Ecuadorians Approved Electronic Vote

Ecuador gave its first step to electronic vote. The experience has been so far satisfactory, which is a good sign to step into technology for a Latin American country. The National Electoral Council (CNE, in Spanish) of Ecuador used for the first time ever electronic vote for the elections of five seats of the Rural Parish Council, in the parish of La Esmeralda in Cantón Montalvo (Los Ríos).

With this pilot plan Ecuadorians could verify the easy and correct functioning of the new system. According to the first polls, voters saw technology as a simple and easy system, and polling station officials commended the good results of the trial. Apart from showing a high level of participation (92,23%), the election closure and data transmission were carried out in about ten minutes and the posterior audit proved 100% of accuracy, which guaranteed reliable and transparent elections.

Voting machines with touchscreen were used. Source:

This new system consists of an electronic slip and a touch screen voting machine. Once selected the preferred candidates on the electronic ballot, the voter validate them on the machine’s screen and push “vote” to record his vote. Then the machine prints the vote slip and voter puts it into the ballot box.

Smartmatic was the provider company for this pilot; with a broad experience in automated elections. In the last ten years this multinational company has deployed electronic voting technology in multiple electoral processes in Philippines, United States, and the Caribbean; it has registered with accuracy over 1,500 million votes and its technology has been recognized by prestigious international observers.

The Endless Debate About the Validity of Surveys

Us, the people who are used to live in democracy, know that with each electoral cycle we get repeated speeches, meetings, harsh statements, and accusations by candidates. On the other hand, electoral authorities dictate regulations and schedules, call political actors for moderation and invite international organizations to witness the normal course of “another democratic party”. Mass media also carried out their common activities, they interview candidates, consult experts, show their favoritism for a particular trend, etc.

Along with this “Macondian” repetition of history, surveys come into scene. Partisans of less favored candidates generally tend to discredit surveys and disqualify the pollsters, as a way out from the political problem they encounter. Sometimes they look for companies of dubious origin to show results in their favor and give raise to a survey battle.

Given the importance pollsters have in monitoring the electorate, it is necessary to take a break to emphasize that although some pollsters are open to be used as a political tool; there are lots of companies in the world that throughout time and good practice have proven to be reliable.

Being business companies, pollsters watch over the continuous evaluation of their assets. In this case, the main asset of a pollster is its reputation. This particular intangible asset increases and generates value for clients for a long time. This value is not easily bought. It is almost unbelievable that a serious company wastes years of work for a defeated candidacy, particularly if a few years later another electoral cycle and new business possibilities will thrive.

Once this has been said, it is important to highlight that under some particular conditions there might be divergences between election results and what polls reflect days before the Election Day. The main reason for this is that surveys, in a way, work like instant pictures taken in a given moment. They show what is happening rather than what is going to happen. When there is too much “noise” surrounding the electoral process, either rumors, crossed news, etc., readings might not be right. For example, in Spain, after the terrorist action committed in the Atocha train station in May 2004, there was a radical change in the voluble Spanish public opinion only three days before the election. The former Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero was surprisingly elected while surveys suggested new victory for the Prime Minister at the time José María Aznar. No poll could have foreseen such change.
Venezuela is a country where the role of pollsters is frequently questioned. Curiously, its elections are the most audited elections around the world; results are ratified by observers from international organizations like the Carter Center, the European Union and the Organization of American States. Besides, the results obtained since 2004 have matched what prestigious pollsters have reflected.

The following table shows the close relation between the reflected preferences by polls and the official results of the Presidential Referendum in 2004.

As it is revealed, the most important polls showed a possible victory for the NO option. However, in spite of this evidence, multiple audits and acknowledgement of international observers of the proclaimed official results, opposition sectors claimed an alleged fraud and refused to accept the results. This attitude and the echo in some mass media have encouraged a false debate kept to these days about the polls’ validity.

In light of next presidential elections, history seems to be about to be repeated. Candidates give speeches; institutional organizations call for calm and participation; mass media take a side; and some opinion givers by duty, turn pollsters into the target of cruel attacks. Greater equanimity by the political elites becomes necessary to put an end to this ritornello.

The Long Mexican Elections

Image: El Universal

Mexico went to the polls on July 1st, and typical tensions surrounding the pre-electoral period –uncertainty, political crispations, and mistrust–, were not dissipated. They are still there, basically promoted by the electoral system of the country: slow polling place installation; inconsistency of acts; numerous spoilt votes, and what seems to be the root of everything: instead of final and official results at the end of the voting process, pre-counting estimations are provided, which are not legally valid.

This factor has been –and still is– the pioneer of most concerns upsetting citizens and political actors in Mexico. Recent elections are not the exception and proof of it is that, whereas there are over 7 advantage points between the candidate proclaimed as winner of the Presidency of the Republic and his closer contender, which translates in a difference of over 3.300.000 votes, these results have not been enough to make him accept the defeat.
A week after the elections, the formal impugnation has not been brought, but Manuel López Obrador, who will be second in the elections, ratified that he will contest the results. From his point of view, there was a refusal within the country regarding the opening of the electoral ballot boxes to recount the votes and local authorities of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) had a “closed attitude” towards a more transparent recounting process because, in his opinion, elections were full of irregularities.

During the last days, IFE recounted over 54% of votes –process that took more time than expected– because a lot of polling stations had more spoilt votes than the sum of valid votes; and there were inconsistencies of acts and minimum differences between the first and second places. The electoral entity confirmed the preliminary results, but doubts still remain; there were even massive protests in the country’s capital city.

Manual vote has always got Mexico into trouble, which is why this country is defining a way out: electronic vote. Although bids to set up the instauration of electronic vote were news, particularly in Jalisco, where favoritism to award the contract to an inexperienced company was reported; last July 1st some electronic polls were installed. Results are different, whereas some regions did not account for major problems, there are cases like those reported before the Jalisco’s Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute (IEPC, in Spanish), by the representative of the Movimiento Ciudadano party, Hugo Luna, who stated that there were inconsistencies like higher number of votes as compared to people in the nominal list.
Road to automation does not need to be tortuous, but in countries that do not choose the more transparent path, like performing a clean bid (selection of a capable company with proven experience) actually helps modernizing suffrage. Mexico is still in time to step forward and follow the steps of countries in the region like Venezuela and Brazil, to give millions of voters the possibility to rely on a modern and reliable system, before mistrust continues undermining the citizens’ attachment to the foundation of Democracy: the vote.