Mexico, in the Eye of E-voting

Photo: El Informador

Next presidential elections to be held on July 1st in the Mexican territory start the countdown for an electoral summer that will define the political, social, economic and cultural course of the country. In this day, governmental entities announce the arrival of the electronic ballot to the Aztec county.

Campaigns and proposals by candidates, juvenile movements demanding the democratization of mass media and the proposal to implement, by the Federal Electoral Institute, a simulation of the electronic voting process, define the effervescent thematic within the media agenda for this electoral event.

In Mexico the transition from analogue elections to a voting system based on technology begins with a stake by the IFE. The entity is responsible, at a federal level, for organizing and legally holding elections in the country, through the announcement to the public opinion of a pilot test of the electronic vote on July 1st.

By installing four electronic ballot boxes in each one of the 300 electoral districts, an IFE survey will be carried out based on the assessment and reputation by the citizens about the Institute, the follow-up of 2012 elections, and the opinion and qualification of digitalization of elections.

This is the first time Mexico has a registry of a technological solution implementation in elections. Although the IFE and the electoral state organizations moved towards some companies to provide them with the software to be used in the election, electronic ballots have been designed by the Center of Investigation and Advance Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute, one of the most important and renowned public academic institutions in Mexico.

Mass media and experts affirm that it is time Mexico steps into the digitalization of election processes. Benefits of electronic voting are based on the infrastructure and implementation mechanisms proven for its application. Nonetheless, this subject is to become established in the corresponding political entities and be assessed according to the IFE analysis after this historical July 1st.


Mexico Will Apply E-voting in Two Districts

Mexico’s presidential elections will take place next July 1st. After five drills, the Electoral Institute of Citizen Participation in Jalisco will use 981 electronic ballot boxes in two districts of the Mexican state.

Thus informed the president of the Institute, Tomás Figueroa, who pointed out that the next challenge is the training of the party representatives in the 43 towns where the automation pilot will take place.

According to Figueroa, they are ready for any setback, which is why they will have regular ballots in hand, in case the method fails. “This is in order for no Jaliscan to be left out from voting.” People with vision disabilities will also be able to vote through a braille reading system for “no additional cost.”

Another relevant aspect to be considered is that the observation mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) will supervise the July 1 electoral process in the land of Benito Juárez.

981 electronic ballot boxes will be used, distributed among 43 towns. Source:

However, not all has worked according to plan. The automation process for two Jalisco districts has been marred by a tender, which did not seem too fair from the beginning. Right now they are in the middle of a dispute, which includes a lawsuit from the Pounce Consulting company to the Electoral Institute of Citizen Participation. The company alleges the lack of payment of 6.7 million pesos and breach of contract for the production of a thousand electronic ballot boxes.

The Research and Development director of the firm, Mauricio Gómez, pointed out that it remains to be seen how the delivery of electronic ballot boxes will conclude.

In January 2010, the Institute started the project to acquire the 1000 electronic ballot boxes that would be used in the July 1 election. In May 2011, Pounce Consulting got the contract for the machines through a direct award. The company terminated the contract with IEDF last April 9 due to a lack of payment and omission of the required specifications for the machines. IEDF has kept a low profile during the lawsuit. They are sure they will win the dispute. They think that Pounce Consulting did not comply with the delivery times for the equipment and provided extremely poor quality prototypes.

Security of Electronic Voting Systems

Electoral warranties are the tools that allow a Nation and its voters to count on safe voting processes, but when it comes to e-voting, all eyes are set on the security brought by the use of voting machines.
In order to comply with requirements in the last decades, automation has taken gigantic steps to keep the ballot secret, direct, universal, and personal. The devised formula includes the submission of revisions (auditing of all processes), and also the design of software and hardware that can be adapted to the countries’ needs —mainly to what is required by law—. These systems must highlight the impregnable qualities of technological development, such as the speed of results, accuracy of scrutiny, simplicity of the process, and inviolability of the suffrage secrecy.

Nowadays, there are many varieties of voting machines in the market. With the available machines, the voter can manifest his or her vote through a button panel, marking a paper and then submitting that paper to electronic scrutiny, or selecting an option directly from a touchscreen or electronic ballot. In spite of this, regardless of the kind of device chosen, it is imperative to make sure that its performance offers security guarantees.

About the hardware: specialists recommend to install device controllers for external communications in order to guarantee that voting machines are not connected to data networks or the Internet, or that they have a stand-alone system that does not allow for connection between devices in order to guarantee their independence and the fulfillment of their function. Besides, contingency storage devices and external hatches can be installed in order to protect the external communication ports.

As for the software, e-voting has conceived mechanisms for the programs used by voting machines to have digital signatures, which are cryptographic tools with shared codes —in some countries, political parties and the electoral body have access to them—. These allow for the safeguarding of equipment, systems, and records from irregularities related to use prior to the election, errors in criteria and requirements typical of the process. They also prevent contents from being modified.

Other security aspects that have been sufficiently covered in countries that have implemented electoral technology are that each voter can only cast their ballot once and cannot steal another person’s identity. The path followed to achieve thishas been the use of biometric authentication devices, with which each person goes through a checkpoint (fingerprint scanning) where their identity is verified.

Two flagship examples of shielded electronic voting are those of Venezuela and Brazil. In the first, voting machines used are the models SAES-3300, SAES-4000, and SAES-4200, provided by Smartmatic. These machines register votes, carry out an automated scrutiny with no intervention from any external medium, and transmit electoral data. Stored information does not have a sequential order. For the machine, the voter is anonymous; there is no way to associate their will. On the other hand, in order to guarantee further audits, these machines allow for the reprinting of paper trails.

Brazil uses biometric voting machines, which allow for the identification of voters through their fingerprints. Voting devices, made under the supervision of the Superior Electoral Court, have a structure that includes the automatic transmission of results, digital signature, and information encrypting. Even though unfortunately this country’s machines don’t print paper trails, it is still an advantage that the devices are activated through biometric authentication, which guarantees the principle of one voter, one vote.

This way, references to the security of electronic voting are unquestionable. They exist, they are subjected to tests periodically, and they reflect that technology can not only facilitate but also strengthen electoral processes.