Argentina has time to expand the debate on electoral reform



Argentina is immersed in a debate on electoral reform. While the proposal set forth by the Executive is being considered on a federal level, some provinces are also working to bring about changes in their regions.  The common thread in all these negotiations seems to be electronic voting.

If we look at the path followed nationally so far, it is important to mention that the Chamber of Deputies has already annexed a paragraph to the bill, stating that the adoption of voting technology must be progressive, establishing in principle that between 30% and 50% of districts should use an automated voting model for 2017, while national application would be reached in 2019.

Along this clause for gradual adoption, there is the decision that the country must adopt a Single Electronic Ballot (BUE), a model employed in Salta, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires and which has had a mixed performance; it has worked relatively well in some elections, but has always raised doubts on its capacity to safeguard the people’s will.

These two aspects in the electoral reform generate uncertainty and worry.  Although the international standards warn about the need to implement voting automation progressively, Argentina has already done this for several years, making it contradictory to delay the process even more.

A topic that has not gotten enough attention is the need for any technology selected to be 100% auditable.  It was only known that the National Electoral Chamber (CNE) signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme (UND) to “improve” control of the e-ballot, but nothing has been stated about how this will occur.

Facing this reality, there are some troublesome points that should receive greater attention from politicians. Why automate only the vote count instead of the voting process as a whole? Why focus on applying the technology in certain regions instead of expanding farther? Why is there little being said about audits on the BUE?

The negotiations are still ongoing, so Argentina still has time to expand the debate. This is not just about taking a step forward in the use of electoral technology, but about selecting the most secure and efficient automated voting model for the nation.

E-voting positioned in electoral debate in Argentina


Voting in Argentina is primarily manual (Photo:

On November 22, Argentina experienced something never seen before: a presidential runoff (the first time this could have happened, it didn’t because Carlos Menem quit his candidacy). However, this was not the only distinctive element of this election. This highlight was fueled by other novelties like the second presidential debate in the democratic history of the country, and the fact that e-voting has been positioned as an issue worth discussing during the campaign.

In fact, due to the poor performance of the manual tallying during the first electoral round—the bulletin was six hours late due to the narrow difference in results—, and the scandalous election in Tucumán, which was declared void due to fraud and then declared valid, automation gained force as an electoral issue. This topic was first addressed by the two candidates to the presidency, and also by the third political force led by Sergio Massa.

The candidate from Cambiemos, Mauricio Macri, stated that he will promote an electoral reform that takes into account the “single ballot, e-voting, or the best technology available in 2017,” while the officialist candidate Daniel Scioli fixed his position in the last weeks of the presidential race. This happened during the election of the Pinamar intendent, when Scioli acknowledged that automated voting “improves transparency in the electoral act.”

On the other hand, “Massism” aims at a transformation of legal administration in several regions throughout the country, and in such reform e-voting plays a prominent role. For example, in Buenos Aires, the movement champions the modification of the voting system to give way to electoral technology. Even the Commission for Political Reform expects to debate the automation project before the end of 2015.

In Argentina, several electoral models coexist, as each province is free to choose and manage its own electoral system. Therefore, multiple ballots (one ballot per political force) are used in the national elections (and most provincial elections), but at the same time, a single ballot is used in Santa Fe.

In Salta and Buenos Aires, the Single Electronic Ballot (BUE) has been implemented. This automates tallying only. Some municipalities in Córdoba tested successfully this year a voting system that automates all of the essential phases of an election.

In light of this diversity, the fact that e-voting is under the spotlight of electoral debate is proof of the importance granted by political forces to the democratic obligation of defending the people’s intent. Until now, Argentina has suffered the many shortcomings and flaws of manual voting, but new leaders are now poised to take on the challenge of modernizing the electoral system of this country.