Unasur praises e-voting in Ecuador but disapproves of Scytl’s system


Smartmatic’s electronic voting machines were used in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas. Photo: El Comercio.

Last February, during its sectional elections, Ecuador took an important step towards the modernization of its elections as it carried out three electronic voting pilots in selected provinces. Simultaneously,  in all other provinces, the electoral commission used technology to process the votes, from counting to results publishing.

The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) recently released its final report on these elections, praising the results of the binding e-voting test, as well as the organization, training, and logistics of the process. However, it also expressed disapproval of the automated result processing system used in manual precincts.

Unasur’s assessment is based on the fact that, while three provinces used different electoral automation models successfully, the Spanish company Scytl failed to perform its duty in the rest of the nation: digitizing poll counts for their later consolidation and publishing.

According to the report, “the system was ill equipped to process the amount of information generated simultaneously, which made its timely processing difficult and made errors evident.” Besides, it was clear that this was not the first time that the system performed poorly. “The repeated lack of adjustments indicates that the company has not contemplated all the requirements for its use in elections. The provider behaved negligently by insisting on using procedures and mechanisms that are inadequate to this end.” This situation hampered the promise of presenting nationwide results in 78 hours, as their delivery actually took more than a month.

In fact, Unasur insisted in its report that there were various reasons for the failure of the Intermediary Scrutiny Boards (JIEs for its initials in Spanish), “many of which stemmed from failure to comply with the recommendations made by Unasur’s mission in 2013, as well as those from this year’s mission. But the main source of trouble was the system freezing while processing information coming from the JIEs in the BONITA BMP software, which manages the system’s workflow and was provided by the company offering the electoral software suite.”

Moreover, the report highlighted “errors in processing data from the Guayas province’s JIE. The problem that arose in Guayas was made worse by the fact that poll count minutes were printed on both sides and data was uploaded from only one side of the sheets. This generated widespread errors in result aggregation. This error was fixed, but it caused significant delays in the result release process.”

In the other hand, Unasur acknowledged the optimum performance of the three types of electronic voting tested in Ecuador. It specially highlighted the technologies used in the two provinces where the results of the pilots were binding: the one deployed in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, provided by Smartmatic, and the one used in Azuay, from Magic Software Argentina (MSA). The institution expressed its satisfaction over the performance, vote secrecy preservation, contingency resolution, and general fulfillment of the goal of automating voting and safeguarding people’s intent.

After a complex but comprehensive experience showing the benefits that a correctly applied technology offers, Ecuador now has the possibility to transition safely and successfully to vote automation. Unasur recommended carrying out “conceptual re-engineering to redefine all the processes inherent (…) to recount and publish of results,” aspects where the system failed due to the provider’s inability to fulfill requirements.


After the World Cup, Brazil concentrates on October elections


Brazil uses electronic ballot boxes with number keyboards and a biometric identification system.

Brazil uses electronic ballot boxes with number keyboards and a biometric identification system.

After hosting the World Cup, Brazil has less than three months left to organize the upcoming 5 October general elections. The electoral campaign has barely started, but the country is already busy preparing to automate all of the stages of suffrage: voter identification, vote registration, scrutiny, aggregation, and transmission of results.

Brazil has been using electronic voting for almost 20 years, and along with Venezuela, it is considered one of the pioneers in the adoption of electoral technology in the world. The vast amount of voters (141.8 million) and the complex logistics of Brazilian elections pose a challenge the country has already overcome multiple times. So far, the only reported downside of the nation’s automated process is the fact that the voting machines do not print vote receipts on paper, which would enable comparing electronic results with printed votes in order to solve any possible concern.

Brazil’s e-voting system consists of a ballot box with a biometric authentication device (fingerprint scanner) that verifies voters’ identities and then allows them to use a small screen and a number keyboard to select their preferred candidates. Voters then confirm their selection with a picture appearing onscreen and press the “confirm” key to finish voting. The machine has a key for casting blank votes, and it also permits voiding votes by typing random keys and pressing “confirm.”

Brazil’s voting machines have two memory cards and a magnetic disk for data storage. After polling places close, several minutes are printed with the results of the election, and another one is stored in the magnetic disk. This last copy is transmitted over an exclusive secure network to the computers at the regional courts and at the High Electoral Court. The system goes under several audits and requires electronic signatures from all stakeholders.

Four years ago, over one million voters were able to use the identity verification tool, but now it will be 23 million as authorities continue to expand the reach of biometric authentication to strengthen electoral guarantees.

Brazil —the sixth largest economy in the world— is ready to vote in October knowing that it has the best option to deliver results that honor the people’s will: electronic voting.

Mexico prepares to close gap in electoral technology

Mexico uses manual voting, which casts a shadow of doubt on results

The electoral reform carried out by Mexico—approved by the General Electoral Institution and Procedure Law—seeks not only to strengthen the country’s electoral system, but also to close the gap in electoral technology makes the country fall behind other Latin American nations.

The path to change became evident this week, when the new National Electoral Institute (INE) scheduled the beginning of the 2014-2015 federal electoral process for next October 7th. This process includes elections in 18 out of the country’s 31 states.

The electoral process will be illustrative of what Mexican elections will be like from now on. Legal changes left INE in charge of most decisions regarding this subject, which means that each state will set up its own elections under rules based on the federal entity’s decisions instead of local laws currently in force. One of the most important aspects in this sense will be the use of electoral technology.

Under the new law, INE will execute the arrangement allowing Mexicans living abroad to vote in the country’s consulates as well as online or by mail.

The decision to automate suffrage for Mexicans living abroad opens the possibility for Mexico to level up with other Latin American countries that have ample experience in e-voting, as it will be possible to advance from this step towards the complete implementation of e-voting within the country.

Mexico has set a three-year deadline to complete the process of implementation of the new technology—scheduled for 2018—, but the authorities expect to use the 2015 regional elections to carry out e-voting tests conducive to its formal implementation. Some regions are already pressing INE to hasten the process, as they were already advanced in the use of technology and they do not want their implementation processes to fall behind.

In addition to this plan, INE’s General Council approved the design of a system that will enable “online accounting for political parties and candidates.” INE’s General Executive Board will be in charge of creating and setting forth an application enabling organization accountability.

These are the first steps for Mexico to leave manual voting in order to level up with other nations in the region that have an automated, safe, and reliable electoral system. The country has made some mistakes in the past—a much questioned tender process for the purchase of technology in Jalisco—, but these can be used as lessons learned to keep automation transparent.