El Salvador, one of the democracies demanding most attention in the region due to the political violence that has plagued it for years, has decided to suspend the use of technology for the organization of their 2018 elections. This decision puts in risk the transparency of the vote, scheduled for next March 4th.
According to the country’s Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), this measure is mainly a result of government budget cuts. According to magistrate Guadalupe Medina, the reduction of $14.116.490 from their expenses has “touched the heart of the electoral process, the nerves of the process”.
Such dramatic statements come from the fact that early TSE reports show this lack of resources will affect key election processes: the modernization of the transmission process, the processing and publication of electoral results, the training of voting officials, and electoral logistics.
TSE magistrate Miguel Ángel Cardoza explained that there was a bid for the purchase of optical vote scanners on the schedule (the machines would also be used for digitizing the election returns) but this plan had to be scrapped due to the lack of funds.
It is interesting that the Salvadorian government chose to sacrifice the modernization of the counting stage of the process. In all recent elections (such as the 2015 election of deputies and mayors, and the 2014 presidential election) problems typical to manual voting, such as numerical inconsistencies and double voting, and failures by the companies chosen for the scanning and transmission of election returns to tallying centres, forced the TSE to delay the announcement of official results for weeks.
Cardoza warns that votes will need to be counted manually again, trusting that the scanning of election results will work this time, and the problems and failures will not be repeated. He stated that the only resort is to improve the training of the poll staff, but he admitted the resources alloted for this stage were also cut.
Given the particular requirements of a voting process, and good practices for the use of technology, what happened in El Salvador needs to be reviewed. Risking political stability by skipping vital needs for every election, and by not adopting automated systems that are tailored to said needs, can only make the voters’ will more vulnerable and harm their trust on institutions.