Preliminary count in El Salvador calms the waters


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Several weeks have passed since El Salvador headed to the polls to elect 168 congress seats and 262 municipal councils and no official results have been announced. Yet the overall political climate remains calmed thanks in part to the preliminary results announced by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) on March 5, the day after the elections.

El Salvador has an extremely complex manual voting system. A 2015 reform allowed voters to assign 0.5 to different candidates making the tallying process much more cumbersome. Given this important change, TSE decided to utilize technology to help poll center operators generate timely preliminary results.

For this preliminary count, TSE tested the Korean scanners and software from MIRU, which were used to digitize and transmit the voting records, and the software and services of the multinational Smartmatic to process said records and publish the results in real-time. The use of technology proved successful as it has helped generate peace of mind among Salvadorians (and their political parties) while the TSE finalizes the official count.

Election Day saw no major incidents. The web publication system allowed the TSE to announce voting trends per political party (number of deputies) the same night of the election. These trends were first shown online at 8:00 pm. However, during the preliminary count there was a failure that affected the votes for legislators in two of the 15 departments – San Salvador and La Libertad. Smartmatic’s Director for Central America, Francisco Campos, explained that “a tiny piece of software failed to capture the candidates’ names, and placed them at random”. Thanks to technology and the real-time publication of results, the inconsistency was made evident and quickly solved. Political parties and citizens were able to audit results by contrasting tallying reports with the website.

Despite the fact that the failure corrected on time, and that political parties had all the evidence on their hands to corroborate the accuracy of the results published online, some political parties reacted against the modernization of future elections. The error was acknowledged and corrected thanks to technology; nonetheless, these parties have begun a campaign to pedal back the progress made by El Salvador towards improving their voting system.

Leandro Querido, an election expert who leads the NGO analyzed what transpired on social media, pointing that “opposing the incorporation of technology in electoral processes is reactionary, but above all, ludicrous. What happened in El Salvador was an error in the manual entries to the provisional results, which was detected by the technology itself and quickly solved thanks to it”.

El Salvador needs to make the best of what happened, learn from the experience and continue modernizing its voting system by relying on technology.

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