In the midst of a spectacular shift in opinion polls in Colombia’s presidential race —Juan Manuel Santos (incumbent candidate) has been surpassed by Oscar Iván Zuluaga—, the country will conduct a new electoral process on May 25th under the shadow of doubt.
During the recent legislative elections held in Colombia in March, the electoral flaws that have harmed the trust of voters and political parties alike for years, surfaced again: vote buying, delays in the result announcements, complex balloting material, and a striking high percentage of invalid ballots (more than 10% of the cast ballots).
Unfortunately, for these new elections, the situation doesn’t seem to have improved much. One of the most concerning aspects is the tallying system authorities conduct, which involves the infamous pre-counting, a process by which authorities evade the responsibility of delivering official results on the same day of the elections.
Through this procedure, members of the jury count the votes and fill out two forms with the information gathered. The first form is the “vote counter,” which consists of a series of boxes where each candidate’s votes are marked one by one and at the bottom it shows a total number. This number goes on the other form (the official minute). The data of the “vote counter” is what is announced to the people on the day of the election for information purposes only, as the final results must wait for the official scrutiny.
In previous elections, results from the Pre-count have differed from the definite tallying made official, raising questions about the transparency and accuracy of the system.
During the last elections, the Democratic Center, the party of the former president and now senator Alvaro Uribe, questioned the results and even released a statement pointing at this difference to substantiate their claim.
In spite of all the problems generated by manual voting in the past, and even though Colombia has had laws allowing the implementation of e-voting for ten years, modernization of the system has been further delayed until 2018.
In order to achieve a better performance this time around, the Registrar’s Office scheduled three drills (May 3rd, 10th, and 17th) to test out the critical phases of the presidential election: pre-count, tallying, and digitalization of voting minutes. Flaws were detected on the first two election drills, which according to the authorities, will be fixed for the last test.
It is unfortunate that Colombia has opted not to face its need to hasten the implementation of e-voting. A new deadline has been set four years from now to put an end to elections with late results and fraud accusations. Let’s hope that this new deadline is enough for the country to finally get a seamless and safe system that defends the people’s intent.