Bolivia and why transparency in an election is the key to almost everything


Photo By: Los Tiempos

In Politics, transparency is an essential quality that processes and actions must have in order to pass through public scrutiny with flying colors. In recent events in Bolivia, the impact of this condition on politics and elections was evident.

This South American country went to the polls on October 20 to renew the Republic’s presidency, and although the day was completed without major incidents, at the end of the process the legality and legitimacy of elected authorities, as well as those of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) were hindered by lack of transparency.

Specifically, after closing the polls and while rapid counting, that is, the Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results (TREP) was being carried out, the process took a 180-degree turn, because the TSE suspended the provisional counting for almost a day, without any explanation.

Bolivian nationals and the world saw how with almost 84% of the ballots already verified, a second-round scenario was raised between President Evo Morales and his main adversary, ex-president Carlos Mesa; 23 hours later, when the TREP was resumed and with 95% counted, the ballotage, or runoff voting, was no longer possible.

Doubts and suspicions led Mesa to cry fraud, and also led the observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) to report irregularities. Despite this, the TSE confirmed —five days later— that Morales would not require a second round, and authorized an audit.

This verification of the tally is in process and has also suffered obscure events, such as the resignation of the leader of the OAS team that must review the election and the intense protests that have burst in various regions of the country. When the results of an election are riddled with doubt, the tranquility and peace of a country are affected.

What has happened shows that the decision —clueless until now— of the authorities to suspend the diffusion of the TREP, caused a break in the transparency of the process, which further blatantly shows that Bolivia is deep into a crisis caused by the lack of a swift and secure tallying system. And even more important, a tallying system that allows auditing in real time the count reports received and processed.

The country lags an enormous distance behind some of its Latin American peers, where automated systems are in force safeguarding the most important phases of their elections.

For example, while Brazil took only a few hours to complete the count in the second round of the 2014 presidential elections, which results were also very narrow; in Argentina, on October 27, thanks to the new logistics and technological platform implemented, the results of the preliminary count were published just three hours after the voting was closed, with 70% of the reports already processed.

The evils shown during the latest electoral processes seem to indicate that there is no longer room for indecision in Bolivia, and it is time to advance in the modernization of their system before distrust on the part of the electorate undermines participation and Democracy.

Latin America took decisive steps toward e-voting on 2014


elecciones-2014

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.

Either Bolivia modernizes itself or voting and institutionalism will continue to be jeopardized


bolivia

In Bolivia, manual voting affects the key phase of tallying and aggregation.

In Bolivia, after the 12 October presidential elections, part of the population applauded—the supporters of the newly reelected Evo Morales—, but nobody     celebrated. An outdated electoral system with no guarantees forced the country to  follow exit polls to anticipate results, as the High Electoral Court (TSE) was able  to broadcast the information from only 2.89% of the polling stations at the end of  the event.

The meager count did not stop President Morales, who proclaimed himself the winner. Meanwhile, opponents and citizens believed the projections from the polls, certainly fueled by the wide margin obtained by the winner: 60% of the votes. In any other democratic country, it would have been unacceptable that the polls dictated what the official results should have.

According to the TSE spokesman, Ramiro Paredes, the debacle in the electoral system obeyed to “problems in the data transmission system, which overheated, became slow, and did not pass the tests we had established. We were also worried about hack threats we received.”

With the passing of days, TSE’s inability to complete the key process of counting and aggregating votes has become apparent—90% of the voting stations in four days—, as well as other vital stages, as more irregularities have come to light as the tallying process advances incredibly slowly:  discrepancies between the data published on tse’s website and the repetition of the elections in 12 polling stations at the El Torno district and one in La Guardia due to multiple anomalies. This led to the announcement that the country will have its final results in November.

What happened in Bolivia could have been a tragedy in nations with conflicts or strong political tensions. The TSE was unable to carry out the elections seamlessly and safely, dooming the system to criticism and doubt in the future.

Since 2010, the country has voiced intentions to update its electoral platform by using an e-voting model after having accomplished a biometric registry, which recorded voters’ fingerprints. However, in four years the country has done very little to provide its citizens with a decent, reliable electoral system.

The vices and problems in the recent electoral processes seem to indicate that the time for hesitation has run out in this nation. The TSE has said that Bolivia is prepared to take on the technological challenge of voting electronically in 2015, at least partially. The country needs to advance and modernize its vote; otherwise it will continue to jeopardize voting and Democracy.