Fighting disinformation in the 2019 Argentine elections


I am sharing this article by the Transparencia Electoral organization, about some “fake news” published in Argentina a few months before elections.

In Brazil, in the 2018 elections, several agencies waged a crusade to disprove false news, usually shared at a high rate. Based on what is found in the media and especially in social networks, it’s obvious that Argentina has this same challenge ahead.

This year’s elections in Argentina have added certain changes as compared to the way they had been customarily carried out. One of them has to do with data transmission (precinct reports) from polling stations in schools or elsewhere.

‘Telegrams’ will no longer be carried by Correo Argentino workers to the digitization and transmission centers, as in previous elections. This year, each one of the schools will become a digitization and data transmission center, to send results directly from the voting stations in some 15,000 schools. In this way, as indicated by Adrián Pérez, the Secretary of Political and Institutional Affairs, “there will be a faster tally, officials will be present at transmission time, and the data flow will be more homogeneous.”

This news has been used by some actors to deliberately fabricate disinformation, even forecasting a purported fraud taking advantage of the new transmission method. In this sense, we have selected some of the (dis)information pieces that have been most viral, with the purpose of dismantling them:

Based on information from the Transparencia Electoral organization.

FAKE

“The software that will be used during the transmission process is called Election 360”

TRUTH

The name of the software is Módulo de Transmisión (Transmission Module), and it will enable Correo Argentino agents to scan and transmit directly from the voting stations in schools, in the presence of the board president and appointed officials.


FAKE

The transmission of the telegram to the computer center incorporates intelligent handwriting recognition software, which edits the information of the telegram using manuscript characters identical to those of the board president”

TRUTH

The scanning and transmission software is not designed to edit or  change any information in telegrams. The function of the software is only to capture and transmit data.


FAKE

“Telegrams are going to be eliminated”

TRUTH

Telegrams will NOT be done away with. The direct transmission from voting centers does not at all change the handling of the precinct reports, ballot boxes, additional documentation nor final tallies, which are of legal value; and is in charge of the Justicia Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Justice).

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Los Angeles as a world reference in electoral technology


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The County of Los Angeles —the largest in the United States— is modernizing its electoral technology in view of the 2020 elections. The solution it will offer to its voters will place it at the forefront in electoral matters.

In 2009 the city initiated the “Voting Solutions for All People” (VSAP) project seeking to replace its current electoral system, thus heeding the call of experts who have warned about the need for the country to update the multiple voting models used, since each county is autonomous in the management of its electoral system.

Although the project has been in development for more than a decade, it was in mid-2018 when decisive steps were taken to modernize the way Angelenos vote, and thus correct a good portion of the electoral obsolescence problems that the entire United States have long been enduring.

Specifically, in June 2018, Los Angeles authorities signed a contract with multinational Smartmatic, which makes it the provider of voting machines and software to be used by this Californian city from 2020 onward. Moreover, voters in Los Angeles County will be preparing for the next Presidential Primary election.

For the moment, the new system is expected to bestow a definite advantage to Los Angeles in the use of electoral technology in the country, since in addition to being the first Open Source electoral tool, it is projected to stand out as a voting model that encompasses all the benefits of automation (security, speed, transparency, secrecy) and also fits the characteristics of Angelino electors.

In that sense, the new electronic vote is expected to provide all the guarantees allowed by technology, while also counting with innovations such as the Interactive Ballot. Dean Logan, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, whose department is in charge of registering voters, maintaining voter files, and managing federal, state, local and special elections, explained that the Interactive Ballot will allow to vote via mobile phones prior to the elections, so that on Election Day voters can scan the QR code in person and have an speedy and simple election experience at the vote center.

The improvements do not end there. Also, the renewed electronic vote for Los Angeles will have facilities for those voters with a disability, and even those who do not master English fully will see their access to the system optimized. Another key element that will emerge strengthened from the updated process will be the tallying.

These are several of the goodies that to be brought by the electronic vote that LA will start using next year.

Its development and implementation will put LA at the forefront in the use of electoral technology, since it will not only help voters feel more secure, but also will show that with the right tools, no action aimed at subverting the popular will is worth trying.

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.