Elections in Haiti, 3 years late


Haitians renewed their Parliament last August 9th (Photo: almomento.net)

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, will hold elections next August 9 -3 years after they were supposed to occur- to renew 138 Parliament posts (20 senators and 118 deputies) amid a deep political crisis that has already forced former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to resign. This delay has exacerbated the overall instability by causing major social frictions and further complicating an already compromised economic situation.

To help solve the current situation, various countries and multilateral bodies are injecting resources and lending technical support—as they have been doing since 2010, when a major earthquake devastated the country—. However, days away from the event, the aid seems insufficient.

In 2011, when the last election took place, Haitians had to wait for weeks to find out results. Although several countries had helped by providing financial support, the international community paid little effort to ensure the election was properly managed. Four years later, the situation remains more or less the same.

For example, while the Organization of American States (OAS) announced that it would send an observation mission, countries like Brazil, Canada, Norway, and the US approved funding a significant portion of the election costs ($70 million). Only Venezuela manifested that it would provide resources to streamline Haiti’s National Electoral Roll.

Given Haiti’s current situation, any form of aid is indeed necessary. Yet, there are pending technical issues that could compromise the success of the election which need to be resolved. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) has explained that the parliamentary elections will be “the largest voting exercise in the history of the country,” as they imply enabling nearly 13,500 constituencies, 1,600 polling places, and printing 60 million ballots. Both the election and tally will be 100% manual. Besides, it will require the participation of more than 41,000 temporary workers to cover all the stages.

With this election, Haiti fulfills one of its pending appointments. The next task in its to-do list is the modernization of its electoral system. Perhaps by automating voting, efficiency and transparency will improve, and the nation will be likely to reduce its current outrageous cost of $14 per voter (there are currently around 5 million registered voters in the country).

Electoral technology in Salta (Argentina) fails once again


There is concern in Salta over the performance of automated tallying ballot boxes.

Bad news over electronic ballots have become recurrent in the Argentine province of Salta. Numerous setbacks with the technology employed had also been recorded during electoral processes back in 2008 and 2013. Unfortunately, those bad experiences did not functionas warnings and once again, during the Simultaneous and Obligatory Open Primary Elections (PASO) that took place last April 12th, multiple flaws in the machines marred the day’s results.

At the PASO, hundreds of devices presented different kinds of setbacks, and as might be expected, political leaders denounced fraud and requested the termination of the contract with the company in charge of promoting and preparing the technology for future electoral processes.

The formalization of the petition was led by the main opposing coalition, headed by Juan Carlos Romero, from the Renovation Front. The document delivered to the Electoral Court exposes the fact that the electronic ballot box used “breaches the universality, enforceability, and secrecy of suffrage, and appears to be vulnerable to the deployment of fraudulent maneuvers…”

Specifically it was denounced that for instance, 299 (25%) out of the 1188 ballot boxes used at Salta’s capital had to be replaced. Moreover, there were complaints that serving in the election there were devices using unauthorized software, and that out of the 5700 machines employed, only 2862 had been sealed with a security system. There is also an alert on the flaws in the printers, which prevented the printing of dozens of opening and closing minutes, as well as delays due to the poor training of technicians.

What happened at the PASO brings up once again the focus on the performance of the electronic ballot box provided by the local company MSA (Magic Software Argentina). It raises concerns on how it could behave during the general elections that will take place on July 5 in Buenos Aires, where the same technology will be used but with twice the number of voters. We have already talked about this when MSA won the tender (among vices and arbitrary decisions) despite being the most expensive bid, and the company having the least experience. Besides, although this system is offered as e-voting, it is only an automated tallying system and maintains the weakness of manual voting.

The rash of bad experiences in Salta gives rise to the need to demand the revision of the system provided by MSA, not only to safeguard each Argentine citizen’s vote, but also to guarantee the reliability and legitimacy of the representatives elected.

Buenos Aires struggling due to e-voting contract award

bairesBuenos Aires has put to the test the adage “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, also known as “Murphy’s Law”. Instead of following a safe and transparent process, the capital of Argentina is undergoing an e-voting selection and adoption process that has brought trouble upon it –possibly a lot of trouble.

After the city decided to implement electoral technology in late 2014 and called for a tender process in order to implement e-voting during the April 26 primary elections and the June 5 general elections, it is now facing doubts and suspicion coming from different angles: the tender process has gathered several accusations, the selected electoral technology does not automate voting but only tallying, and the electoral calendar is starting to overlap.

The process’s black spots started with the tender process in which MSA (Magic Software Argentina) was selected to automate elections for Buenos Aires. Politicians and even social activists found it suspicious to award the contract to a company that had previous connections with the city’s government, as well as the fact that the tender process was practically tailored to the company’s needs, essentially dismissing all competitors in spite of their possible superiority.

To understand the suspicions cast over the selection process, it suffices to mention that Smartmatic, the second company to bid on this tender, is well known for offering technology capable of automating 100% of the voting process, while MSA offers devices that only automate tallying.

Although Smartmatic presented a more cost-effective bid and has implemented e-voting in countries as dissimilar as the Philippines, the United States, Belgium, and Venezuela, while MSA has only worked in Argentina—and in a pilot test in Ecuador—, Smartmatic was immediately and unceremoniously discarded.

Besides, instead of adopting a technology model that really did automate suffrage, the Buenos Aires government decided to simply replicate the technology used by MSA in Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe—a model known as the electronic ballot box with smart ballots, which is not a comprehensive e-voting solution but a device designed to automate tallying only. This means that the authorities have chosen to use a technology that does not solve the problems entailed by manual voting, instead of opting for a model that offers the complete array of benefits that electronic voting brings.

As if the accusations weren’t enough, implementation is also in jeopardy. More and more people are warning about the suspension of the electronic ballot box altogether, as the electoral calendar has already begun and there is no plan to complete the key stages of e-voting implementation. For example, there has been a warning that the company and the authorities won’t be able to guarantee a suitable deadline for technician and voter training for the primary elections (at least three months), as nothing is known about the process two months away from the elections. There is a possibility that automation is altogether suspended for this event.

The outlook in Buenos Aires is desolate, but there can always be a light at the end of the tunnel. The future of voting in the city depends on the authorities rectifying and beginning a process that abides by the highest standards and not by political interests, where the company’s experience and ability to offer an e-voting model adjusted to legal, technical, financial needs, as well as those related to idiosyncrasy, prevails.