Technology as a way out of Chilean voter apathy


Foto: El Mostrador

In 2012, accusations of massive electoral fraud with as much as one million ballots allegedly being lost rocked Chile. As a result, confidence in the manual system plummeted to an all-time low. In the 2016 October municipal elections only 4,931,041 voters went to the polls – a dismal 35% turnout.

The worsening voter apathy has prompted former president Sebastián Piñera and the Avanza Chile Foundation to present the government with a project that proposes “early” e-voting for future Chilean elections, with the goal of increasing turnout.

The proposal would mean adopting an automated voting system (still unspecified) which would open voting for 15 days before the election and close it 5 days before.  It would be designed for both elections and plebiscites.

This initiative gives an opening for the country to bank on their strengths (democratic stability and credible institutions), using technology to make voting easier for their citizens.  Chile needs to stimulate turnout, and technology is a tool that improves access and makes voting more user friendly.

In the region, there are successful experiences that can be seen as references. Brazil and Venezuela are the flag bearers of electoral automation in Latin America, and even though the two countries employ different solutions, they share similarities in having e-voting systems widely accepted by their citizens.

In the case of Brazil, the Superior Electoral Court developed its own model, based on a machine with a numerical keypad. At the end of the day, these machine prints several records with the results; one of these records is stored in a magnetic disk, and is transmitted over a secure network for the tallying taking place in the Court’s computers.

On the other hand, Venezuela has 100% automated elections since 2004. The voters exercise their right through touch screen voting machines, selecting their choices directly on the screen of the device and getting a paper voucher that reflects them. The voters are also identified by means of a biometric system.  The devices are not only capable of recording and storing the vote, but also to count it, tally it and transmit it using encryption.

Compared to these examples, Chile’s fledgling efforts to modernize its elections barely move the needle. Yet these are important steps in reversing the worrisome trend of voter apathy, and which creates elections where participation is the rule and not the exception.

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