling of official statements, but they are also capable of transmitting this data to a tallying centre securely, curtailing fraud and other vices inherent to manual vote counts. The use of voting machines also expedites the process of proclaiming winners.

After reviewing the strengths of e-voting, it is clearly obvious that not only it minimizes human error, but also simplifies logistics.  Adopting some of the models available in the market would guarantee compliance with the demands of an election, and it would also allow countries to make their voting events completely immune to tampering.