It was a scandal in the DR and abroad that finally had to be acknowledged by the Central Electoral Board (JCE): during the 2016 general elections there were failures that altered the electronic counts and affected institutions to an extent that is yet unknown.
For these elections, the JCE hired Spanish-based Indra Sistemas to provide biometric identification and automated voting technology. The results were clearly negative, given the logistic, technical and operational errors shown both by the fingerprint capture devices and the vote counting machines. Indra’s lack of experience in both tasks, and the shoddy work of the electoral body, had clear consequences.
This blog has reiterated that the success of every automation project begins with a transparent selection process based on technical merits. When politics outweigh technology, these problems will occur.
The report by the JCE is damning. It states that “improvisation, lack of control, and the lack of a work plan integrated with a strategic plan and the electoral calendar, were evident”. A contract was signed for $40 million (and was later expanded): the voting devices were delivered in such a short time frame that it became impossible to train the staff on their use or test their effectiveness, there were purchases made that were missing from the official budget, most importantly, the hardware and software purchased did not serve their original purpose.
Some examples supporting the claims of the Board’s IT Directorate are the “low performance” of the machines, both during simulations and the elections proper, up to the point where they could not read the choices voters had marked on their ballots, and the fact that “data transmission during the trials did not surpass 74% of the polling centres” and only reached 64% on election day.
Regarding the hardware, there were problems such as the batteries in the biometric ID machines not working properly, USB ports in the voting machines failing, and their “start” buttons not operating.
In the end, all these problems resulted in “a total of 796 polling centres in which some value was replaced”, i.e. with inconsistencies between the automated tally and the manual one amounting to a difference of 9,222 votes.
Several voices came together to demand a thorough investigation of the JCE, and for Indra’s tools not to be used again. This notion is backed by the report, which recommends: “not to use [Indra’s] automated vote registration and count devices for future electoral events”.
This misstep by the Dominican Republic can only be blamed on the authorities in charge of closing deals and making purchases, and the company that bid to offer a service they were in no capacity to provide. The Frente Amplio de Lucha Popular claimed the contract to be a sham, and requested those responsible to be tried.
This scandalous result makes it clear that the Electoral Board has squandered public trust; the credibility of their mandate is now lost, as it is the system’s. This debacle also includes the mismanagement of significant public resources that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace; these could have been used to provide the country with a voting system that not only automated some stages of the process, but also added technology and security to the election as a whole.