Experts discuss the reach and future of electronic voting in Colombia


The renowned Colombian magazine Semana, carried out the forum “Elections: from paper to the digital age?” where discussions around manual and electronic voting took place in order to explain why technology is supplanting traditional voting methods for automated voting systems.

Representatives of the Carter Center, the National Registry (Colombia) and the National Electoral Council (Colombia), and Smartmatic’s vice president were present in the event. The advances on e-voting around the globe and the success of its implementation were discussed, as well as the obstacles this technology faces.

Jennifer McCoy, director of the Carter Center for the Americas, highlighted the benefits of e-voting such as the speed to issue the results, security mechanisms offered by some systems and the ease of use. However, she made clear that the countries that made the change towards automation must build trust with the systems they choose, and the best way of doing so, is to progressively implement the changes.

McCoy used the Venezuelan case to illustrate her idea, and explained that in this country mistrust was generated among voters due to the abrupt way automation (an optical scanner provided by the company Indra) was introduced in a politically polarized context (1998). After many frictions, the country finally migrated in 2004 into a 100% automatized system provided by the company Smartmatic. This system has passed all tests and has refuted any hint of suspicion throughout all the years of deployment, up to the point that the main political forces use this system for their internal elections.

Eduardo Correia, vice president of the electoral unit of Smartmatic, showed an interesting perspective on e-voting, and said that the cornerstone of this system is the idea of ensuring that the results of any election are determined exclusively according to the will of the voters. He stated that the successful experiences of countries such as Brazil, Philippines and India proven and recorded for over 10 years, support the conclusion that electronic voting is an irreversible trend.

Correia compared the technologies of these threes countries, explaining the characteristics of each implemented technology. He showed the Brazilian system, explaining that the machines use biometric authentication, but do not print the proof of vote. He then exposed the Philippine case, and said that according to a survey that was held in that country, the first Asian country that has turned into e-voting, 75% of the voters were “very satisfied” with the conduction, speed and credibility of the election. He also analyzed the Indian case, where the largest automatized election takes place, and applauded the minimum energy consumption required by their voting machines.

E-voting in Colombia

The forum that took place in Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, showed the advanced that have been made on the debate around the automation of the country’s electoral system. The National Registrar of Civil Status, Carlos Ariel Sánchez Torres, said that in Colombia there is an enormous gap between the identification and electoral systems. While the country has a very modern biometric identification system that is the result of an investment of 200 million dollars, the Colombian electoral system is old and has many flaws and is prone to fraud. Sanchez stated that efforts for modernizing the electoral system should be done, as had been done with the identification system, but warned that the lack of adequate resources has become a constant that has prevented its implementation.

The Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice, German Vargas, affirmed that it would be inconceivable that by 2014 electronic voting would not be a reality in Colombia.

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