If there were any doubts about the need to adopt electronic voting in Puerto Rico, the elections of March 18 should have cleared them. In these elections, which had the participation of candidates of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) and the United States Republican Party, the typical failures of manual elections came to the forefront, failures which have led a growing number of countries around the globe to consider the implementation of electronic voting.
Defects in the printing of materials, errors during counting, problems in the transcription of the voting lists, violations of the electoral safety norms; these are some of the many allegations the Puerto Rican State Commission for Elections (CEE) will have to answer to in order to avoid conflict, and to give these elections and their results a minimum of credibility.
This regrettable episode could have been avoided, and its probable reiteration in future elections was what motivated the CEE to open a bidding process in order to select a company to fully automate future electoral processes in the Caribbean island. This bidding gave Puerto Rico the chance to become a leading country in electoral matters, like Venezuela and Brazil.
Now, in order to have efficient and transparent elections, automation alone is necessary but not sufficient. A series of conditions must also be met so that the elections are carried out in such a way that makes the citizens at ease and aware that the results are a faithful representation of the will of the people.
First, there needs to be a transparent and open bidding process that clears any doubt there may be about the qualifications of the company that’s chosen. It’s also necessary to have electoral authorities with a proven track record of technical and managerial skills, and who also have credibility with the general public. Last, but not least, it’s imperative to hire a company with cutting-edge technology and proven experience in the deployment of automated electoral solutions.
Recently, there have been electoral incidents that show the inconveniences that arise when this combination of factors doesn’t take place.
In Jalisco, Mexico, the electoral authorities granted a contract to a company with no experience in elections. This company (Pounce) hasn’t met the deadlines for the deliveries of the voting machines, therefore holding back the election calendar and generating mistrust about the bidding process and the capabilities of the electoral authorities.
Just a few weeks ago in Palm Beach County, Florida, US, the electoral committee announced and certified several wrong candidates as winners. The root of this very embarrassing mistake was the lack of synchronicity between the candidate lists made with software by the company Dominon Voting System, and the ballots. The electoral authorities of the county are now in a dispute with the technology supplier, trying to elucidate who is to blame. No matter where the responsibility lies, the seed of doubt has been planted and the credibility in future electoral processes has been severely damaged.
Regrettably, there are already doubts in Puerto Rico as to the capability of Unisyn Voting Solutions to carry out an election process with the degree of trust the Puerto Rican people deserve. The company that was chosen presented the most expensive offer during the bidding process and has no previous experience in elections. There are appeals filed in the First Court of San Juan to halt the signature of the contract with this company, which specializes in horse betting software.
Let’s hope that the experiences of Jalisco or Palm Beach County won’t happen again. Puerto Rico still has the chance to rectify this situation and develop an electoral culture that makes its people proud.