Fast and transparent results neutralized polarization in Argentina

The night of October 27 brought good news for Argentina, as provisional tallies expedited the processing and publication of results. Immediately after the results were published, incumbent president Mauricio Macri acknowledged his defeat, which brought calm to the country after a political campaign marked by polarization.

Thanks to the new logistics and technology platform implemented, the results were reported in record time. Only three hours after the polls were closed, auditable results were published online and no formal complaints about them have been filed so far.

This successful performance of the voting system was largely possible thanks to the technology recently adopted by the Argentine Post. The software used to transmit telegrams directly from voting schools to the computer center, as well as the technology and services of the provisional count, were provided by Smartmatic.

By the 21st hour, 70.48% of telegrams had been digitized, transmitted and loaded onto the system. By midnight, 96.08% had been processed. Only four years ago, at that same hour it had barely been possible to process less than 10% of telegrams.

In order to achieve this electoral milestone, 11,380 Argentine Mail agents were required, who transmitted telegrams from more than 10,000 voting venues to the computer centers. Further, 1700 operators in those centers were in charge of digitizing and loading results to the system. All this data could be queried online right away by political parties.

What happened in this election cast away the crazy criticisms that were made against the incorporation of electoral technology in the country. In addition to sowing doubt, those baseless criticisms fueled political polarization.

The accuracy of the results is one of the best arguments for those who promote the application of technology to register the vote. Argentina overcame all kinds of obstacles and was able to offer timely and reliable scrutiny, which reflected the popular will and legitimized the new authorities. The positive experience lived on October 27 will be key to promoting the expansion of electoral automation and to continue improving the efficiency and transparency of the elections.

Dominican Republic primary elections plagued with fraud and automated system flaws

The new voting system developed by the Central Electoral Board (JCE, for Junta Central Electoral) of the Dominican Republic had a premiere full of flaws and complaints about irregularities. After this blunder, the great expectations the JCE had raised vanished, and today what is looming is an electoral crisis.

The platform designed by the electoral authorities, premiered at the official primaries of October 6, brought forth more doubts than certainties. Issues range from late voting, plus lack of information for using the technology, up to fraud allegations by presidential candidate Leonel Fernández, of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).

At a press conference, Leonel Fernández warned that there were irregularities with the automated system software’ source code, and that the equipment used during the primaries was supposed to be audited in January but such activity was never carried out.

“What our technicians are witnessing is that an algorithm was installed in the software source code that tampered with the results, that is why in order to anticipate that situation we had repeatedly insisted that the matching of physical votes vs. electronic votes should have been carried out, as it’s done everywhere in the world”, he stated.

In view of this situation, the mission of electoral observers of the Permanent Conference of Political Parties for Latin America and the Caribbean formally requested the Central Electoral Board to increase the manual counting of votes up to 50%.

In addition, they recommended performing this manual audit in view of the fact that a brand-new automated system was used. They considered that it was necessary to raise the percentage of audited votes and to halt the dissemination of preliminary results until there was a significant percentage of the voting centers already counted.

Listín Diario reported that there were inconsistencies in the data supplied by the Central Electoral Board  at the municipal voting level in municipal districts, between the total numbers of people registered in electoral demarcations and the valid votes registered in the voting system.

Apart from the denunciations by presidential candidate Leonel Fernández, some voters warned about flaws and poor elector education for these primaries.

Long lines of voters were observed in several polling stations in the country, which according to complaints collected by the media, were a result of the flaws in the automated system, and in some cases resulted because the JCE sent too few devices to voting centers.

On the other hand, elderly adults had to ask the electoral operators for assistance in order to vote, because they “did not know what automated voting consists of ”, so they asked the JCE to make more information available about electronic voting for the 2020 elections.

For now, while the Central Electoral Board declared that the system had worked well “during a day of pride for the country”, Candidate Leonel Fernandez said he will request the annulment of the elections and that he will call for peaceful demonstrations in the country to denounce the fraud.

The electoral future of the Dominican Republic looks gloomy, without greater transparency or actions aimed at correcting the flaws that appear when an automated voting model is implemented with poor or no planning, and disregarding the successful models of other countries.

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.