Peace negotiations start debate over e-voting in Colombia

In the last few weeks Colombia has once again seen momentum regarding the e-voting debate.  According to experts, as a consequence of the peace negotiations carried out by the government with the country’s armed insurgencies, it has become necessary to strengthen electoral guarantees.

The discussion stems from the friction between a magister of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Armando Novoa, and National Registrar Juan Carlos Galindo over the delays in the application of e-voting.  A group of senators has announced that they will sue the authorities on the grounds of delaying the application of this technology.

Since 2004, Colombia has a law that allows for electoral automation, but given the lack of will to modernize voting, the country has had to insist on the use of a voting system that has brought about serious problems: a partial use of biometric identification, manual voting, pre-counts (initial results of purely informative value), and digitization of the statements of vote to make them available to the public on the National Registry website.

Facing these facts, and with the possible conduction of a peace referendum looming,  magistrate Novoa fired the first shot on the matter, stating that it was not just a lack of resources that has stopped electronic voting, but also the Registrar’s opinion on the technology, which he judges inconvenient for Colombia.  Novoa reminded him that automation “is not an option”, but rather a legal duty.

At the same time, columnists from several newspapers fanned the flames.   Constitutional lawyer Germán Calderón España argued against the costs of manual voting versus those of e-voting, while  Pedro Luis Zambrano stated that public contracts related to manual voting are keeping automation hostage.

On the other hand, a group of senators announced that they will pursue legal actions to demand Registrar Galindo to uphold the law.   The group affirms that “it is urgent to implement electronic voting and a biometric system that provides guarantees and transparency in elections, with the aims of reducing fraud and other electoral crimes, as well as corruption”.

So far, Colombia is waiting for the results of an advisory commission on the implementation of this technology. However, this interdisciplinary group has failed to meet for almost two years, even after an international call was placed and answered by  16 companies to outline a pilot test for an automated voting system.

To the date, experiments with two automated voting models  have been permitted (Optical Scan Voting and Direct Recording Electronic, DRE), but Colombia is still delaying a ruling that would allow them move past a system which sometimes does work for presidential elections, but cannot handle the greater complexity of parliamentary or local ones.

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