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Dentón warns that the rising mistrust should be a reason for automating the country’s elections, and revisiting the outdated Costa Rican voting model, even more so after the nation has had successful e-voting tests.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

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Argentina prepares a reform to allow nationwide e-voting


Argentina

Argentina had a 2015 full of difficulties when it came to electoral matters.  First, a tight electoral schedule that forced a series of voting events all over the country; and second, there were failures not only with manual voting, but also with the Single Electronic Ballot (BUE) used in some regions.

Facing the need to fix such issues, the country eagerly awaits the electoral reform that the Executive will put forward in the upcoming weeks.   The authorities have set to create a law that deals with the modernization of the voting system, where automation could replace the country’s outdated manual procedures.

Regarding the discussion this proposal entails, and which is now taking place in the political sphere, it is worth noting that successful automation cases have all dutifully taken a series of provisions, such as: adopting automation progressively; evaluating the local infrastructure and all possible obstacles; considering the system’s sustainability (i.e. its endurance and worthiness over time), and searching and comparing a variety of offerings in the market.

When it comes to automation, Argentina is already under way.  In the year 2015, e-voting was successfully implemented in the Cordoba province , and the province of  Salta and the city of Buenos Aires saw automated vote counting.

Finding the right automation model is a tall order, since there are several offerings from different companies.  When it comes to choosing, it is vital to carry out a bidding process that meets the highest standards, and which considers the summons of international, experienced suppliers.  The technology to be implemented must provide a flexible e-voting model, one which meets the legal, technical and financial needs of the country, as well as its idiosyncrasies.

The challenges are varied, but it is necessary that all authorities, political parties and citizens are careful about all the aspects of automation.  Technology can be used to make any step of an election easier, but its proper and massive use will make the difference between automated and manual processes.

E-voting, key in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections


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Venezuelans vote using touchscreen machines and electronic ballots.

Venezuela voted this 6 December to renew all 167 seats in the National Assembly (AN). In spite of the deep political unrest that has dragged on for years, the elections were conducted normally and the results were accepted immediately by losing candidates.

One of the keys to the calm with which the process unfolded lies in the automated voting system, which allowed for accurate and verifiable results for all polling centers.

In some districts the election outcome was very close. As can be seen on the National Electoral Council’s website, in the Circuit 3 Aragua state constituency, opposition candidate Karin Salanova won by a bare 83 votes over Rosa León, the government’s candidate. Despite this narrow margin (0.06%), the losing candidate accepted defeat without major fanfare, a fact which represents unequivocal proof of the accuracy and transparency of the automated system.

The results from the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the subsequent statements of political actors show that the e-voting model the country uses since 2004, provided by Smartmatic, enables securing the people’s intent, regardless of the political position taken. Notably, during the 11 years the system has been used, candidates and proposals of all positions have won and lost.

From the opposition, the executive secretary of the Bureau for Unity, Jesús Torrealba, and one of the elected candidates, Delsa Solórzano, indicated that the CNE provided data that acknowledges the results as reflected in the precinct reports that each party holds; the Government also validated the computations delivered. The head of the campaign command for Chavismo, Jorge Rodriguez, said that despite the adverse result the movement accepts the information from the automated count.

The Venezuelan technology platform was examined, as is a tradition in the electoral timetable, through various audits, all certified by political organizations before, during, and after the elections. Besides those revisions, the same night of the election, a public citizen inspection was performed in 54% of the polling stations. This test confirmed that the will of the voters expressed in the physical vouchers of the votes matched what was reflected on the precinct count printed by the machine.

International observers have also shown a positive opinion about the system and the elections in general. The secretary general of Unasur, Ernesto Samper, celebrated the process. “These elections were very transparent, almost flawless in terms of episodes that could tamper with them”, he said. According to Samper, “it has been confirmed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system provides additional protection for the electoral system, with further proof provided by the printed ballot that is deposited in the ballot box, which makes it perhaps one of the strongest systems in Latin America.”

The broad scope of performing reviews to e-voting was also addressed by Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic. “Along with voters, universities, NGOs, political parties and electoral authorities around the world, we have built the only voting system that is fully verifiable from beginning to end,” he said.

After 14 national elections since 2004, more than 120 audits in 11 years, politicians from both sides winning and losing with the same voting machines, Venezuela confirms that e-voting was and is key to the success of elections in this country.