Peace negotiations start debate over e-voting in Colombia


In the last few weeks Colombia has once again seen momentum regarding the e-voting debate.  According to experts, as a consequence of the peace negotiations carried out by the government with the country’s armed insurgencies, it has become necessary to strengthen electoral guarantees.

The discussion stems from the friction between a magister of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Armando Novoa, and National Registrar Juan Carlos Galindo over the delays in the application of e-voting.  A group of senators has announced that they will sue the authorities on the grounds of delaying the application of this technology.

Since 2004, Colombia has a law that allows for electoral automation, but given the lack of will to modernize voting, the country has had to insist on the use of a voting system that has brought about serious problems: a partial use of biometric identification, manual voting, pre-counts (initial results of purely informative value), and digitization of the statements of vote to make them available to the public on the National Registry website.

Facing these facts, and with the possible conduction of a peace referendum looming,  magistrate Novoa fired the first shot on the matter, stating that it was not just a lack of resources that has stopped electronic voting, but also the Registrar’s opinion on the technology, which he judges inconvenient for Colombia.  Novoa reminded him that automation “is not an option”, but rather a legal duty.

At the same time, columnists from several newspapers fanned the flames.   Constitutional lawyer Germán Calderón España argued against the costs of manual voting versus those of e-voting, while  Pedro Luis Zambrano stated that public contracts related to manual voting are keeping automation hostage.

On the other hand, a group of senators announced that they will pursue legal actions to demand Registrar Galindo to uphold the law.   The group affirms that “it is urgent to implement electronic voting and a biometric system that provides guarantees and transparency in elections, with the aims of reducing fraud and other electoral crimes, as well as corruption”.

So far, Colombia is waiting for the results of an advisory commission on the implementation of this technology. However, this interdisciplinary group has failed to meet for almost two years, even after an international call was placed and answered by  16 companies to outline a pilot test for an automated voting system.

To the date, experiments with two automated voting models  have been permitted (Optical Scan Voting and Direct Recording Electronic, DRE), but Colombia is still delaying a ruling that would allow them move past a system which sometimes does work for presidential elections, but cannot handle the greater complexity of parliamentary or local ones.

Spain turns its back on equal suffrage


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Venezuela uses devices from the SAES 4000 series by Smartmatic, which enable voting for people with disability.

The progress of technology, aside from facilitating and improving processes in numerous realms of human endeavor, is also useful to expose governmental negligence. Next May, Spain will hold municipal and autonomous elections. Although the nation has been running tests and analyses for years in order to take steps into e-voting, in recent weeks authorities have acknowledged that people will disabilities will not be able to exert their right to suffrage in the upcoming elections.

The Executive Branch has pointed out that it is “technically impossible” to use a voting system accessible to people with visual impairments, due to the large number of candidacies in the 8,116 municipalities that will go to the polls this time. The government has even mentioned that the Organic Law of the General Electoral Regime (LOREG) contemplates just one specific voting procedure for the visually impaired (ballots in Braille), but only for general elections, European elections, and referenda; thus leaving out municipal elections, and altogether excluding voters with disabilities other than visual impairment.

This recent official statement is at odds with the fundamental rights of members of any society; worse yet, knowing that in other parts of the world technology has contributed to balance the exercise of suffrage. Physical or sensory disabilities no longer pose a restriction for voters to cast their ballots and benefit from the right to vote in an universal, free, direct, secret, and equal manner. Aside from representing the best option for citizens to gain access to fast, reliable, and transparent elections, e-voting has bestowed a new meaning to equal suffrage. It has offered autonomy to voters with physical disabilities (motor disabilities, limb impairment, absence of limbs), as well as sensory ones (visual and hearing impairment).

For example, the US and Venezuela employ vastly different voting models, but they both have implemented equipment supporting the Braille system for visually impaired voters and providing headphones for illiterate voters, as well as “sip and puff” tools to facilititate suffrage for people with motor problems.

In Spain, e-voting has had numerous trials. The first one took place in 1995 and the latest one in 2011 in Castellón, Ceuta, Huesca, and Merida. However, no autonomous community has been able to take the initiative and regulate automation.

Spanish deputy Joan Valdoví considers that the Spanish Government “is still living in the 19th century” and has been incapable of “adapting to new technologies to make democracy truly accessible to all citizens.”

Electoral technology has made the assisted vote possible thanks to a new generation of cutting-edge machines; e.g., touchscreen devices with Braille system for people with visual disability to vote on their own, or devices with headphones where the machine reads the contents of the ballot in as many languages as required. Moreover, there are interfaces that enable ballot navigation using “sip and puff” devices, so that voters with motor limitations can browse through options in the ballot.

There are no excuses for discrimination. What Spain and other nations require is the resolve and a sense of equality in the exercise of suffrage, as technology is available to guarantee every citizen’s right to vote. It is time to acknowledge that people with any kind of physical impairments have the same rights to vote as anyone else.

Latin America inclined in favor of an e-voting model


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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.