Chile goes to the polls expecting to increase turnout

Chile will hold general elections in a month. Preparations are at a fever pitch, and so are expectations about turnout. The chronic voter abstention in the nation put the spotlight last year on the need to modernize the voting process; in reality no changes have been made for the upcoming November 19th vote.

The Chilean Electoral Service (Servel) reported that to choose the president, 155 deputies, 50 senators and hundreds of regional councils, there is an infrastructure in place that includes 2,156 polling centres, with 42,890 stations in them; abroad, some 110 polling centres with 162 stations will be made available.

According to the organism, everything is set for 14 million Chileans to go to the polls, and revert the electoral apathy seen in their last elections, the October 2016 municipal elections, which saw around 65% abstention.

This figure motivated former president and current candidate Sebastián Piñera and the Avanza Chile Foundation to present the government with a project last year which contemplates “early” voting for future Chilean elections, aiming at increasing turnout and correcting flaws such as their hard-to-handle voting ballots.

The proposal would mean adopting a yet unspecified automated voting system, which would open voting for 15 days before the election and close it 5 days before. It would be designed for both official elections and plebiscites.

Although this initiative gives an opening for the country to bank on their strengths (democratic stability and credible institutions), and make voting easier for their citizens through technology, for now Chile still goes to the polls without even having begun to search for a voting process that boosts turnout and strengthens the system.

Still, knowing that technology is a perk that improves accessibility and simplifies the voting process, this option remains available for future elections.


Costa Rica and Panama debate the use of voting technology

Costa Rica and Panama have begun debates about their upcoming elections. Costa Ricans will hold presidential elections in 2018, while Panamanians will have general elections in 2019.  The proximity of both events keeps fanning the debate about their voting systems, which includes the prospect of e-voting.

In Costa Rica, the subject of e-voting has gained momentum, and recently the president for Gallup in Latin America, Carlos Dentón, revealed that “a third of Costa Ricans are dissatisfied with the capabilities of the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE)”, according to the latest CID/Gallup poll.

Dentón warns that the rising mistrust should be a reason for automating the country’s elections, and revisiting the outdated Costa Rican voting model, even more so after the nation has had successful e-voting tests.

It is important to mention that Costa Rica delayed their voting automation  scheduled for 2018 due to budgetary constraints. The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) subscribed to a report by the Electoral Registry Directorate, which concludes “there is no economic feasibility for this project, at least in the short and medium term”, and that resources should be oriented to other priority areas.

This viewpoint stems from the considerable sum of money that must be paid for the acquisition of software and hardware, training human resources and educating citizens, but the Court failed to acknowledge that expenses go down considerably after adopting the technology; this because the money required for subsequent elections is only for needed for maintenance.

On their part, Panamanian authorities touched on the same subject during a forum held in the Electoral Court about the reform scheduled for their 2019 elections.

Panama tested in 2014 an e-voting model designed by the TSE, which reproduces characteristics of systems that have been tried in other countries, so the experiment was successful.

In this process, voters, who previously validate their identities, receive a card that unlocks a touch-screen voting machine. Options are then displayed on its screen.  In case of mistakes, there is a “clear screen” key. Once the choices have been correctly marked, the device will print a voting voucher that counts as a paper audit trail.

In the forum, participants were critical of the fact that, although there is a Panamanian-developed machine, the decisions to develop it further or put it in operation have not been made.

There was also talk of the conclusions on voting technology that emerged from this year’s meeting between Central American electoral organisms. There were recommendations to enforce high standards during vendor bids, keep the nation informed about the technology adoption process, reach for consensus, and guarantee a proper educational campaign for the voting model.

Given these discussions, Costa Rica and Panama already know that electoral technology is the best tool to get trustworthy voting results, and that its efficient use is vital to make elections secure and win the citizens’ trust.  Now it is up to them to choose to change, and improve.

Criticism mounts due to cost of manual voting in Mexico

In 2018, Mexicans will live the largest election in their history when they simultaneously carry out 3 federal and 30 local votes. Despite the complexity of the process, what is generating criticism is the cost predicted.

The president of the Mexican National Electoral Institute (INE), Lorenzo Córdova, admitted the organism will request 25.4 billion Pesos, their “highest budget in history”. Córdova justified this sum, claiming that from the total, some 18.256 million Pesos will finance the organism’s operative expenses, and 6.788 million Pesos will go towards financing political parties and independent candidates.

Analyzing this request for resources, analysts calculate that each vote for every Mexican voter will cost 245 Pesos (USD 12.5), while the INE calculates 205 Pesos (USD 10.75). In both cases, these amounts make manual voting in Mexico one of the most expensive in the world; moreover, the vote will remain manual despite its level of technical complexity.

The main criticism is directed at the hefty amount of resources the INE is alloting to political parties, as well as the relationship between the cost of the election and its reliability, which does not match the fiscal sacrifice the investment represents.

When evaluating these figures about the Mexican electoral budget, it is worth quoting the Global Survey on the Cost of Registration and Elections, developed by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which states that the lowest cost per voter (between USD 1-3) is found in countries with consolidated democracies such as Australia, and in some states in the US. On the other hand, nations with automated voting such as Venezuela and Brazil invest between USD 3 and 3.5 respectively.

Mexico is then in a group of democracies with manual voting systems that tend to have a higher cost per voter.

Seeing these figures, political actors and specialists should refocus the debate.  Instead of honing on party financing, it would be convenient to open a discussion on the need to modernize the vote.

Experience shows that although voting modernization does indeed require significant investments during the adoption phase of the technology, its use generates medium and long-term savings, since all future expenses are focused on maintenance and updates. Mexico has a long road ahead, but their next elections could be the starting line.