Paraguay went to the polls with its sights set on electoral reform

Manual voting sequence in Paraguay

After a year of strong political tensions following the impeachment of president Fernando Lugo, Paraguay went to the polls on April 21 to choose a new Head of State, a Vice-president, deputies and senators, departmental authorities and the country’s representative in Mercosur. The voting resulted in Horacio Cartes being elected as president, but it also represented the beginning of what can be a reform in the electoral system.

The Electoral Justice chose to create a commission in charge of presenting the nation with technical modifications to the voting process, in order to make it safer and more transparent. Currently the nation uses manual voting and its quick counting process does not have a good reputation.

The general elections that took place a few days ago, despite being certified by national political figures and international observers alike, were heavily criticized due to violations of the norms, vote buying, “voter herding”, lack of impartiality by electoral magistrates and other vices typical to manual voting. Even the high number of null and blank votes, which together were the 4th most voted option, showed the need for changes in the near future.

In addition to these irregularities, the constitution of a special team with the task of reforming the system was also motivated by the debut of the Digital Transmission of Preliminary Precinct Counts (TREP in Spanish) system. The reports show that this mechanism devised to speed up the collection of results collapsed. The system was supposed to digitalize the precinct counts so they could be transmitted via Internet with the help of CTX (Transmission Centers X): a laptop, a modem and a scanner. The method, however, was inefficient.

Carlos María Ljubetic, assistant to the Superior Electoral Justice Court (TSJE), stated that the commission will evaluate the technical aspects of voting, as well as the logistics and organization, to later turn all proposals into law. This public servant does not rule out that Paraguay will work towards automating its elections, so an e-voting could carry significant weight among the suggestions presented by the multidisciplinary team,

Paraguay won’t settle, but rather is looking to evolve to give its 3.5 million voters a system that safeguards their will, facilitates civic participation and guarantees results. 2015 could be a year of renovation for the country.


Certifiable voting system, key in Venezuelan elections

Venezuela uses voting machines and electronic ballots, which allows the Nation to hold 100% automated elections.

Last Sunday, April 14th, Venezuela held the closest presidential elections of the last 40 years. The thin margin at the results, strong political campaign, the sharp political polarization of the country, and a clear advantage on the side of the government’s party (widely criticized by international organizations), has led the opposition to demand a recount of 100% of the vote receipts to compare this result with the official one released and announced by the National Electoral Council.

The technological platform, provided by Smartmatic, was examined, as has been tradition in the electoral timeline, with about 11 audits, all of them certified by the different political organizations. Aside from these technical audits, Venezuela holds another audit, this time performed by regular citizens on the night of the election. This inspection is publicly done on about 21,000 voting machines (more than half of the polling stations). In this test, it was confirmed that the electors’ intent printed on the vote receipts matched the counting protocol issued by the machine before the transmission of results.

In spite of all these technical guarantees, the opposing group demanded an audit of 100% of the polling stations, most probably based on allegations concerning the advantage of the government’s party. Fortunately, and thanks to the system’s capacity to verify results in multiple ways, the electoral body approved the revision of 12,000 machines that were not included in the citizens’ verification on April 14th. The results of this last audit are estimated to be released in 4 weeks.

After 12 national elections since 2004, more than 100 audits in 9 years, and politicians from both sides winning and losing with the same voting machine, Venezuela is refusing to live in peace. The possibility to audit the announced results in different ways can be key to unravel the complex political and social crisis that is now emerging in the South American country.