Scandal hurts the Dominican Republic in their attempt to automate the elections


It was a scandal in the DR and abroad that finally had to be acknowledged by the Central Electoral Board (JCE): during the 2016 general elections there were failures that altered the electronic counts and affected institutions to an extent that is yet unknown.

For these elections, the JCE hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology. The results were clearly negative, given the logistic, technical and operational errors shown both by the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines. Indra’s lack of experience in both tasks, and the shoddy work of the electoral body, had clear consequences.

This blog has reiterated that the success of every automation project begins with a transparent selection process based on technical merits.  When politics outweigh technology, these problems will occur.

The report by the JCE is damning. It states that “improvisation, lack of control, and the lack of a work plan integrated with a strategic plan and the electoral calendar, were evident”. A contract was signed for $40 million (and was later expanded): the voting devices were delivered in such a short time frame that it became impossible to train the staff on their use or test their effectiveness, there were purchases made that were missing from the official budget, most importantly, the hardware and software purchased did not serve their original purpose.

Some examples supporting the claims of the Board’s IT Directorate are the “low performance” of the machines, both during simulations and the elections proper, up to the point where they could not read the choices voters had marked on their ballots, and the fact that “data transmission during the trials did not surpass 74% of the polling centres” and only reached 64% on election day.

Regarding the hardware, there were problems such as the batteries in the biometric ID machines not working properly, USB ports in the voting machines failing, and their “start” buttons not operating.

In the end, all these problems resulted in “a total of 796 polling centres in which some value was replaced”, i.e. with inconsistencies between the automated tally and the manual one amounting to a difference of 9,222 votes.

Several voices came together to demand a thorough investigation of the JCE, and for Indra’s tools not to be used again. This notion is backed by the report, which recommends: “not to use [Indra’s] automated vote registration and count devices for future electoral events”.

This misstep by the Dominican Republic can only be blamed on the authorities in charge of closing deals and making purchases, and the company that bid to offer a service they were in no capacity to provide.  The Frente Amplio de Lucha Popular claimed the contract to be a sham, and requested those responsible to be tried.

This scandalous result makes it clear that the Electoral Board has squandered public trust; the credibility of their mandate is now lost, as it is the system’s.  This debacle also includes the mismanagement of significant public resources that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace; these could have been used to provide the country with a voting system that not only automated some stages of the process, but also added technology and security to the election as a whole.

Advertisements

Argentina sees a new opportunity to modernize their voting


The recent victory of Argentinian president Mauricio Macri in the October legislative elections has given him the political capital to pursue old aspirations, such as an electoral reform that includes e-voting.

The very night the results were made public, Macri announced he would call all the sectors in the country to carry out legal changes of long political, economic and institutional reach.

This interest shown by the president can represent additional momentum, at least in electoral matters, since irregularities were reported during the closing of the election, an evidence of the country’s urgent need for a real modernization of its system.

For instance, in this article published by Leandro Querido, a political scientist specializing in electoral observation, some of these irregularities, faults and shortcomings are described in detail: vote counts made on blackboards, ballot theft, irregular marking of some ballots, certified electoral returns that were handwritten, and irregularities in the delivery of these statements to the tallying centres.

On the other hand, six provinces used biometric ID technology (fingerprint recognition), and this prevented old vices like double voting or identity theft from resurfacing, thus improving transparency in general.

Facing both realities, Argentina suffered in October from shortcomings that are typical to manual voting, but also experienced the benefits of technology, which could favour future debates on the reform.

As to this change in the legislation, it is worth mentioning that the country spent several months in 2016 discussing an amendment, whose axis was the progressive adoption of the Single Electronic Ballot (BUE), but this bill died in the senate.

Newspaper La Nación had an editorial on the topic, stating that, although the government did not generate a proper media climate that urged lawmakers to act, the Senate was also unwilling to discard the “ballot manipulation” allowed by manual voting.

Despite this, and with Macri’s political success, it is taken for granted that this new attempt to embrace e-voting will be successful, and that it will be a real improvement for the country.

In the last bill, together with the clause on gradual adoption of technology, it was mandatory for the country to adopt a Single Electronic Ballot (BUE), i.e. the model employed in Salta, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. The BUE has had a mixed performance; it has worked relatively well in some elections but it has always raised doubts on its capacity so safely reflect the electorate’s will.

These two aspects must be debated. Even though international standards warn about the need to implement voting automation progressively, Argentina has been at the process of adoption for several years already, which makes it contradictory to delay it any further.

As far as the model to be employed, the country will have time to gauge the different types of e-voting variants available in the market, such as those that automate all stages, unlike the BUE, which only automates ballot printing and vote scanning.

E-vote for citizens abroad gains traction in Spain


Voting for expatriates tends to be a controversial issue in many countries, not only because the laws of several nations curtail the exercise of this political right, but also because the logistic required to let foreign nationals vote often hinders the process.

To turn this around, Spain is looking for solutions, and e-voting is considered as one of the tools to surpass the limitations faced by expatriates.

Early this year, Catalonians complained about the lack of legislation regulating political participation for expatriates, and about the absence of a technological mechanism to solve the difficulties of organizing elections outside the national territory.

More recently, the Central Electoral Board has spoken about the need to rescue the political rights of Spaniards residing abroad by means of e-voting.

The president of the board, Carlos Granados, has proposed the adoption of an automated model to solve the difficulties Spaniards who reside abroad face in order to vote. This was mentioned to the commission in charge of studying voting reform.

For Granados, although the so called voto rogado – i.e. ”pleaded vote”, where the voter must previously communicate their will to vote to an institution that may grant or refuse their request – is indeed constitutional, its application has meant delays and procedures which have reduced turnout. Granados states that they are looking for legal changes that allow the use of electoral technology as an alternative to conventional voting mechanisms like postal voting or voting in consulates, which should be kept nonetheless, but with “improvements”.

These statements join the recurrent claims from voters abroad, who usually face technical and logistical hurdles that curtail their democratic rights.  Some of these include the reception of wrong electoral materials at the diplomatic missions or the remote location of polling centres, usually consulates or embassies.  They also face difficulties to register and validate their condition as voters, primarily due to the request by some nations to have legal residency, or the fear of disclosing their migratory status.

Facing this reality, Spain finds itself in a good position to open the doors to change.  With it, they would make the political participation of all their citizens more viable, but this would also pave the road to select the safest and most effective voting model for all the republic.