El Salvador faces an electoral abyss


Salvadorans have been left with no electoral results.

El Salvador went to the polls on March 1st in order to renew legislative and municipal authorities. Although the electoral event proceeded normally, the crucial stage of vote tallying became a real nightmare, as several days have passed since the elections took place and there are still no official results. The country is facing an electoral abyss.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) had to break its promise of releasing “preliminary results” a few hours after closing the polling places, as the company hired to design the software for releasing results, Soluciones Aplicativas (Saplic), was unable to fulfill its duty. This has deprived the country of finishing anelection neatly, without jeopardizing its institutional and democratic stability.

The TSE announced that it will only be able to release the final official election results in two more weeks, as technical faults that had been previously detected but not fixed by the technology provider made it impossible for the software to “show the minutes” containing the allocation of votes by parties, and to enable their transmission for the preliminary count.

The faulty performance of the company led the TSE president, Julio Olivo to denounce deliberate irregularities: “I can safely say that there was sabotage, because I have evidence for this,” he declared before the Public Prosecutor.
While the authorities unravel what happened, there is a thesis circulating that the source of all evil in this election in El Salvador was the tender process in which Saplic was awarded the contract to develop the program for releasing electoral results.

Although other companies bid for this tender, having well-known experience in electoral technology, which in the past have automated different electoral stages, or which even guaranteed the success of 100% automated elections in various countries, a local company “with no other guarantee about its experience and performance record than the word of technical advisors” was chosen. Local media outlets point out that TSE magistrates acknowledged that they chose Saplic “in good faith.” Since the magistrates had neither educational background nor any experience in computing, they followed recommendations from the specialists they consulted.

The TSE’s former president, Eugenio Chicas, also criticized the company and the electoral body. He stated that choosing Saplic was an irresponsible decision, as it was not based on technical criteria.

In light of the progress of technology, and even of e-voting best practices, what has happened in El Salvador is unacceptable and must be amended. Risking political stability of a country by overlooking vital elements in a tender process and those inherent to the adoption of automated systems can only leave the people’s intent adrift and harm trust in the institutions.

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.