Paraguay moves forward in automation but risks in implementation

In 2013, Paraguay joined the elite of countries with electoral regulations for the implementation of e-voting. Unlike other nations, which have the legal framework to automate but whose authorities are reluctant to leave manual voting behind (like Peru and Colombia), this country is planning to make the definitive leap this year.


Brazilian voting machine have a numeric keyboard and a biometric identification device, but they do not print vote receipts.

The Special Commission in charge of posing technical modifications into the voting process to make it safer and more transparent, proposed adopting Brazil’s e-voting model to the High Electoral Justice Court (TSJE).

This decision, which is based on last year’s experience, when 17,000 voting machines were used in different provinces, sets Paraguay at a crossroads between implementing the Brazilian system and looking for an alternate automated suffrage model.

The Brazilian voting machine consists of a small screen and a number keyboard where voters press the numbers corresponding to their candidates. Then they verify their vote on the picture displayed on the screen and press the “confirm” key to cast their ballot. The device allows casting blank or votes by punching random numbers and pressing “confirm.” The machine has two memory flash cards and a magnetic disk for storage. At the end of the process, different minutes are printed with the results of the vote—one of them is stored in the magnetic disk, which is transmitted to an aggregation center through a secure network.

Paraguay is considering suffrage automation with this e-voting mode in mind. This is good news for the country’s democracy, which seeks to overcome manual voting, pre-counting and voting minute scanning, facing the upcoming 2015 elections. However, the plan seems to have a few seams to it, as Paraguay will have to do with obsolete machines discarded by Brazil. Besides, Brazilian technology does not allow for voters to certify through a physical vote receipt that their will was effectively gathered.

According to electoral authorities, Brazil made available up to 17,000 voting machines that were scheduled to be destroyed in upcoming days due to obsolescence. The decision to automate suffrage could be Paraguay’s chance to eradicate the electoral vices that have tainted elections for years, but it will have to weigh in whether the need to modernize suffrage is worth sacrificing the possibility of a successful implementation for the upcoming elections. It is worth highlighting that the lifecycle of electoral technology is approximately 8 years long.

Under normal conditions, the choice of the most appropriate technology should include comparative studies and national and international tender processes to acquire the equipment and the software.

Although this country has already experimented with Brazil’s e-voting, obtaining good results, accepting the offer to use equipment that is about to be discarded during the next constitutional elections is a risk that might affect the near future of e-voting in Paraguay.


Political parties in Dominican Republic demand e-voting to be included in legislation

The need to optimize the electoral system in Dominican Republic includes modernizing voting with the implementation of technology. In order to carry out a transformation plan leading to reliable, safe, and transparent elections, various parties have demanded a legal reform. Find out more here.

The null vote scandal in Colombia

NULOVote buying, delayed result proclamation, complicated electoral ballots, and low turnout are some of the irregularities and inconveniences that have been reported in Colombia after the March 9 legislative election results.

Although this inventory of electoral malpractices seems enough to cast a shadow of doubt on the effectiveness of the Colombian electoral system, the most worrisome aspect of the recently held elections is the high number of null votes the final results showed.

According to the Registrar’s Office, null votes once again represented more than 10% of the cast ballots. While in 2002 the numbers did not differ too much from averages of other  Latin American countries (about 4%), a few weeks ago 1,500,000 and 1,700,000 null votes were counted for the Senate and the Chamber of Representatives, respectively (11% and 14% of the votes). This number is similar to what has happened since 2006, when the Registrar’s Office applied the first plan to make the ballot more user-friendly but null votes rocketed up to 11.2%. This happened again in 2010, when changes were applied to the ballot again but null votes summed up 1,403,913, i.e., 10.6% of the Senate votes.

The National Registrar, Carlos Ariel Sánchez, trusting that the new modifications in the ballot would make the voting exercise easier, expected a lower number of null votes. After the elections, he had to admit that the phenomenon needed to be further analyzed. The report written by the electoral observation mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) also commented on this phenomenon and recommended action to be taken.

Null votes should be carefully scrutinized as their high occurrence could jeopardize the legitimacy of the entire election. Not all null votes can be considered fraudulent, as voters can voluntarily cast them to make a political statement. However, the source of their high occurrence could be the fact that election officials at polling stations have the power to deliberately invalidate a vote by making it null.

With the null vote scandal in full fledge, Colombia seems to be reaching a decisive moment. It has already scheduled 2018 as the year when it will automate suffrage, and it will evaluate the application of different e-voting models on the way.

The Registrar’s Office wants to start testing Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) technology soon. With this technology, the fate of each vote is not in the hands of officers, as selections are directly marked by voters on touchscreens, and they are automatically stored until tallying occurs. No electoral authority or technology has to interpret the value of a vote, as machines do all the work—registering, storing, aggregating, and transmitting votes to data centers.

Another option that is being contemplated by the Registrar is the use optical scanners to automate tallying. Even though this technology facilitates tallying, storing, and aggregating votes, as well as transmitting results, it does not offer improvement to the problem that the recent elections brought to the surface: interpreting the voters’ intent. Optical scanners do not let the voter be the one to express his or her opinion directly, and they merely interpret it.

In the future, Colombia doesn’t have to keep on doubting electoral results. DRE technology can be its ally in overcoming manual voting and the distrust generated by its use.