The US gets another electoral wake-up call


“By the way, we have to fix that.” This statement from the newly re-elected President of the United States, Barack Obama, in his acceptance speech last Tuesday, referring to the long lines that hindered the voting exercise, reveals that the North American power was able to sort out the elections without casting doubt over the results, but it still has problems to solve in order to provide full electoral guarantees.

With Election Day still fresh in their memories, political parties, civil organizations, media outlets, and electoral monitors are working on a load of reports that will undoubtedly include necessary recommendations for the American elections to be tidier, both in the logistic and the technological aspects.

One of the first voices to sound the alarms came from the Election Protection Coalition. Its spokesperson, Barbara Arnwine, said that during the first eight hours of the elections they received 35,000 calls from all 50 states, many of them related to the long lines at the polling places, as well as to the new identification requirements. However, she pointed out that many of these calls generated “concerns” as people talked about getting the wrong information on polling places where voters had to go and being forced to use a temporary ballot that might not be tallied. They also mentioned having to move to other places from their polling stations in order to get ballot cards and scanners.

Photo: La República

Arnwine, along with many media outlets, also reported the occurrence of voting machine faults (faulty screens, wrongly assigned votes), ballot scanners that didn’t work properly, and multiple equipment failures, which brought once again to discussion the need for the US to renovate its automated voting system. In this country, each state is in charge of its own electoral administration, and that regional autonomy allows for more than 3,000 technological solutions or e-voting models to coexist. This legal possibility should not represent a problem by itself, but the use of mixed systems in one county (e.g., manual and electronic voting, paper voting and automated scrutiny, touchscreen machines with or without voting support) forces the states, and even the federal government, to work towards the improvement of their infrastructure in order for e-voting to offer the reliability that so-called third-world countries already have.

“Modernization” is the key word for the US. What’s currently happening in Florida even seems like a dejà vu from the 2000 elections. In that state, they are still counting votes, and even though the authorities argue that it is due to a high participation rate, criticism and complaints allude to irregular management, technical failures, and logistic deficiencies. Charles Stewart, professor from MIT, stated that there are many problems to address in this state, where there seems to be an electoral paralysis every four years.

The voters, political actors, social organizations, and even Obama, know that the American electoral system must be improved. The answer is already known: Yes, we can.


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