Argentina takes concrete steps toward electoral transformation

During the Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Mandatory elections (PASO, for Primarias, Abiertas, Simultáneas y Obligatorias) recently held in Argentina, a new mechanism was implemented in order to transmit the precinct counts (“Telegrams”) directly from the voting places (schools) to the computer center. Both the data transmission software and the technology and services for the provisional count were provided by the Smartmatic company, after winning two public tenders by Correo Argentino.

Previously, telegrams traveled in vans under custody by the General Electoral Command to the so-called Digitalization and Transmission Centers (CTD), which could be located up to 86 km away from the voting venue. Consequently, in provinces having difficult access the transfer of electoral materials was often delayed compared to those schools in urban sectors whose materials reached the CTD in a matter of minutes. This negatively impacted the speed with which provisional results could be offered.

This year, in spite of questionings and denunciations from sectors opposed to change, the system in charge of the capture and transmission of results worked correctly and safely during the whole Election Day.  For the first time in the history of elections in this country, the results were known in record time, e.g. by midnight the count of a full 87% of telegrams was made public.

It is important to note that the improvements implemented in the process do not affect the procedure with which Argentina has held free elections since 1916. After the voting closed, voting station authorities manually count the votes and prepare the electoral documents. In this way, documents such as Telegrams are produced, which serve to carry out the provisional tally, which has an informative nature; and the formal Precinct Count, a document used by each district’s electoral justice to perform the final count 48 hours after the polls have closed.

Just as the provisional count reached a record number of results published by 10:30 pm, in parallel, and for the first time in Argentine elections, the voting station authorities, general prosecutors and proxies of political parties were able to view the scanned telegrams and compare them with the physical certificates the same night of the election.

This level of transparency attained in the publication of telegrams revealed the inconsistencies of manual voting mechanisms. In Argentina, as in all countries that vote traditionally, these shortcomings or inconsistencies occur when voting station authorities set to completing electoral documents.

Hernán Mogni, the secretary of the National Electoral Prosecutor, declared that “it is common that there are cross-outs in telegrams, they are part of human error.”

What happened prompted statements and opinions that sought to discredit the electoral process or its public perception. However, only a provisional tally was involved -with no legal consequences- and the situation was settled by the electoral authorities, as when the final count was made it was shown that errors in telegrams affected less than 1% of the votes, something unable to alter the final result.

An authorized voice, such as Alejandro Tullio, former director of the National Electoral Directorate (DINE) of the Ministry of Interior,  ruled out any irregularity stating that “You cannot talk about fraud for this reason: the telegram is an element lacking validity. What is valid is the result stated in the precinct counts. A 100% of the counts are counted again in each electoral court”, and this is what arrives at the final result.

In summary, although the inconsistencies in the telegrams do not affect final results, Argentinian authorities must propose solutions that mitigate human error in their electoral processes. In turn, they ought to implement solutions that support electoral workers on Election Day. In most cases, errors occur due to the exhaustion of electoral authorities and workers, who spend more than 12 hours at a polling place and still have to perform crucial tasks such as the counting of votes and the filling of materials.