Scandal hurts the Dominican Republic in their attempt to automate the elections


It was a scandal in the DR and abroad that finally had to be acknowledged by the Central Electoral Board (JCE): during the 2016 general elections there were failures that altered the electronic counts and affected institutions to an extent that is yet unknown.

For these elections, the JCE hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology. The results were clearly negative, given the logistic, technical and operational errors shown both by the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines. Indra’s lack of experience in both tasks, and the shoddy work of the electoral body, had clear consequences.

This blog has reiterated that the success of every automation project begins with a transparent selection process based on technical merits.  When politics outweigh technology, these problems will occur.

The report by the JCE is damning. It states that “improvisation, lack of control, and the lack of a work plan integrated with a strategic plan and the electoral calendar, were evident”. A contract was signed for $40 million (and was later expanded): the voting devices were delivered in such a short time frame that it became impossible to train the staff on their use or test their effectiveness, there were purchases made that were missing from the official budget, most importantly, the hardware and software purchased did not serve their original purpose.

Some examples supporting the claims of the Board’s IT Directorate are the “low performance” of the machines, both during simulations and the elections proper, up to the point where they could not read the choices voters had marked on their ballots, and the fact that “data transmission during the trials did not surpass 74% of the polling centres” and only reached 64% on election day.

Regarding the hardware, there were problems such as the batteries in the biometric ID machines not working properly, USB ports in the voting machines failing, and their “start” buttons not operating.

In the end, all these problems resulted in “a total of 796 polling centres in which some value was replaced”, i.e. with inconsistencies between the automated tally and the manual one amounting to a difference of 9,222 votes.

Several voices came together to demand a thorough investigation of the JCE, and for Indra’s tools not to be used again. This notion is backed by the report, which recommends: “not to use [Indra’s] automated vote registration and count devices for future electoral events”.

This misstep by the Dominican Republic can only be blamed on the authorities in charge of closing deals and making purchases, and the company that bid to offer a service they were in no capacity to provide.  The Frente Amplio de Lucha Popular claimed the contract to be a sham, and requested those responsible to be tried.

This scandalous result makes it clear that the Electoral Board has squandered public trust; the credibility of their mandate is now lost, as it is the system’s.  This debacle also includes the mismanagement of significant public resources that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace; these could have been used to provide the country with a voting system that not only automated some stages of the process, but also added technology and security to the election as a whole.

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E-voting for expats drive gains strength


voto electronicoThe Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Chile have recently placed under public scrutiny the need to open space for e-voting as a solution for expat suffrage.  Expats have been systematically excluded in many nations due to a lack of legislation regulating their political participation and to the difficulties implied by organizing elections outside of the country.

 

Voters abroad usually face difficulties to register and validate their condition of voters, mainly due to the requirement of legal residence from many countries in order to vote or for fear of revealing their migratory status. Besides, there are also quite a few technical and logistic obstacles that hinder the democratic exercise. Some of these are the reception of the wrong electoral material at the embassies and the location of polling stations—usually consulates or embassies—, which tend to be very far from where many citizens live.

In light of this reality, Chile began producing the regulations to enable its citizens living abroad to vote, initially at the primary presidential elections. Although new regulations are still pending approval, authorities have already announced that they are debating between implementing traditional paper-based suffrage or taking the leap toward on-site e-voting.

On the other hand, the Dominican Republic and Colombia have proposed the use of electoral technology for expat voting on political grounds. However, no matter the reason, proposals for the use of electoral technology bring up the need to stop and think the debate in terms of safeguarding the voters’ political rights abroad.

In the Dominican Republic, the Committee for Dominicans Abroad (Codex) demanded the implementation of the e-voting system for the 2016 presidential election. The demand is framed within Electoral Law 275-97, which establishes that the Central Electoral Board (JCE) will regulate the procedure and form of suffrage for the country’s citizens living abroad. This country already has the norm, and now it’s up for the authorities to assume its compliance and proceed to implement the technology.

The third country in this triad is Colombia. A few days ago, the Democratic Center Party filed a proposal for an electoral reform project, which introduces e-voting with document verification, i.e., using voting machines that can print paper receipts showing the selections made.

These countries can rest assured that e-voting for expats is possible. To name just a few examples of successful experiences, Switzerland and the Philippines have been able to guarantee electoral equality between those who reside within the national territory and those living abroad. This has been possible thanks to their automation models.