Latin America took decisive steps toward e-voting on 2014


2014 elections as reviewed on this infographic by The Economist

2014 could be considered “an electoral feast” as 42% of the world’s population was called to vote. Such staggering number was set due to the fact that 42 countries carried out elections, and among them, 10 from Latin America.

The balance of the year for Latin America shows Brazil further strengthening its supremacy in electoral automation, while Panama, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Ecuador taking firm steps to modernizing their voting systems.

Ecuador carried out the most complex test, as it experimented with two different technologies during the February elections. The province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas used Smartmatic’s touchscreen voting machines that print a vote receipt on paper. Meanwhile, in Azuay, the electoral body deployed an electronic tallying system designed by Argentina’s MSA.

Paraguay, which joined the elite of countries with electoral regulations for the implementation of e-voting in 2013, announced that it is currently evaluating whether it will repeat last year’s experience, in which 17,000 Brazilian voting machines were used.

Costa Rica showed its people the technology it hopes to adopt for the upcoming 2016 elections, by letting voters interact with the voting machines designed by the High Electoral Court (TSE).

Meanwhile, during its general elections in May, Panama tested out technology developed by the Electoral Court (TE), which reproduces features from systems already tested in other countries, such as a card-activated touchscreen machine displaying candidates to press on in order to vote.

Peru became the only “black spot” in a year of electoral successes. Instead of building on the system designed designed by the National Office for Electoral Processes (ONPE), the nation opted to approve a not very transparent tender bid for the development of the automated system’s software. This has sparked a lot of problems, and will force the country to revise its application in future elections.

Finally, Brazil once again showed the world why it is considered one of the world leaders in vote automation. Its large, election-tested platform was deployed twice in October.

E-voting rising on the Argentinean horizon

mediumIn light of the lack of an e-voting project at the federal level, several Argentinian provinces have chosen to go one step ahead and experiment with electoral technology in recent years. Only this year, the governments of Buenos Aires, Posadas, Misiones, and Mendoza approved the use of some form of e-voting system for the 2015 elections.

In their transition toward e-voting, the regions of Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe have implemented the model known as the electronic ballot box with smart ballots, which is not a comprehensive e-voting solution but a device designed to automate tallying.

This experience—which has yielded positive results sometimes, and sometimes has presented problems—should be taken as a trampoline into the advancement of e-voting implementation, rather than being seen as the “fast way” to perform automation.

Argentina has the possibility of enjoying all the benefits that electronic suffrage has to offer. These range from the effective validation of voters’ identities and a simple voting process, to the digital and printed recording of each vote, as well as the tallying, aggregation, and transmission of results, and the system audits throughout all stages.

To go from using only automated tallying, still favoring manual suffrage, to delivering a 100% automated voting system is the decision that the authorities must make in 2015. These regions are facing the option to bet on improving their current voting system, one where human error—intentional or unintentional—is minimized while speeding up and streamlining processes that are simply impossible in traditional elections.

Electoral guarantees are at the decision-makers’ reach. Only political responsibility and respect toward the people’s intent will make it possible for e-voting to dominate Argentina’s suffrage.

The Philippines to expand its election automated platform

In 2010, the Philippines became the first Asian country to outsource the implementation of a National Election. Four years later, authorities are looking to further embrace technology by calling for bidding processes to select electoral technology and services providers.

Recently, the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) decided to acquire 23,000 new Optical Mark Reader (OMR) machines to process manually filled ballots in the 2016 General Elections. The OMR machines would add to the existing 82,200 Precinct-based Counting Optical Scanners (PCOS) purchased by the elections commission that were used both with great success in 2010 and 2013.

Authorities are expecting to award this new P2.5 billion contract in February 2015. To such purpose, they have devised a two-stage bidding process. Initially, five firms had shown interest, yet only Indra Sistemas and Smartmatic-TIM formally submitted proposals. On Monday, December 15, both were declared eligible to participate in the second round.

Although the Spanish-based company has not participated in any of the recent elections in this Asian archipelago, it does have some bidding experience for such projects. In 2009, Indra’s bid to provide the technology for the 2010 General Elections was 35% higher than the approved budget, a main reason for its disqualification. The firm’s largest stakeholder is the Spanish government, through Sociedad Estatal de Participaciones Industriales (S.E.P.I.) – with 20.14%. Its focus on defense and surveillance technology has sparked controversy in the country, as it is viewed by some as a sort of Conquistador 2.0.

Smartmatic has already participated in previous Filipino elections. During the 2010 General Elections and the 2013 Midterm Elections, the company provided technology and services. Although the elections were hailed as a success by authorities and some observation missions, they’ve been surrounded by controversies. From afar, it is hard to distinguish the facts from the fiction in a country so prone to astroturf organizations, which anonymously spread rumors and fake allegations.

Also, looking ahead, authorities are considering on a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine to be tested. Up until now, the voting method has stayed manual, leaving the bulk of the technology only to handle the processes of counting, transmitting and consolidating results. Smartmatic and Scytl were the two companies bidding for full automation, but Scytl was unanimously declared ineligible by the Comelec Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), due to deficiencies in its eligibility documents and initial technical proposal.