Preliminary count in El Salvador calms the waters


Several weeks have passed since El Salvador headed to the polls to elect 168 congress seats and 262 municipal councils and no official results have been announced. Yet the overall political climate remains calmed thanks in part to the preliminary results announced by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) on March 5, the day after the elections.

El Salvador has an extremely complex manual voting system. A 2015 reform allowed voters to assign 0.5 to different candidates making the tallying process much more cumbersome. Given this important change, TSE decided to utilize technology to help poll center operators generate timely preliminary results.

For this preliminary count, TSE tested the Korean scanners and software from MIRU, which were used to digitize and transmit the voting records, and the software and services of the multinational Smartmatic to process said records and publish the results in real-time. The use of technology proved successful as it has helped generate peace of mind among Salvadorians (and their political parties) while the TSE finalizes the official count.

Election Day saw no major incidents. The web publication system allowed the TSE to announce voting trends per political party (number of deputies) the same night of the election. These trends were first shown online at 8:00 pm. However, during the preliminary count there was a failure that affected the votes for legislators in two of the 15 departments – San Salvador and La Libertad. Smartmatic’s Director for Central America, Francisco Campos, explained that “a tiny piece of software failed to capture the candidates’ names, and placed them at random”. Thanks to technology and the real-time publication of results, the inconsistency was made evident and quickly solved. Political parties and citizens were able to audit results by contrasting tallying reports with the website.

Despite the fact that the failure corrected on time, and that political parties had all the evidence on their hands to corroborate the accuracy of the results published online, some political parties reacted against the modernization of future elections. The error was acknowledged and corrected thanks to technology; nonetheless, these parties have begun a campaign to pedal back the progress made by El Salvador towards improving their voting system.

Leandro Querido, an election expert who leads the NGO analyzed what transpired on social media, pointing that “opposing the incorporation of technology in electoral processes is reactionary, but above all, ludicrous. What happened in El Salvador was an error in the manual entries to the provisional results, which was detected by the technology itself and quickly solved thanks to it”.

El Salvador needs to make the best of what happened, learn from the experience and continue modernizing its voting system by relying on technology.

El Salvador and Honduras seek to reverse electoral malpractice

medium (1)In terms of politics, Central America has been a historically convulsive region. Therefore, its electoral systems should play an important role in maintaining political and social stability. This should have been a motive for the implementation for safe and transparent voting models, but for the last two years, problems have arisen in both El Salvador and Honduras that have hindered progress in matters of electoral trust.

El Salvador has had two consecutive elections, the 2014 presidentials and the 2015 legislative and municipal ones. Both of them have suffered technical setbacks and objections about the tallying process. Meanwhile, Honduras also experienced strong suspicions about the results of the 2013 presidential elections. These issues have led both countries to actively seek to overcome their electoral malpractice.

In El Salvador, various political stakeholders have asked the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) to reengineer the country’s voting system, with the addition of studying the viability of implementing e-voting. The country lacks a tallying system that guarantees a timely, seamless vote count.

Honduras is also devoid of a mechanism for counting and aggregating votes while safeguarding people’s intent and guaranteeing a rapid dissemination of clean results. This has created strong tensions. But at least Honduras already has laws that enable electoral automation.

In light of the need to modernize the country’s system, an event sponsored by the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP), the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (DIMD), and the National Democracy Institute (NDI) was used to advance the discussions to lead Honduras to the adoption of a new voting model.

Even though both countries have barely begun to debate these issues, it is positive that they can see the options that technology offers for promoting democratic stability in a modern electoral system. Experience has shown that E-voting has the power to settle even the most challenging elections, for instance with high levels of political polarization, complex electoral infrastructures, narrow outcomes, and up to thousands of candidates contesting simultaneously, and still yielding unquestionable results.

El Salvador faces an electoral abyss


Salvadorans have been left with no electoral results.

El Salvador went to the polls on March 1st in order to renew legislative and municipal authorities. Although the electoral event proceeded normally, the crucial stage of vote tallying became a real nightmare, as several days have passed since the elections took place and there are still no official results. The country is facing an electoral abyss.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) had to break its promise of releasing “preliminary results” a few hours after closing the polling places, as the company hired to design the software for releasing results, Soluciones Aplicativas (Saplic), was unable to fulfill its duty. This has deprived the country of finishing anelection neatly, without jeopardizing its institutional and democratic stability.

The TSE announced that it will only be able to release the final official election results in two more weeks, as technical faults that had been previously detected but not fixed by the technology provider made it impossible for the software to “show the minutes” containing the allocation of votes by parties, and to enable their transmission for the preliminary count.

The faulty performance of the company led the TSE president, Julio Olivo to denounce deliberate irregularities: “I can safely say that there was sabotage, because I have evidence for this,” he declared before the Public Prosecutor.
While the authorities unravel what happened, there is a thesis circulating that the source of all evil in this election in El Salvador was the tender process in which Saplic was awarded the contract to develop the program for releasing electoral results.

Although other companies bid for this tender, having well-known experience in electoral technology, which in the past have automated different electoral stages, or which even guaranteed the success of 100% automated elections in various countries, a local company “with no other guarantee about its experience and performance record than the word of technical advisors” was chosen. Local media outlets point out that TSE magistrates acknowledged that they chose Saplic “in good faith.” Since the magistrates had neither educational background nor any experience in computing, they followed recommendations from the specialists they consulted.

The TSE’s former president, Eugenio Chicas, also criticized the company and the electoral body. He stated that choosing Saplic was an irresponsible decision, as it was not based on technical criteria.

In light of the progress of technology, and even of e-voting best practices, what has happened in El Salvador is unacceptable and must be amended. Risking political stability of a country by overlooking vital elements in a tender process and those inherent to the adoption of automated systems can only leave the people’s intent adrift and harm trust in the institutions.