Colombia assesses the risks entailed by 2015 manual elections


elecciones colombia

Manual voting and pre-count have sparked doubts about the results of Colombian elections. Photo: http://www.elnuevoherald.com

2015 is a year with an important electoral calendar for Colombia. Local elections will be held in October (mayors and governors), and during the first half of the year political parties will hold their own internal polls. Furthermore, there is the possibility that a referendum for peace is held in case the Government and the FARC reach an agreement.

This foreseeable agenda will occupy a fair chunk of the year’s available time. In light of the challenge entailed by having to organize and execute elections without having to endure the ills that have affected recent electoral events, registrar Carlos Ariel Sánchez admitted there are risks such as transhumance (registering to vote in a place other than one’s residence) and excessive expenses in campaigns. However, he remained silent on serious issues such as void votes, pre-counting (initial results of purely informational nature, which often do not match the official count), double voting, or delays in the delivery of the final results.

Sánchez admitted that the implementation of an e-voting model in the country “is still pending”. Such a model should help the nation to overcome the distrust that has clouded some electoral processes. However, he pointed out that although the Registrar’s Office has the ability to implement the technology, it all depends on the Executive branch allocating a budget to it.

Colombia has a law that enables the automation of elections since 2004. In March 2012, an advisory commission was created for the implementation of e-voting, but this process has not progressed much since then. Although a call for bids was made internationally, and 16 companies applied to design a pilot test, the event still hasn’t been scheduled and resources have not yet been allocated to make viable the use of technology.

So far, two automated voting models have been approved for experimentation: Precinct-Count Optic Scan (PCOS), and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE). However, the nation is still postponing the debate that would help to overcome the system currently in use, which sometimes has worked for a manual presidential election, but which has proven to be unsuitable for more complex voting processes, such as this year’s local elections.

Colombia: Slow but steady progress toward automation


eleccionescolombiaColombia’s negative experience with manual voting has been going on for years, mainly because the first results as a rule have been non-official, and the “successful” system used to elect one post—such as the country’s President—has proven totally deficient when elections acquire some degree of complexity—governors, mayors, deputies.

Based on the need to advance and leave electoral scandals behind, the country has created the Advisory Commission for the Implementation of E-Voting, a group that pushed forward the resolve of modernizing suffrage once again this year.

The task force held a new meeting recently and agreed on requesting the General Solicitor’s support, along with the National Registrar’s IT Management, to “define the most important technical aspects to be required of companies interested in conducting the e-voting test” being prepared by the Nation.

Last year, the Registrar’s Office made a summons attended by 16 local and foreign companies specialized in two kinds of technology that Colombia intends to use: PCOS (Precinct-Count Optical Scan), based on the use of a ballot box having an optical scanner for counting ballots, and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), which consists in the use of touchscreen machines that enable voting, storing votes, tallying them, and transmitting them to a data center. This equipment must also have the capacity to print physical proof of the selections made by voters.

The Advisory Commission informed that the companies seeking to furnish electoral technology for Colombia are: Gerencia Ieconsultores, Smartmatic, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Popayán, Dominion Voting, Technology Supplier, Arolén, Sio, Avante International Technology and ID Systems, Scytl, Thomas Greg & Sons Limited (Guernsey), 3M, Colvista, Gestión Informática, Grupo ASD, DPS Data Processing & Systems, Voting Solutions Colombia, and Certicámara.

The Advisory Commission agreed to present the proposal for the gradual implementation of e-voting as soon as possible, and also to approve the technical document with the guidelines for the pilot test that will be delivered to the National Government.

Colombia is advancing slowly but steadily toward automation. The Commission has been active for over two years, but now it exhibits confidence that for 2015 it will complete the cycle that will enable the country to test out the benefits of electoral technology, so that the nation can effectively leave elections with delayed results and fraud allegations in the past.

Colombia breaks its silence and resumes the e-voting debate


voteAfter eight months of silence, Colombia reactivated the debate about the organization of an e-voting pilot test, an experience that could entail the true transformation of the country’s old and ill-reputed electoral system.

The E-Voting Implementation Advisory Commission had not met since November 2013, but it resumed work a few days ago to decide where, when and which companies will participate in the event that will foster the use of electoral technology in the country. According to leaked information, the Commission agreed to set a timeline to call e-voting providers for a tender, and also to establish the requirements that these companies must comply with in order to bid.

All decisions made from now on will seek to outline the path toward the selection of an e-voting model that represents the advantages of automation and that adapts to Colombia’s legal requirements and the specific characteristics of the Colombian suffrage.

Accordingly, last year the Registrar’s Office made a summons which was answered by 16 companies, local and foreign, offering the two kinds of technology that Colombia intends to test out: PCOS (precinct-count optical scan), based on the use of a ballot box with an optical scanner for identifying ballots and processing votes in order to count them automatically), and direct recording electronic (DRE) technology, which consists of the use of touchscreen machines that enable casting, storing, aggregating, and transmitting votes to a computing center . These devices must also have the capacity to print physical vote receipts.

These are the companies that will compete to provide electoral technology in Colombia: Gerencia Ieconsultores, Smartmatic, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Popayán, Dominion Voting, Technology Supplier, Arolén, Sio, Avante International Technology e ID Systems, Scytl, Thomas Greg & Sons Limited (Guernsey), 3M, Colvista, Gestión Informática, Grupo ASD, DPS Data Processing & Systems, Voting Solutions Colombia, and Certicámara.

Colombia has seen its quest to modernize suffrage halted several times. Let’s hope that this new impetus drives the country safely through the path to comply with the Law that enforces vote automation, and also to leave behind a system that has jeopardized the will of the people. Democracy needs it, and the country demands it.