27 elections to take place before the year’s end, four in Latin America

Despite September being just around the corner, the electoral calendar is still quite full, including 27 elections in four continents.  Four Latin American countries will go to the polls before the end of 2017.

This list was compiled by the Election Observers Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, who inform that in the hectic electoral schedule for the rest of 2017 there will be 10 presidential and seven legislative elections, while the rest will be primaries and municipal elections.

Some of the events will take place simultaneously in several countries in the same month; four of these countries are Latin American.  Argentina will hold elections in August and October; Chile and Honduras will have theirs in November, and Venezuela will have them in July and December. Additionally, the American states of Virgina and New Jersey will also vote.

Electoral preparations already began in Argentina, where, in the middle of a scandal regarding the award of a contract for the temporary vote count service, marred by suspicions of traffic of influences and a fixed bid,  their primary elections (Simultaneous and Mandatory Primaries, PASO) were moved up to August 13th. Argentina will hold parliamentary elections in October.

Meanwhile, Venezuela will employ electronic voting once more. After calling for elections for the National Constitutional Assembly for July 30th, electoral authorities have announced regional elections for October.

November will see the Chilean presidential elections (on the 19th) and Honduras (set for the 26th).  As for the latter, there is a scandal unveiled by theNational Anti-Corruption Council (CNA), which questioned Mapa Soluciones and other companies involved in the Preliminary Results Transmission System (Trep) and the Integrated Count and Result Broadcast System (Siede) These companies are under investigation due to the irregularities in the award of several contracts, an accusation that also reaches the current board of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

In the case of Chile, the election set for November 19th could be used as a starting point for the renewal of their voting system. The country experiences strong voter apathy at the moment. Abstention hovers around 60%, which has led experts to agree that the nation must strive to modernize its voting mechanisms.

As for the United States, on November 7th two States will test once more the diverse e-voting models at their disposal. The voting in Virginia and New Jersey could show the need for software and hardware renewal (some parts of the country are lagging in updating), but it could also show the advantages in security, ease and speed that come with technology.

In the rest of the world, India began their road to presidential elections on July 25th.  Presidential elections will also be held in Rwanda (August 4th), Kenya (August 8th), Singapore (sometime in September), New Zealand (September 23rd), Liberia (October 10th), Kyrgyzstan (November 19th) and Slovenia (sometime in December).

Each and every one of these elections will be a great chance for electoral technology to shine. While Venezuela and the United States will confirm their leading status in e-voting technology, other nations will need to keep pushing for modernization, and for a more transparent selection procedure for the companies they choose to this end.


Scandal clouds election preparations in Honduras

Honduras will hold elections in November. The five months remaining will be spent under the shadow cast by the scandal of their organization. Four key companies involved in the process, including Mapa Soluciones, are under investigation for the irregularities in the awarding of several contracts. The scandal also involves the current directive of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

The National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) is the organism that has made the case public. Mapa Soluciones and other related companies are under scrutiny; these companies oversee the Preliminary Results Transmission System (Trep) and the Integrated Count and Result Broadcast System (Siede).  The former is in charge of transmitting, via phone, the results of a manual vote count to a tallying centre, while the latter is used to scan and send certified election returns over the Internet.

Both models have been used for several years, Trep since 2009 and Siade since 2012, both with several problems and generating mistrust. However, it is only now that the origin of the contracts subscribed between the TSE and companies like Mapa Soluciones, Geotech, Intelred and Corporación Majo is under the spotlight, since it violates the minimum norms for transparency and legality for the awarding of public contracts.

According to Odir Fernández, member of the CNA, the inquiries show that the owner of Mapa Soluciones, Faustino Reyes Rodríguez, has ties to a political party; additionally, the Trep contract was awarded to him directly just a month after the incorporation of his business, and therefore the company lacked the track record demanded by law.

The National Anti-Corruption Council also stated that Mapa was not enrolled in the State’s service providers list (they were added in 2012) and lacked municipal permits, but the TSJ overlooked these flaws and awarded them the contract, even for the 2013 and 2017 elections.

There is also an element that would, at least, raise eyebrows anywhere else in the globe: two former coordinators and advisers of the Trep system are working for Mapa Soluciones.

These irregularities are repeated with the other companies, and alarms are going off because, according to the CNA, throughout the years and “in several reports, Mapa Soluciones acknowledges the failures in Trep and the data recognition system, yet allege they should not be considered failures, but rather errors that count as useful experience for future improvement”.

Facing these facts, the Chief Magistrate of the TSE, David Matamoros Batson, declared that if the Advisory Council, which includes 10 political parties, concludes that Mapa Soluciones does not meet the requirements, a different company must be engaged.    However, he defended the Tribunal, claiming there has been a media and political narrative that intends to harm the organism and the company itself.

The presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, Luis Zelaya, announced he will take a petition to the TSE to cancel their contract with Mapa, mainly due to the company’s links to the National Party, and the failures registered by the system in the 2009 and 2013 elections.

As shown by the accusations and the findings of the investigation, transparency in electoral matters is precarious in Honduras.  The country faces a decisive moment: they can either purge the management of their public contracts and transform their voting model, or permanently hurt the credibility of electoral authorities, undermining public trust even further.

Irregularities in the count taint Mexican elections

Mexico held elections in six of its states on June 4th.  Regrettably, both the quick count that was used to publish unofficial results and the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP) showed serious problems.  Additionally, the tallying is taking place very slowly and several states are still waiting for results.

The quick count is a statistical procedure to estimate the trend of results after polls close; therefore, the data is unofficial. PREP is the mechanism used to divulge the electoral returns after these have been scanned, and uploaded to a website.

The more negative instances of the day are the states of Coahuila and Mexico, since political actors have abandoned the count altogether and there are accusations of fraud.

In the case of Coahuila, all opposition parties, including PAN, are denouncing irregularities.  This political party abandoned the counting process and announced that is preparing legal action against the vote, hoping for a redo of the election since they estimate some 20% of the ballot boxes were tampered with.  Additionally, the president of the National Electoral Institute (INE), Lorenzo Córdova, admitted that the PREP tallied only 72% of the election returns.

Amidst these failures and suspicion, Gabriela León Farías, chairwoman of the Coahulia Electoral Institute (IEC) reacted, four days after the vote and still with no final results, by stating that “there are no conditions that merit an annulment of the elections”, since every polling station is being counted, vote by vote.

While in Coahulia tensions are mounting, in Mexico state there were situations that show once again the weaknesses of the country’s manual voting procedures.

Four days after the voting, the tallying is still ongoing, while the Mexico State Electoral Institute signed off on the recount of 17% of the polling stations, that is, 3.189 of the 18.605 installed, as a result of the inconsistencies detected.

On the other hand, the political party Morena, whose candidate for the governor’s office, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, is second in the count, has contested the results since she considers the PREP showed anomalies, and all public statements hint at fraud.

The crux of the issue is that Morena states there are inconsistencies between the votes reflected on the returns by the electoral colleges, and those divulged by the PREP.  This situation is ever more relevant when we consider that the difference between the top two candidates for the office is less than 3%.

Failures like the ones in these elections have taken place in Mexico in other occasions.  Every time, authorities promise improvements or maintain that the system works despite the difficulties.

However, this country has a task pending: delivering to their electorate a voting model that is exact, respects the will of the people and is swift.  To achieve this, they must go forward with technology, and not the kind that just renews errors (like PREP), but a robust kind that modernizes the country’s electoral landscape.