Córdoba sets standards for the use of e-voting in Argentina


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E-voting yielded positive results in Marcos Juárez and La Falda, municipalities of the Córdoba province in Argentina (Photo: http://www.diaadia.com.ar)

Recent elections in different Argentine provinces made it possible to consolidate the nation’s democratic system, and also defined benchmarks for the use of e-voting in the country.e

Two types of electoral technology were tested out during the July 5 elections in Buenos Aires and Córdoba. The performance of one type was vastly different from the other.

While Córdoba (specifically in the La Falda and Marcos Juárez municipalities) used technology provided by Smartmatic—which automates the most important stages of voting: capture, tally, aggregation, and transmission—, the capital of Argentina used the Single E-Ballot (BUE) provided by MSA (Magic Software Argentina), which only automates the tallying.

Results gathered by the electoral authorities and the media show that while in Córdoba the voting process progressed neatly and quickly and results were presented 45 minutes after the polling places were closed, Buenos Aires presented irregularities before and during the elections. In fact, 532 polling places were left untallied due to transmission flaws.

These results were discussed by the authorities and civil associations. For example, Luis Rubio, spokesman from the Supreme Court, stated that “by the early morning around 12 percent of the votes were left untallied and nobody said anything.” Governor José Manuel de la Sota also acknowledged that the single ballot’s counting system “made tallying slower.”

On the other hand, the secretary of the Electoral Court of Córdoba, María José Páez Molina, pointed out that the “(e-voting) process was carried out normally, meeting expectations, and posing no problem for voters.” The entity’s spokesman, Jorge Namur, added that the fact that the day was successful makes it possible to anticipate the extension of e-voting to the entire province.

A positive aspect in both electoral processes is the citizens’ willingness to use technology to vote. Córdoba Transparente, an organization that monitored the electoral process in La Falda, stated that the survey carried out on election day showed that 92% of the population considered that machine-assisted e-voting was easy to use, and 89% said the system was fast. In Buenos Aires, more than 70% of the people said that the electronic system is faster than the manual model.

After the event, Córdoba made it clear that it made the right choice in e-voting for its citizens. On the other hand, Buenos Aires still has pending work to do: it needs to seek a technology model that guarantees the process, and that automates not only the tallying, but the whole electoral process. Buenos Aires might as well follow the example set by La Falda and Marcos Juárez.

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Buenos Aires: Distrust in the electoral system on the rise


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Doubts surround an electronic ballot box in Buenos Aires.

Only days away from the July 5 elections, Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, finds itself deep in a distrust crisis due to the use of electronic ballots provided by the local company MSA (Magic Software Argentina). The reasons include a hardly transparent tender process, the selection of an electoral technology model that only works halfway (it only automates tallying), and on top of it all, an awkward implementation process, which has been strongly criticized for its many and important flaws in training users.

The adoption of this system has been plagued with improvisation, insomuch authorities were forced to suspend its use for the primary elections last April. Different political and civil society spokespeople have voiced their concerns, warning that the city is not prepared to use the electronic ballot.

While Mariano Recalde, one of the candidates to Head of Government of the city, accused the authorities of “improvising and experimenting with the people”, Professor Beatriz Busaniche questioned the way the new system has been implemented, considering that the “training being provided to citizens is not enough.” She also accused the company (MSA) of “not sharing the necessary information allowing to fiscalize (the process) correctly.” Moreover, deputy Hernán Rossi criticized the fact that implementation was not done progressively.

All of these problems have not only sparked strong questioning, but the lack of training for both political party counsels and voters became a reason for filing a lawsuit before the Supreme Court, which ultimately decided to dictate that the Buenos Aires government must guarantee user training. At the same time, legislature approved a Law that requires placing a test device at each electoral constituency on election day, so that voters have the possibility of becoming familiar with the system.

This situation reveals how unpolished the electronic ballot adoption process has been in Buenos Aires. The city will not be using a model that really automates the voting, but instead it will be employing the technology applied by MSA in Salta, which is known as “an electronic ballot box with smart ballots“. The technology provided by this company is not a comprehensive e-voting solution but a device designed to automate tallying only. This is how the flaws of manual voting remain latent.

The setbacks caused by the new voting mechanism could prove to be costly for the Argentine capital. Trust in the system is what enables citizens to attend polling stations and strengthen democracy, while those elected can assume their posts covered by legitimate voting. We will have to wait and see if Buenos Aires is capable of sorting out these problems or if doubts are here to stay, at least until the automated model finally adopted is in effect transparent, safe, and reliable for all.

City of Buenos Aires moves away from e-voting


In 2013, a rushed implementation of e-voting in Salta sparked many flaws. Image: votoelectronico.org

Argentina has been preparing for e-voting for years, not only organizing voting pilots both binding and not binding, but also testing different technologies and involving the electorate. However, after all these efforts, the city of Buenos Aires will have an electronic voting system with the same deficiencies as a manual one.

There are several reasons that disqualify the use of this e-ballot from the start, a ballot that was used in the Argentine province of Salta and which was requested “as is” in the recent bidding carried out by the city of Buenos Aires:

1) It is fundamental that electoral commissions and technology providers take into account a country’s voting idiosyncrasy. The system must adapt to the voters and not the other way around. Although e-voting or an e-ballot always represent changes to an election, these should not be so pronounced as seen from the voter’s end.

2) The city of Buenos Aires won’t have e-voting. What it will have is an e-ballot that people will use to cast their votes, and which will enable each voter to verify that the selection has been correctly recorded. Its disadvantage appears at the end of the voting day, when voting officers must perform the election’s most critical task: tallying. How to guarantee that all ballots are accounted for at the end of the day? If the process were electronic, the votes cast by the citizens wouldn’t be handled by anybody else.

3) E-ballots offer redundancy but on the same physical medium: the vote is printed on one side of the paper and stored as well in an RFID chip. This RFID technology used by the machines selected for the upcoming elections in the city of Buenos Aires has been questioned in other jurisdictions due to the possibility its tampering from a distance, the absence of an unblocking mechanism and of the capability to identify whether a vote by the same person is being recorded twice.

4) Individual e-ballots can be told apart from one another because they each have a unique ID associated to the RFID technology and a serial number. If someone were to access this information, the secrecy of the vote could be easily broken.

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Although it is true that this system does not add any vulnerabilities, it is also true it maintains several of those already present in manual voting. Problems could arise from presenting a system as “secure and failsafe”, therefore creating a false sense of security, which could lead to relaxed electoral vigilance and even to inadvertent facilitation of fraud.