Politics, rather than technology, stop electoral automation


Panama tried e-voting, but budget shortcomings created logistical failures now used to invalidate the experience. Picture: http://www.laestrella.com.pa

During the last few decades several countries have modernized their voting systems by successfully implementing different kinds of technology-based solutions. Belgium, India, Estonia, Venezuela are now world references in election automation as they’ve managed to increase efficiency and transparency using voting technology. Yet, in spite of the benefits that automation has brought forth to these nations, and the subsequent interest many other nations have shown in adopting the technology, automation is still met with resistance.

When evaluating the hurdles e-voting faces today, one finds that most of them are not technology- related, but rather political in nature. Politics have become the first obstacle stopping e-voting systems in their mission to provide voters with more and better guarantees. In Latin America only, there are several examples that serve to illustrate this phenomenon.

Peru designed its own e-voting system, but the authorities still haven’t allocated the resources to kickstart its application.

Five years ago, Colombia carried out its first voting pilot. Despite the promising results, it’s failed to pass a legal reform that would allow voting automation. Additionally, the National Registry Office has requested the necessary financial resources to purchase e-voting technology, with the intention of carrying out binding tests during internal elections and proving the technology’s efficacy, but these requests have been denied each time.

In Peru, the National Office of Electoral Processes already has the legal framework to implement e-voting approved, and has made remarkable progress in designing and manufacturing its own voting machine prototype, yet the authorities still haven’t approved the budget needed to bring the process to fruition.

Ecuador and Panama share a similar story. Ecuador’s Code of Democracy recognizes e-voting, but the cultural resistance against it added to the financial challenge that the initial investment represents have stopped automation. In Panama, although e-voting was implemented in an indigenous community last year (a significant landmark), the lack of a budget for the pilot carried out this year ended up in the logistical failures; opposition to the technology ensued and modernization is now on hold.

Chile hardly discusses e-voting. Only recently, the director of the Electoral Service, Juan Ignacio García, is betting on electoral modernization, trying to overcome the problems presented by the current paper-based method. This country has a long road ahead, but the electoral authorities already predict that there will be opposition from the political parties.

While Honduras and the Dominican Republic are just flirting with the idea of automation, and still have to pass the test of having the process judged by their political factors, Mexico had an irregular bidding process (an inexperienced company with  ties to political parties was chosen) that tarnished this year’s voting pilot.

All these cases serve to exemplify that the lack of decision by State authorities keeps automation on stand-by, while all the well-known vices of manual voting (inconsistencies in the returns, identity theft, tallying errors) are still present and take away credibility from elections. E-voting is the present and the future, and every political or economical interest that denies this fact will be removed by the force or reason; voting must be preserved and technology is the ally for it.

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