The Dominican Republic have failed in their attempt to partially automate their voting system during the general elections carried out on May 15th.
Different voices inside and outside the country have pointed out that non-compliance of internationally followed standards doomed this attempt at modernizing the vote.
For their most recent voting process, the Central Electoral Board hired the Spain-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology. Results were clearly negative, given the logistic, technical and operational errors found both in the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines. Regrettably, the company’s lack of experience in biometric voter authentication and electronic vote counting was all too clear.
NGO Participación Ciudadana published a report stating the several problems encountered during the election, highlighting they included delays in opening polling centres due to issues with and the lack of biometric ID and counting units. There were anomalies in 62.4% of the circuits with the vote counting machines, and in 40.4% of them with voter verification, while “30.7% of the polls registered problems with ballot scanning and 30.9% with electoral data transmission”, with the result that 97.7% of the centres had to resort to manual counting.
In view of these results, the NGO states that the electronic vote count and transmission, namely the novelty of this election, “were largely handicapped by the lack of equipment, the failures of the available working devices, and the scant little capacity to solve problems (…) to the extent that at 10:00 PM, four hours after the closing of the polls, only 20% of the electoral data had been transmitted, which forced the authorities to resort to manual vote counting at all three levels (presidential, regional and local)”.
These problems were confirmed in the preliminary report of the Organization of American States (OAS) observation mission, which states that “the weakest point of the day was the voting equipment used”. The report goes on to mention that “in several centres equipment was missing, tech support staff did not show up, or there were connectivity and operation issues with the biometric control and automated vote counting machines”, so “the implementation of manual counting was needed to overcome these multiple setbacks”.
In addition to this, the authorities underestimated the importance of carrying out tests that could have prevented these problems on time, or opting for a gradual implementation of the technology. Even the OAS highlighted the need for its progressive implementation.
The Dominican Republic now faces the possibility of having thrown away public trust and sizable public resources, which could have been used to provide the country with a voting system that not would have automated some stages of the process only, but would have added technology and security to the election as a whole.