Buenos Aires has put to the test the adage “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, also known as “Murphy’s Law”. Instead of following a safe and transparent process, the capital of Argentina is undergoing an e-voting selection and adoption process that has brought trouble upon it –possibly a lot of trouble.
After the city decided to implement electoral technology in late 2014 and called for a tender process in order to implement e-voting during the April 26 primary elections and the June 5 general elections, it is now facing doubts and suspicion coming from different angles: the tender process has gathered several accusations, the selected electoral technology does not automate voting but only tallying, and the electoral calendar is starting to overlap.
The process’s black spots started with the tender process in which MSA (Magic Software Argentina) was selected to automate elections for Buenos Aires. Politicians and even social activists found it suspicious to award the contract to a company that had previous connections with the city’s government, as well as the fact that the tender process was practically tailored to the company’s needs, essentially dismissing all competitors in spite of their possible superiority.
To understand the suspicions cast over the selection process, it suffices to mention that Smartmatic, the second company to bid on this tender, is well known for offering technology capable of automating 100% of the voting process, while MSA offers devices that only automate tallying.
Although Smartmatic presented a more cost-effective bid and has implemented e-voting in countries as dissimilar as the Philippines, the United States, Belgium, and Venezuela, while MSA has only worked in Argentina—and in a pilot test in Ecuador—, Smartmatic was immediately and unceremoniously discarded.
Besides, instead of adopting a technology model that really did automate suffrage, the Buenos Aires government decided to simply replicate the technology used by MSA in Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe—a 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 only. This means that the authorities have chosen to use a technology that does not solve the problems entailed by manual voting, instead of opting for a model that offers the complete array of benefits that electronic voting brings.
As if the accusations weren’t enough, implementation is also in jeopardy. More and more people are warning about the suspension of the electronic ballot box altogether, as the electoral calendar has already begun and there is no plan to complete the key stages of e-voting implementation. For example, there has been a warning that the company and the authorities won’t be able to guarantee a suitable deadline for technician and voter training for the primary elections (at least three months), as nothing is known about the process two months away from the elections. There is a possibility that automation is altogether suspended for this event.
The outlook in Buenos Aires is desolate, but there can always be a light at the end of the tunnel. The future of voting in the city depends on the authorities rectifying and beginning a process that abides by the highest standards and not by political interests, where the company’s experience and ability to offer an e-voting model adjusted to legal, technical, financial needs, as well as those related to idiosyncrasy, prevails.