Electoral results, as a faithful expression of the people’s will, are the basis for the legitimacy of all posts at stake on an election. In order to guarantee this, many countries that depend on manual voting have resorted to what is called fast count or quick counts, which is no other than the unofficial presentation of the vote tally not long after the polling stations have closed.
This practice has been extended to minimize uncertainty in the face of the main flaws of manual voting: delay in the delivery of results, manipulation of minutes, and inconsistencies in scrutiny. The American ONG National Democrat Institute for International Affairs (NDI) states that handing the people “a highly exact and fast projection of the gathered and reported electoral results can prevent fraud, calm tensions, and allow those who assume posts as a consequence of elections to do so on the basis of public trust.”
What the NDI has stated is in theory what fast count seeks. However, in practice, the development of elaborate mechanisms to violate electoral results (hiring companies with political/partisan interests, unjustified delay in the delivery of the tally, inadequate selection of polling station samples, tampering, alteration of scrutinized votes) have smeared this electoral formula, which is based on the tally of votes from a random statistical sample taken out of polling centers to present an unofficial projection of results. The key to the success of vote recount is that the constituencies chosen to be scrutinized at the closure of polling stations respond to statistical criteria (probabilistic and random method) so that they reflect the distribution and weight of the electoral population. Thus, the selection and size of the sample will determine if the recount is reliable or not.
This method has been approved in Colombia, and its use reveals how ambivalent its application is, as while it has always allowed to find out accurate preliminary results fast during presidential elections, when it comes to legislative and regional elections, the election of multiple posts has caused the system to collapse, delaying the presentation of scrutiny and showing defects in the process.
On the other side, Honduras uses what is known as the Digital Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Result Minutes (TREP). The mechanism is based on the digitalization of minutes in order to be sent online with the aid of CTX (X Transmission Centers), which are composed of a laptop computer, a scanner, and a modem. Its most recent use —November 2012— revealed irregularities in the companies in charge of the system, plus an inadmissible delay in preliminary counts.
Finally, Ecuador recently adopted the Fast Count Project and Operational Plan, designed by the Central Electoral Board of Dominican Republic. In 2014, 1500 devices will be used to scan about 40% of the minutes, which will be sent to a consolidation center in order to establish trends and announce unofficial results two hours after closing the polling centers. In this case, carrying out the tally on such a large sample limits the error in the projection, as the tally becomes more exact with more scrutinized polling places.
In light of this reality, the “unofficial speed” of the results of fast counting shows an acceptable performance in some scenarios, but also logistic and procedural problems that undermine its raison d’être. When the results are not official, they become debatable and questionable, and that is the obstacle that must be overcome by the nations that use this mechanism as the way to make up for the delay in manual scrutiny during constitutional elections (Presidency, Parliament, Federal governments, etc.).