The Colombian Registrar’s Office, politicians and the media have commended the fact that the unofficial results of the May 25 presidential elections were announced only 45 minutes after polls closed, establishing a new national “record”.
Although disclosing electoral information quickly is always welcomed, as it deters the possibility of civil disorder and increases trust in the electoral system, it must be noted that the results published in Colombia on Election Day are not official. The valid count is obtained days later after every vote is properly accounted for.
As in every other country, authorities receive considerable pressure to announce results quickly. To cope with this public outcry, Colombian authorities resorted to what is called a pre-count system. Pre-counting is the base for the unofficial information delivered to the country on Election Day, and is not strictly related to the official scrutiny.
In several past electoral processes the pre-count system has produced different results from the final count. These discrepancies have revealed the flaws and irregularities that often come with Colombia´s manual voting system.
It was only last March that the Registrar Carlos Ariel Sánchez himself sustained: “if you’re looking for votes in the pre-count, you’re looking in the wrong place,” when trying to demerit claims by the Democratic Center party stating that the pre-count ignored thousands of votes. By doing so, he called into question the very same system that he is now praising.
Not too long ago, during the March 2010 legislative elections it took 127 days for the official results to be published. Throughout all those days, there were elected legislators waiting to occupy their seats.
These fluctuations in Colombia’s electoral system reveal the need for a top-down reform. Their manual system and the pre-count used to speed up the announcement of results are only trustworthy in certain occasions. It has proven to be completely inefficient to allow the election of as many posts as the country requires.
The relative success of the Colombian presidential elections should not dilate the debate the country requires to get out of its electoral underdevelopment. This process confirmed that Colombia’s electoral problem lies in the system, which can sometimes work well for a manual presidential election but hinders, smears, and endangers some of higher complexity, such as legislative elections.
If the country does not take on the challenge of advancing—it already has Law 1475, which enables e-voting—, Colombia’s electoral risk will come at an increasingly higher cost. This is because only an automated voting system that guarantees official and timely results will engage citizens more in the exercise of Democracy.