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.

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Experts support e-voting in Dominican Republic


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Photo: JCE

Probably under the assumption that one of the first steps that must be taken to protect and optimize the process of modernizing an electoral system is, at the very least, to hold a public debate on the subject, the Central Electoral Board (JCE) of the Dominican Republic organized the International Seminar “Elections and Technology”, which took place on August 21st and 22nd, where representatives from electoral bodies of several countries participated.

During the event, manual and electronic voting were carefully scrutinized, showing why technology has been replacing manual voting with the implementation of systems where machines and automated ballots, combined with tallying and totalization software, speed up the process and provide versatile control and safeguarding methods to the electoral system.

Roberto Rosario Márquez, the JCE chairman, admitted during his dissertation that in Dominican Republic “the absence of appropriate technology allowed for the occurrence of situations that did not generate trust in the results, and thus affected their legitimacy.” According to the chairman, this fostered changes that must now lead to the implementation of election automation.

Addressing the subject of the transition from manual to electronic voting, various specialists shared important recommendations in order to guarantee success in the implementation. One of the most conclusive ideas was given by Carina Perelli, former director of the Electoral Assistance Division of the United Nations. She warned the electoral bodies from the attending countries (El Salvador, Korea, Russia, Mexico, Costa Rica, among others) that “they should not let themselves be fooled by experts who try to sell technological solutions that are often not applicable to their realities and demands.”

The specialist recommended following the necessary stages to adopt technology safely and transparently, which include “conducting a study of what each nation requires in technological terms, before undertaking the purchase of any equipment,” and generating trust on the system by applying changes progressively.

The various advantages of e-voting were also analyzed by Mexico’s electoral authorities. This country suffered the consequences of a suspicious tender process three years ago, which delayed the implementation of e-voting. However, Enrique Andrade González, electoral counselor of the National Electoral Institute (INE) pointed out that the electoral body knows that technology is making it easier to carry out processes and to produce electoral documents, which is the reason why its implementation carries on toward using it in electoral auditing as well.

Thus, the debate confirmed that in order to guarantee the implementation of automation, each country must hold an ample nationwide consult, carry out comparative studies, summon a transparent tender process, implement pilot programs to test the reliability of the system and its adaptation to the country’s characteristics, deploy a wide information process, and design a progressive implementation plan that enables the whole nation to gradually adjust to e-voting.

The world’s best practices in automation show that the recommendations given in the Dominican Republic conform to what has been done by nations that now have automated systems accessible to voters and safeguarded against fraud.

Countries do not need to move at an accelerated pace or to improvise when it comes to transcendental decisions. What they need is to have responsible authorities that choose the most adequate system, as the currently available electoral technology offers all the necessary tools to safeguard the will of the people.

Mexico prepares to close gap in electoral technology


Mexico uses manual voting, which casts a shadow of doubt on results

The electoral reform carried out by Mexico—approved by the General Electoral Institution and Procedure Law—seeks not only to strengthen the country’s electoral system, but also to close the gap in electoral technology makes the country fall behind other Latin American nations.

The path to change became evident this week, when the new National Electoral Institute (INE) scheduled the beginning of the 2014-2015 federal electoral process for next October 7th. This process includes elections in 18 out of the country’s 31 states.

The electoral process will be illustrative of what Mexican elections will be like from now on. Legal changes left INE in charge of most decisions regarding this subject, which means that each state will set up its own elections under rules based on the federal entity’s decisions instead of local laws currently in force. One of the most important aspects in this sense will be the use of electoral technology.

Under the new law, INE will execute the arrangement allowing Mexicans living abroad to vote in the country’s consulates as well as online or by mail.

The decision to automate suffrage for Mexicans living abroad opens the possibility for Mexico to level up with other Latin American countries that have ample experience in e-voting, as it will be possible to advance from this step towards the complete implementation of e-voting within the country.

Mexico has set a three-year deadline to complete the process of implementation of the new technology—scheduled for 2018—, but the authorities expect to use the 2015 regional elections to carry out e-voting tests conducive to its formal implementation. Some regions are already pressing INE to hasten the process, as they were already advanced in the use of technology and they do not want their implementation processes to fall behind.

In addition to this plan, INE’s General Council approved the design of a system that will enable “online accounting for political parties and candidates.” INE’s General Executive Board will be in charge of creating and setting forth an application enabling organization accountability.

These are the first steps for Mexico to leave manual voting in order to level up with other nations in the region that have an automated, safe, and reliable electoral system. The country has made some mistakes in the past—a much questioned tender process for the purchase of technology in Jalisco—, but these can be used as lessons learned to keep automation transparent.