Lacking options, Mexico will employ quick vote counts and Prep again

On June 4th, six states in Mexico will go to the polls in what will be the event that starts the journey to the 2018 Presidential elections.  The different electoral organisms from those regions have confirmed they are ready to service millions of voters that will elect governors, local deputies and city hall members.

Facing this process, it is a good time to look into the electoral system of this Latin American country.  Their manual elections have not been free of incidents; for instance, the 2015 parliamentary elections, where the National Electoral Institute (INE) was forced to perform the biggest recount in its history – 60% of all polling stations.

It has been two years since, but Mexicans had no other choice but to keep using the same manual voting model, which implies accepting quick vote counts and the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (Prep in Spanish), given the impossibility of modernizing their system thanks to a lack of political willpower.  A legal reform is needed, budgets need to be allocated, and this hinges upon political disposition.

The first instance of vote tallying in Mexico is a quick count.   The National Electoral Institute defines it as the statistical procedure to estimate the trend of the results, which is to be made public shortly after polls close; that is, an unofficial presentation of the vote count within a reasonable time after the end of the process.

This mechanism has been a sort of “solution” for countries that do not employ technology during their vote counts, and it aims to mitigate the citizen uncertainty product of the biggest flaws of manual voting: delays in the official results, tampering of certified election returns and inconsistencies in the count.

For example, the Electoral Institute of Mexico State (which together with Coahuila, Nayarit, Veracruz, Oaxaca an Tlaxcala will hold elections this Sunday) has announced that after several trial runs, both the quick count and the Prep are ready for the event.  In the light of the “unofficial speed” of the pre-count results, this procedure shows an acceptable performance in some scenarios. However, severe logistical and procedural problems work against its reason to be in the first place.

Other regions will also use the Prep, a mechanism where the electoral returns are made public after being scanned and transmitted to storage centres, which then upload them to a website.  In this case, the data made that is public is also preliminary in nature since, according to the law, the tallying of results must be done manually.

Upon taking a closer look to this process, it is evident that although Mexico wanted to move forward using tools like optical scanners, a full modernization of the system has been put on hold, as shown by the constant deferral of pilot tests or reforms year after year.  Case in point, testing an automated model that would allow Mexicans abroad to vote was delayed until 2018.

Mexico keeps getting closer to the moment where they will have to decide whether to stay trapped in an obsolete manual voting system, or give electoral technology a bigger space. The latter is the only way to make voting easier, protect it from fraud, and guarantee a quick delivery of secure, official results.


Colombia surprises by announcing design of an e-voting pilot

In recent years, Colombia has been full of surprises when it comes to electoral matters, but these have not always of the good kind.  Delayed results, accusations of irregularities, and setbacks in the modernization of the voting system have tarnished several events and, although the authorities have started many projects to solve these issues, none has come to fruition yet.

For instance, the creation in 2013 of the Associate Commission for the Implementation of Electoral Technology.  After scandalous regional elections, where the system was flooded by dozens of accusations of fraud and voting vices, the National Civil Registry Office began a process of consultation and analysis to modernize the voting mechanisms. This even included an international bidding process with the participation of 16 companies, with the hopes of designing the pilot test of an automated voting model.

Despite these advances, the Commission did not implement any actions, so the Colombian government chose to install in 2017 an Special Electoral Mission, conceived to provide council and turn the ship around, by revisiting the nation’s old and questioned voting model.

Then, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos formalized the start of operations for this Mission as part of fulfilling point number two of the peace agreement signed last November between the government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). This agreement contemplates the “expansion” of democracy through “greater transparency in the voting process”.

Until then, the steps taken by Colombia to transform its voting system had been duly informed to the public, meeting the standard required whenever changes in human right matters are made -political participation in this case.

However, National Civil Registrer Juan Carlos Galindo has done away with the practice, by announcing that the organism he represents “has already designed a pilot plan for e-voting that will be implemented”.

His statements took the country by surprise. Although the Electoral Mission is still active, and it delivered a series of proposal regarding voting modernization last April, the use of electoral technology is still subordinated to the 2004 Act which governs voting automation. The document presented by the Mission does not allude to changes in technology, only to aspects related to the organization and funding of electoral events.

Galindo stated that the pilot has not been carried out due to lack of funds, but gave no details as to the model devised to test e-voting in Colombia.

The last time the country had a conversation about testing electoral technology was in 2013, when the Associate Commission proposed to automate voting in 93 circuits, so a sizable number of voters could experience both the models being proposed back then: optical scanners, based on a ballot with a scanner that identifies and processes ballots for an automatic count; and Direct Electronic Register (DRE), touch-screen enabled machines where the voter makes their choices, which the machine stores, counts and transmits to a tallying centre.  These devices also have the capability of printing voting vouchers that reflect the options chosen by the user.

Galindo’s statements set off alarms: it is not known whether the pilot designed meets the characteristics agreed upon in 2013, or if this is a new test, whose reach and conditions are only known to the authorities.

It is understood that any analysis, pilot test or implementation of electoral technology requires a broad consultation. and informing political actors and the general population. This because transparency in the adoption of the automated model chosen is just as vital as its compliance with the nation’s requirements.  Colombia must advance in electoral matters, but the Civil Registry Office must show their hand, unreservedly, if they are to be credible.

Mexico advances in two electoral technology processes

Mexico decide to postpone until 2018 what would have been its first binding federal e-voting experience: online voting for nationals abroad. Although this cancellation generated critics among Mexicans abroad, national and state authorities have not stopped the development of the system and they are getting ready to present technology-based improvements.

Speaking of these matters, the National Electoral Institute (INE) announced that the electronic enrolment of Mexicans abroad will be modernized shortly.

According to the latest reports by the INE, out of the millions of Mexicans residing abroad (10 million estimated in the US alone), barely 300 thousand have requested their voter ID; therefore the INE is aiming to make enrolment easier through technology, to the point where 500 thousand Mexicans register to vote.

The Institute believes that technology will encourage participation, as it has in other sectors.  For instance, the United Kingdom proved in 2015 that voters preferred automated voter registration instead of using the postal service.

The Mexican Electoral Registry project only needs the approval of the General Council to be set in motion. This way, Mexicans residing abroad will be able to choose between enrolment via the technological platform or the postal service. The requirements by the INE to enrol are: a birth certificate, proof of address and a photograph.

Also in Mexico, the burough of Cuauhtémoc in Mexico City is planning an automated voted event for June 25th, where it will be decided whether borough president Ricardo Monreal will stay in his position or be asked to leave.

The Electoral Institute (IEDF) considers the use of electronic voting will reduce costs to the minimum and improve turnout. IEDF Chairman Mario Velázquez explained that the voting system is already set.

It is an Internet voting model which was already used in the participative budget process of 2017. The organism explains that users must request a password in advance to log into the voting platform, or go to designated polling stations with voting machines.

This way, while the financial viability of e-voting for Mexicans abroad is being considered, Mexico continues working in the automation of some phases of the voting process (e.g. voter registration), also allowing for the use of technology in different regions. Each one of these actions is important for the full automation of their electoral system.