The Buenos Aires primaries, still unfinished due to doubts


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There were flaws and problems interfering with the results of PASO in Buenos Aires (Photo: http://www.infobae.com)

The Simultaneous Mandatory Open Primaries (PASO) of the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, which took place last August 9, are still in the eye of the hurricane. Aside from the flaws and setbacks during this event, there was a “preliminary investigation” announced by National Electoral Chamber attorney Jorge Di Lello due to fraud allegations by the candidate of the Frente Renovador party, Felipe Solá.

Although it is still too early to anticipate the eventual outcome of the Solá case inquiry, the issue has further weakened a process that was already ridden with problems. The candidate alleges that he was stolen about 200,000 votes which would have helped him to get 20.70% of the turnout, enough to win the second place instead of a third, which left him out of the race for Governor at the October general elections.

Initial reviews from the media about the internal elections disclosed some situations that cast a shadow of doubt over the results. For example, there were several allegations of delays in the installation of polling stations due to a shortage in ballots, ballot boxes, or absence of authorities. Besides, during the election, there were cases of ballot theft, as well as difficulties to vote, as the ballots were so complex that their size was absurd, up to 1.20m long. This generated discomfort and distrust.

Toward the end of the process, problems related to the slow tallying arose. 15 hours later, there was still no information about the election’s outcome. This brought to light once again the need for Argentina to modernize its voting system and leave behind its archaic methods in favor of technology.

When making a balance of the election, Mauricio Macri, one of the presidential candidates, called for the adoption of an e-voting model that truly safeguards the people’s intent. The country does not have a law regulating automation at the national level. Instead, each province is autonomous in the definition of its electoral system.

Some regions, like Salta and the city of Buenos Aires, currently use automated tallying. Although performance has not been entirely bad, it has shown to be lacking, as key electoral stages are still prone to human error.

One of the great advantages of automation is that it minimizes the capriciousness of those in charge of polling places, minimizing intentional and unintentional flaws, while making voting easier and speeding up processes that are usually cumbersome nowadays. Argentina still has time to follow the path toward the adoption of a 100% automated e-voting system.

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Latin America took decisive steps toward e-voting on 2014


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2014 elections as reviewed on this infographic by The Economist

2014 could be considered “an electoral feast” as 42% of the world’s population was called to vote. Such staggering number was set due to the fact that 42 countries carried out elections, and among them, 10 from Latin America.

The balance of the year for Latin America shows Brazil further strengthening its supremacy in electoral automation, while Panama, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Ecuador taking firm steps to modernizing their voting systems.

Ecuador carried out the most complex test, as it experimented with two different technologies during the February elections. The province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas used Smartmatic’s touchscreen voting machines that print a vote receipt on paper. Meanwhile, in Azuay, the electoral body deployed an electronic tallying system designed by Argentina’s MSA.

Paraguay, which joined the elite of countries with electoral regulations for the implementation of e-voting in 2013, announced that it is currently evaluating whether it will repeat last year’s experience, in which 17,000 Brazilian voting machines were used.

Costa Rica showed its people the technology it hopes to adopt for the upcoming 2016 elections, by letting voters interact with the voting machines designed by the High Electoral Court (TSE).

Meanwhile, during its general elections in May, Panama tested out technology developed by the Electoral Court (TE), which reproduces features from systems already tested in other countries, such as a card-activated touchscreen machine displaying candidates to press on in order to vote.

Peru became the only “black spot” in a year of electoral successes. Instead of building on the system designed designed by the National Office for Electoral Processes (ONPE), the nation opted to approve a not very transparent tender bid for the development of the automated system’s software. This has sparked a lot of problems, and will force the country to revise its application in future elections.

Finally, Brazil once again showed the world why it is considered one of the world leaders in vote automation. Its large, election-tested platform was deployed twice in October.

Ecuador looks to the future, hand in hand with electoral technology


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Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas used machines provided by Smartmatic. Photo: La República

Ecuador is committed to automating its electoral system by 2017. The goal looks attainable more than two years away from the deadline, as the country has been preparing to migrate from manual to electronic voting, keeping in mind all the steps that guarantee the successful adoption of electoral technology.

Last February, the country experienced a binding pilot test that cleared all doubts about the efficacy of vote automation. The provinces of Azuay and Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas tested two kinds of electoral technology, which not only enabled nearly one million Ecuadorians to vote securely—according to the electoral body— but also helped to determine the financial and logistic requirements of extending the use of technology throughout the nation.

For example, in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, the National Electoral Council (CNE) certified the ease of use of the devices provided by Smartmatic, in which voters’ interaction with the touchscreen machines was simple and quick. The electoral body highlighted the optimal performance in the capture, counting, totaling, and transmission of votes, which made it possible to publish results with 99% of the tally just one hour after the polling stations closed. Besides, audits were performed after the election, which matched the automated results with manual counts of vote receipts emitted by the machines.

In Azuay, where machines provided by Magic Software Argentina (MSA) were used, the process was also positive in spite of the suspension of elections at the Ponce Enríquez district. Rather than e-voting, this system is based on electronic tallying, since the machines do not register votes but a chip on each ballot stores each vote in order to be counted later. The obstacles faced by this mode were eventually overcome and the process continued normally, which led the authorities to highlight the strength of the technology to solve contingencies.

After this experience, the National Electoral Council announced that it would follow the recommendations from the Electoral Mission of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Inter-American Union of Electoral Bodies (UNIORE), inviting the country to carry out a compared evaluation of the automated practices employed and define the technological solution to be applied, considering the recommended criteria regarding blank votes, single screens, voting booth upgrades, among others.

Trust in every electoral system is based on it being capable of registering votes faithfully, preserving their secrecy—both in terms of selected options and voter identity—, arrive at tally results that respect the voters’ selections, guarantee that results cannot be altered, enable the auditability of the processes, and make the voting method easy for everyone. Compliance with these demands makes an electoral process efficient and reliable, and that is Ecuador’s bet for the future.