The United States before the opportunity to improve its voting systems

The November 8th elections in the US have left a mark not just in the way of the presidential results, where Donald Trump won over Hillary Clinton in electoral votes but not in the popular vote. They can also be the framework for the country to keep evolving on the subject of electoral guarantees.

At the end of the process, the Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) published a preliminary report that highlights the civic behaviour of the electorate and also some technical issues that delayed the voting in several counties.

The observation team, who worked in the United States for the first time, stated that “in occasions, the long lines were due to sporadic failures of the voting equipment, like the scanners, or in the case of Colorado, the Statewide Voter Registration System (SCORE), which was down for 20 minutes”.

The organization warned that these technical issues were solved efficiently by following the procedures for eventualities that had been previously adopted; however, other analyses state that many of these problems could be a result of the obsolescence of the machines used in every state of the union, whose respective administration duties lie on each county, meaning several different models are operative.

In the wake of the Voting Day events, these issues did not generate any problems or doubts about the results, however it is important to insist on the need that local authorities have to renew their technology.

Updating the equipment would not only make the voting easier, strengthen security and shield the process, but could also improve one of the weak spots of voting in the USA: the results broadcast on election night are only preliminary, and every state has an average of five weeks to formalize the count.

The situation is that after a week has elapsed there is still not a definitive count, since the early voting is still being counted; early voting takes place two weeks before the election but is counted long after, depending on norms that vary by county or state.

The Untied States has a solid democracy, and the Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon made an appeal to keep this spirit alive after the election: “after a disputed electoral campaign that often caused divisions, we should remember and reaffirm that the unity in diversity that characterizes the United States is one of the country’s strengths”.

However, upgrading voting technology will not only make the electorate feel safer, but also show other countries that with the right technology no action can subvert the popular will.


Ecuadorian CNE working against the clock

With less than three months for the February 2017 general elections, the Ecuadorian National Electoral Council (CNE) is still acting unsteadily when it comes to technology.

According to the CNE’s last report, the organism declared two biddings as deserted. The CNE hoped to acquire “the data transmission service between the CNE and the 1,818 Transmission and Broadcasting Sites (Rtpa), 450 out of which must have backup provisions for data transmission based on the scanning of precinct counts”.

Ecuador hoped to automate the transmission of these precinct counts having partial results, and was planning on the acquisition of the necessary technology.  However, as per CNE’s president Juan Pablo Pozo, the electoral body preferred to accept the donation of 2 thousand Korean devices for the digitization and transmission of precinct counts. The Asian nation is also to provide the software and training required.

To this date, the public has not been given more details on the technology that will be deployed.  Moreover, the CNE has not explained how the political parties, citizens and authorities will audit the system tasked with processing electoral data.

The most basic standards state that the adoption of any electronic solution should begin with a transparent selection process, pilot tests and public demonstrations.  None of these steps has taken place.

The CNE is taking a huge risk by improvising with the technology in charge of transmitting the votes.  A failure in this process would not only affect the CNE’s reputation and that of the electoral workers, but would also damage the democratic institutions by casting doubts on the electoral results.

It is time for the CNE to face the public and present the technology.

It may be noted that in 2014 it took the CNE almost a month to announce official results due to the failed work of the Spanish company Scytl.  Let us hope history will not repeat itself with technology from another side of the globe.

The United States faces the challenge of preliminary voting results

The United States of America will vote again on November 8th.  The election of Barack Obama’s successor has been marked by an acerbic electoral campaign that has touched even the voting system.  One of the candidates, Republican Donald Trump has adopted a position so far unseen in the country’s history: he has not guaranteed he will accept the results.

Due to Trump’s volatile stance, the expectations for his approval of the vote count are increasing, but there are electoral matters off the spotlight the country should revise and modify; such is the case of the process for making the results official.

In that country, electoral management depends on the counties, so each one has its own laws and there can be important differences between them, both judicial and technical.  For instance, in practice, the results being broadcast on election night are only preliminary, and every state has an average of five more weeks to formalize the count.

There is also early voting, which although takes place weeks before the election is counted a long time after the election proper, depending on norms varying by county or state.

This procedural reality has not affected the country in a significant way, since the basis for its democracy are solid. However, now that one of the contenders for the White House is doubting whether he will accept the results, the ghosts of 2000 are coming back to life.  In that election, the narrow margin between both candidates and the errors in vote identification and counting in the state of Florida generated a scandal that still reverberates among the population. The resolution of that election was delayed for weeks.

Facing the uncertainties in America about the upcoming power transfer, civil organizations, political parties and voters should put the spotlight on the need to review the laws that make it difficult for the election day vote count to have an official nature.

The sense of security given to the electorate by announcing formal results without delay makes the difference in extreme yet not atypical scenarios, such as when there is a narrow vote difference between the candidates, accusations of irregular practices or errors in the manual vote count.

The United States have the challenge of improving their voting certification process on both local and regional levels, in order to prevent preliminary results to tarnish a system that is acknowledged as safe, but which still has a wide margin to improve and become more secure.