Latin America inclined in favor of an e-voting model


Direct Recording Electronic is a technology that enables voters to mark their votes on a touchscreen or keyboard equipment.

A study conducted in Peru by the National Office for Electoral Processes (Onpe) shows how electoral technology advances firmly in improving electoral practices, and also in strengthening the guarantees that countries and their citizens require to go to the polls.

This document highlights that there is “an international consensus over the need to gradually and carefully implement certain technologic solutions geared toward the automation of electoral processes,” and it also underscores the penetration rate of e-voting in Latin America. It points out how an automated model, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) is the most implemented in the region.

According to Onpe’s research, countries like Brazil and Venezuela —which have a long history of e-voting implementation— as well as Mexico (Jalisco state) and Peru —with automated suffrage prototypes— have chosen DRE instead of other e-voting modes due to its many benefits, which range from ease of use and adjustability to the possibility of shielding each stage of the process (audits). The system also brings the possibility to automate elections in their entirety (voter identification, vote collection, tallying, aggregation, and transmission of results).

This system consists in “casting ballots directly on an electronic device through a touchscreen, buttons, or similar instruments. Information about each vote is stored in the computer’s hard disk, on a diskette, a compact disk, or a smart card.” It is different from other models in that it transmits all the votes at once at the end of the electoral event. Thus, it does not require network connectivity during the elections, and enables a fast and safe tallying at the end of the day.

One advantage offered by some DRE systems is the emission of a paper receipt after each vote, known as a Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPT). This represents a valuable mechanism that enables voters to verify in real time that the vote recorded by the device is the same as the one printed by the machine. This option opens the possibility to compare printed votes with the automated tally reflected on the minutes at the end of the electoral process or even at a later date.

Onpe also mentions other nations, like Colombia and Ecuador, which are currently considering the implementation of an e-voting model based on DRE technology. However, they are also studying PCOS (Precinct-Count Optical Scan), which is based on the use of a ballot box with an optical scanner that identifies ballots and processes votes in order to count them automatically. This makes it an automated tallying technology, rather than an automated voting one. The only country in the region that has partially implemented this other voting technology is Argentina.

The study mentions that electoral technology is available, and that there are several successful implementation experiences. However, it also draws attention on the need for nations willing to modernize their suffrage to follow protocols in order to guarantee a safe and transparent implementation, and not to join the list of countries whose authorities put voting at risk by succumbing to the interests of just a few.

Colombia: Slow but steady progress toward automation

eleccionescolombiaColombia’s negative experience with manual voting has been going on for years, mainly because the first results as a rule have been non-official, and the “successful” system used to elect one post—such as the country’s President—has proven totally deficient when elections acquire some degree of complexity—governors, mayors, deputies.

Based on the need to advance and leave electoral scandals behind, the country has created the Advisory Commission for the Implementation of E-Voting, a group that pushed forward the resolve of modernizing suffrage once again this year.

The task force held a new meeting recently and agreed on requesting the General Solicitor’s support, along with the National Registrar’s IT Management, to “define the most important technical aspects to be required of companies interested in conducting the e-voting test” being prepared by the Nation.

Last year, the Registrar’s Office made a summons attended by 16 local and foreign companies specialized in two kinds of technology that Colombia intends to use: PCOS (Precinct-Count Optical Scan), based on the use of a ballot box having an optical scanner for counting ballots, and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), which consists in the use of touchscreen machines that enable voting, storing votes, tallying them, and transmitting them to a data center. This equipment must also have the capacity to print physical proof of the selections made by voters.

The Advisory Commission informed that the companies seeking to furnish electoral technology for Colombia are: Gerencia Ieconsultores, Smartmatic, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Popayán, Dominion Voting, Technology Supplier, Arolén, Sio, Avante International Technology and ID Systems, Scytl, Thomas Greg & Sons Limited (Guernsey), 3M, Colvista, Gestión Informática, Grupo ASD, DPS Data Processing & Systems, Voting Solutions Colombia, and Certicámara.

The Advisory Commission agreed to present the proposal for the gradual implementation of e-voting as soon as possible, and also to approve the technical document with the guidelines for the pilot test that will be delivered to the National Government.

Colombia is advancing slowly but steadily toward automation. The Commission has been active for over two years, but now it exhibits confidence that for 2015 it will complete the cycle that will enable the country to test out the benefits of electoral technology, so that the nation can effectively leave elections with delayed results and fraud allegations in the past.

The US returns to the polling stations with a challenge: updating its technology


The US uses more than 3,000 voting technology solutions. Photo: Emol.

Midterm elections in the US, scheduled for November 4th, will not only show which of the two traditional parties will gain control of Congress, but also whether the electoral authorities have been able to overcome the multiple problems that arose in polling centers during the general elections two years ago.

Since 2012, when the newly re-elected President Barack Obama asked for solutions to the long lines that hindered the voting exercise, much has changed. The presidential commission which Mr. Obama established held several meetings with different commissions and experts in the topic, and presented proposals to improve the American electoral system last January 1st. Moreover, counties took measures to facilitate voting for millions of Americans, such as the extension of early voting days, the simplification of voter registry processes, and the extension of open hours for polling centers.

Technology has also been in the eye of the hurricane throughout all this time. Accordingly, the country is expected to show progress in the automated voting systems used in some counties next Tuesday. The Verified Vote NGO does not seem very optimistic about this. According to its report, multiple variations of automated procedures will be used across the 50 states, as well as manual methods, but there is no evidence of improvement that might reinforce guarantees, such as the widespread use of equipment printing paper receipts as proof of voting.

One detail that makes electoral logistics complicated in this country is the fact that each state is in charge of managing its own electoral processes. Therefore, more than 3,000 different technological solutions will be used in this election. The use of mixed systems within a single county (manual and electronic; paper ballots and automated tallying, touchscreen machines with or without suffrage support) brings up the need for states—and even for the Federal Government—to strive to improve their infrastructure in order for e-voting to provide the same solvency it does in developing countries.

According to Verified Vote, the first scheme used in the country is combined, as 16 states will be using traditional paper ballots that must be marked by hand but will be tallied by optical scanners. The scanners operate by identifying the marks made by the voters on the ballots and recording votes accordingly. There are other 24 states where the tallying process is carried out manually.

The second e-voting method is called Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which is used in 60% of the states. It consists of touchscreen or keyboard machines on which voters type their selections. There are at least three variations on this system: machines that print vote receipts on paper (used by a bare 8% of the constituencies), machines that do not support receipt printing (24% of the territory), and devices that may support receipt printing, but the option is up to the local authorities.

The third e-voting possibility has been almost eradicated: the much-criticized punched card scheme. This method is still used by four counties in Idaho.

The study conducted by the NGO shows that the entire country has automated most of the steps in its elections, but the percentage of places where votes are still being manually tallied is still very high. Meanwhile, the number of constituencies where elections can be audited by the voters—thanks to the use of machines that print vote receipts on paper—is still very low. Thus, the US is still facing the challenge of a forced update of automated voting.