Only days away from the July 5 elections, Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, finds itself deep in a distrust crisis due to the use of electronic ballots provided by the local company MSA (Magic Software Argentina). The reasons include a hardly transparent tender process, the selection of an electoral technology model that only works halfway (it only automates tallying), and on top of it all, an awkward implementation process, which has been strongly criticized for its many and important flaws in training users.
The adoption of this system has been plagued with improvisation, insomuch authorities were forced to suspend its use for the primary elections last April. Different political and civil society spokespeople have voiced their concerns, warning that the city is not prepared to use the electronic ballot.
While Mariano Recalde, one of the candidates to Head of Government of the city, accused the authorities of “improvising and experimenting with the people”, Professor Beatriz Busaniche questioned the way the new system has been implemented, considering that the “training being provided to citizens is not enough.” She also accused the company (MSA) of “not sharing the necessary information allowing to fiscalize (the process) correctly.” Moreover, deputy Hernán Rossi criticized the fact that implementation was not done progressively.
All of these problems have not only sparked strong questioning, but the lack of training for both political party counsels and voters became a reason for filing a lawsuit before the Supreme Court, which ultimately decided to dictate that the Buenos Aires government must guarantee user training. At the same time, legislature approved a Law that requires placing a test device at each electoral constituency on election day, so that voters have the possibility of becoming familiar with the system.
This situation reveals how unpolished the electronic ballot adoption process has been in Buenos Aires. The city will not be using a model that really automates the voting, but instead it will be employing the technology applied by MSA in Salta, which is known as “an electronic ballot box with smart ballots“. The technology provided by this company is not a comprehensive e-voting solution but a device designed to automate tallying only. This is how the flaws of manual voting remain latent.
The setbacks caused by the new voting mechanism could prove to be costly for the Argentine capital. Trust in the system is what enables citizens to attend polling stations and strengthen democracy, while those elected can assume their posts covered by legitimate voting. We will have to wait and see if Buenos Aires is capable of sorting out these problems or if doubts are here to stay, at least until the automated model finally adopted is in effect transparent, safe, and reliable for all.