Trial by fire for Peruvian e-voting in December

During the 2016 Peruvian presidential elections, both manual and e-voting had setbacks, the former due to its inability to cope with the challenges posed by close margins (i.e. the need for a quick and precise count), and the latter due to a lack of technology updates.

Having this poor performance as a reference, the Peruvian e-voting model will experience a trial by fire in December, during the country’ s municipal elections, given that its effective use could be the push the country needs to finally embrace its full adoption, or end up paralyzing it.

In this new channel, the National Office for Electoral Processes (ONPE), has decreed that 12 districts will use an e-voting model (in-person) designed by the office to choose some of the 18 mayors and 90 aldermen.

Another six locations will employ an Automated Counting System (SEA), which uses a computer for the transcription and transmission of results to a tally centre, as opposed to a manual process.

The Peruvian e-voting system consists of a card that must be inserted in the voting machine to activate options on a touchscreen. The voter presses their choice, which the system processes and stores, before printing a voting voucher at the end.

Until now, it is not known whether the electoral organism will perform any upgrades to the automated vote.  Although the ONPE followed the best practices in the region to design their model, the technology has not been updated in years, and they also neglected the logistics and preparation for the process, which in 2016 translated in an almost total lack of information of the voters and poll workers.

Starting from this fact, and 18 months since the last election, there is the hope that the electoral body has corrected these flaws, so they can give the country the secure and transparent process that electoral technology can provide.

The importance of making these changes lies in that, if there is actual progress in the adoption and application of e-voting technology, the noncommittal stance of Peruvian authorities toward e-voting could finally change.


Criticism mounts due to cost of manual voting in Mexico

In 2018, Mexicans will live the largest election in their history when they simultaneously carry out 3 federal and 30 local votes. Despite the complexity of the process, what is generating criticism is the cost predicted.

The president of the Mexican National Electoral Institute (INE), Lorenzo Córdova, admitted the organism will request 25.4 billion Pesos, their “highest budget in history”. Córdova justified this sum, claiming that from the total, some 18.256 million Pesos will finance the organism’s operative expenses, and 6.788 million Pesos will go towards financing political parties and independent candidates.

Analyzing this request for resources, analysts calculate that each vote for every Mexican voter will cost 245 Pesos (USD 12.5), while the INE calculates 205 Pesos (USD 10.75). In both cases, these amounts make manual voting in Mexico one of the most expensive in the world; moreover, the vote will remain manual despite its level of technical complexity.

The main criticism is directed at the hefty amount of resources the INE is alloting to political parties, as well as the relationship between the cost of the election and its reliability, which does not match the fiscal sacrifice the investment represents.

When evaluating these figures about the Mexican electoral budget, it is worth quoting the Global Survey on the Cost of Registration and Elections, developed by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which states that the lowest cost per voter (between USD 1-3) is found in countries with consolidated democracies such as Australia, and in some states in the US. On the other hand, nations with automated voting such as Venezuela and Brazil invest between USD 3 and 3.5 respectively.

Mexico is then in a group of democracies with manual voting systems that tend to have a higher cost per voter.

Seeing these figures, political actors and specialists should refocus the debate.  Instead of honing on party financing, it would be convenient to open a discussion on the need to modernize the vote.

Experience shows that although voting modernization does indeed require significant investments during the adoption phase of the technology, its use generates medium and long-term savings, since all future expenses are focused on maintenance and updates. Mexico has a long road ahead, but their next elections could be the starting line.

Colombia surprises by announcing design of an e-voting pilot

In recent years, Colombia has been full of surprises when it comes to electoral matters, but these have not always of the good kind.  Delayed results, accusations of irregularities, and setbacks in the modernization of the voting system have tarnished several events and, although the authorities have started many projects to solve these issues, none has come to fruition yet.

For instance, the creation in 2013 of the Associate Commission for the Implementation of Electoral Technology.  After scandalous regional elections, where the system was flooded by dozens of accusations of fraud and voting vices, the National Civil Registry Office began a process of consultation and analysis to modernize the voting mechanisms. This even included an international bidding process with the participation of 16 companies, with the hopes of designing the pilot test of an automated voting model.

Despite these advances, the Commission did not implement any actions, so the Colombian government chose to install in 2017 an Special Electoral Mission, conceived to provide council and turn the ship around, by revisiting the nation’s old and questioned voting model.

Then, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos formalized the start of operations for this Mission as part of fulfilling point number two of the peace agreement signed last November between the government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). This agreement contemplates the “expansion” of democracy through “greater transparency in the voting process”.

Until then, the steps taken by Colombia to transform its voting system had been duly informed to the public, meeting the standard required whenever changes in human right matters are made -political participation in this case.

However, National Civil Registrer Juan Carlos Galindo has done away with the practice, by announcing that the organism he represents “has already designed a pilot plan for e-voting that will be implemented”.

His statements took the country by surprise. Although the Electoral Mission is still active, and it delivered a series of proposal regarding voting modernization last April, the use of electoral technology is still subordinated to the 2004 Act which governs voting automation. The document presented by the Mission does not allude to changes in technology, only to aspects related to the organization and funding of electoral events.

Galindo stated that the pilot has not been carried out due to lack of funds, but gave no details as to the model devised to test e-voting in Colombia.

The last time the country had a conversation about testing electoral technology was in 2013, when the Associate Commission proposed to automate voting in 93 circuits, so a sizable number of voters could experience both the models being proposed back then: optical scanners, based on a ballot with a scanner that identifies and processes ballots for an automatic count; and Direct Electronic Register (DRE), touch-screen enabled machines where the voter makes their choices, which the machine stores, counts and transmits to a tallying centre.  These devices also have the capability of printing voting vouchers that reflect the options chosen by the user.

Galindo’s statements set off alarms: it is not known whether the pilot designed meets the characteristics agreed upon in 2013, or if this is a new test, whose reach and conditions are only known to the authorities.

It is understood that any analysis, pilot test or implementation of electoral technology requires a broad consultation. and informing political actors and the general population. This because transparency in the adoption of the automated model chosen is just as vital as its compliance with the nation’s requirements.  Colombia must advance in electoral matters, but the Civil Registry Office must show their hand, unreservedly, if they are to be credible.