The path towards the implementation of electronic voting suffered a holdup last Sunday, August 26, in Panama, with delays due to a shortage of devices to deal with the number of voters attending the renewal referendum for the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). The first declaration from the Electoral Court (via its communications director Humberto Castillo) banned the implementation of electronic voting for 2014, but later on, the magistrate of the electoral body, Gerardo Solís, stated that the implementation of automation would continue if political parties approve it. He also said that it would be used in specific places, especially those that can be accessed more easily.
Panama had already contemplated the application of e-voting in multi-member circuits for the 2014 elections in its general election plan, which was revealed last May. The plan also contemplated a re-engineering of polling stations.
Until now, the authorities had only specified that it would be automated in a limited way, as the process would take place periodically. However, it is worth remembering that Panama joined the Latin American elite of those who enjoy automated elections last year, when it became an example of inclusion for the region and the world by having selected an indigenous region as the first locale to employ electoral technology to vote.
The Central American nation must fight against paradigms shared even by the President, Ricardo Martinelli, who seems not to be aware of the advances made in the area. He stated that e-voting must never be implemented.
Based on the experience of the PRD authority elections, the report from the Electoral Court states that e-voting reduces scrutiny time but not that of voting, as it is similar to the time it takes to perform manual voting.
Former magistrate of the Electoral Court, Guillermo Márquez Amado, considered that electronic voting must not be discarded for the 2014 elections. In his opinion, more devices should have been used for the PRD elections, and the organization of the event should have been better.
The implementation of automated voting must be gradual, just the way it was established by the Panamanian Electoral Court. Drills must be taken into account to analyze the organization, logistics and all aspects entailed by the conversion to electronic suffrage. Fortunately, the electoral body decided to listen to the political parties and consider other details before rejecting the advances so far achieved.