Fraud risk threatens electoral credibility in Colombia


Colombia has a manual voting system that is prone to fraud, according to experts (Photo:

A few days before the regional elections in Colombia—scheduled for October 25—, all sectors are denouncing the risk of fraud in this electoral event. Old and new vices are mixing together to jeopardize institutional credibility and the system’s safety.

The most recent fraud allegation was revealed by the National Electoral Council (CNE) when it voided 1,605,099 identity cards to mitigate the risk of election transhumance, (when people register in a juristidction different from the one they are supposed to belong). The decision was made only 20 days before the elections.

La Vanguardia, one of the country’s top newspapers, used this issue to publish an editorial with a long list of fraudulent actions electoral events are subject to, including political violence, manipulation at the time of ID card registration, delays in the delivery of electoral documents, irregular management of electoral sheets, deceit in blank vote sheets, unmarked ballots reassigned to certain candidates, adulteration of tally minutes, pre-counts, and delays in the delivery of results.

The journal mentioned that regarding “the degradation of elections,” the country’s Deputy Attorney General stated that “there is no town in Colombia where there is no suspicion.”

Semana magazine also made a program where voices from all trends and sectors came together around a single question: Why is it still so difficult to do honest politics in Colombia? Eloy Quintero, chamber representative, said that “something is wrong, and the big necessary reforms are not taking place. These issues are not being brought up at Congress.”

Reports from the Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) warn that electoral transparency in 487 municipalities—out of 1,101 jurisdictions in Colombia—is at risk, so almost half of the country’s districts are at risk of fraud.

EOM director, Alejandra Barrios, pointed out that “rather than violence-related issues, which are still occurring in some regions of the country, (…) corruption and the attempts from candidates or campaigns not to follow the rules of the game are generating a larger risk.” According to this organization, the possibility of fraud rose from 328 municipalities in 2007 to 487 in 2015.

Thus, Colombians will head to the polls under a general state of suspicion that will complicate elections that were already difficult to begin with. 113,426 candidates are expected to participate, competing for 32 departmental governments, more than a thousand mayor’s offices, and hundreds of positions in councils, departmental assemblies, and administrative boards.

The country has acknowledged the problems of its manual voting model, and in March 2012, an advisory commission was created for the implementation of e-voting, which has already been regulated. However, it is still not taking action toward the solution offered by technology. Unfortunately, time is running out.

Spain gradually approaches e-voting

elecciones_24M-Although Spain has been debating the implementation of e-voting for years, and has held numerous test runs (the first one in 1995, and the latest one in 2011 in the cities of Castellón, Ceuta, Huesca, and Mérida), no autonomous community has yet been able to set forth an automated election.

Although there seems to be a negative balance for the European nation in terms of electoral technology, last May 24, during its municipal elections, it took a step that brought it closer to a more modern voting: the Electronically Managed Polling Stations (MAE), which were used in 3,200 stations in 22 municipalities.

Minister of Home Affairs Jorge Fernández Díaz pointed out that the MAE “are not an e-voting system, but a system for speeding up the management of the electoral process, using technology to improve it without compromising its integrity.”

MAEs do not intervene in the voting process itself (vote collection, tallying, and result aggregation), but enable streamlining voter identity verification and the transmission of results to the data center.

The dynamics involved having polling stations deploy a laptop computer, a GPRS modem, an electronic ID card reader, a printer, and an SD card with the electoral roll of each constituency. Thus, the identity of voters was verified automatically by processing the ID in technological devices and not on a printed list. Besides, the confirmation of the polling station’s formation, advances in turnout and tallying were transmitted to the Information Collection Center through these technological tools.

The process was deemed positive in spite of some problems arising in some of the MAE. These were mainly due to damaged ID cards, which prevented the reader from verifying the cardholder’s identity, therefore having to turn to a manual method.

After the event, MAEs are seen as the first step toward transitioning from manual voting to electronic voting. However, they also spark the debate over the viability of stepping up the pace in the adoption of electoral technology, so that Spain can get up to level with its European peers (i.e., Switzerland) or even match the path so speedily and successfully traversed by Latin American countries (i.e., Venezuela and Brazil) in terms of electoral automation.

Paper vote receipts: Making the vote verifiable


Some DRE machine models have the capacity to print a vote receipt on paper automatically.

In their search for an e-voting model that guarantees accuracy, ease in ballot casting, and verifiability, countries are increasingly opting for e-voting solutions that include printing a vote receipt. This type of receipt is called a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

The main attraction of VVPAT systems is the fact that they enable voters to check in real time that the vote registered, which is the one printed by the machine, matches the choices they just inputted. In addition to enabling this verification, physically printing each vote generates a paper trail that opens the possibility to manually count and compare paper votes totals with the automated counts reflected on the minutes.

Due to the electoral guarantee involving the use of VVPAT, some countries now demand it with e-voting solutions, such as Brazil and India. Although the first of the two is an automation pioneer, its machines do not have printers that replicate digital votes on paper. For this reason, several initiatives have arisen to renew the country’s equipment so as to give way to paper trails for votes.

On the other hand, although India has become a benchmark in the successful implementation of voting machines, it has not yet fulfilled its promise to modernize its system by implementing paper trail printing in order to shield the people’s intent. However, the Supreme Court has already issued a ruling demanding its use.

Venezuela is a pioneer in the use of VVPAT in the region. The mark this practice leaves was reflected on a study conducted by Peru’s National Office for Electoral Processes (Onpe), which shows how the DRE model is progressing firmly compared to other e-voting models. It also shows how paper trails are gaining ground both in countries where electoral automation is used and countries where its implementation is still under study, such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

The way e-voting has found a way to defeat suspicion and fear has been shielding all the phases of the process. VVPAT is a guarantee for expansion.