Registrar’s Office in Colombia resumes debate on e-voting


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Colombian authorities are considering the idea of automating elections (Photo: confidencialcolombia.com)

Election automation has come under public scrutiny once again in Colombia as many of the candidates aspiring to become the new head of the Registrar’s Office have agreed that e-voting is a must.

Delegate Registrar Alfonso Portela, who is competing for the Registrar’s position with seven other candidates, believes that, despite the slow progress made in recent years, the changes introduced by the Registrar’s Office (effective census, use of biometrics) are bringing the country closer to automation. He says the Office “is working on incorporating it so that it becomes an adequate solution.” Portela has made an effort to push the debate toward e-voting. Guillermo Reyes, former Minister of Justice and former magistrate of the National Electoral Council (CNE), finds that resuming the automation of the electoral process is “vital, (…) as is the procurement of funds for e-voting pilot plans.” Néstor Iván Osuna, former magistrate says he “would continue to delve into the modernization of democracy.”

These statements reflect the fact that Colombia has been taking slow but steady steps toward e-voting since March 2012. An advisory commission was even created to push for the modernization of elections. However, this multidisciplinary group has not met since it launched an international call for bids for an automated voting pilot test over a year ago. 16 companies responded to this call.

While the debate unfolds, Colombia will have to use the system that has caused so many inconveniences in past elections –regional and local elections are scheduled for October 25. That is: partial use of biometric authentication of voters, manual voting, unofficial results via exit polls, and the digitization of count reports to be published on the Registrar’s Office’s website. This scheme is not contemplated under the 2004 law that already enables vote automation. The current Registrar has admitted repeatedly that the implementation of an e-voting model in the country “is still pending.” E-voting should help the nation overcome the distrust pervading some electoral processes.

The convergence of the upcoming local elections and the debate about e-voting brought by the race for the Registrar’s Office, seems to be forcing Colombia to move towards more secure and transparent elections.

Paper vote receipts: Making the vote verifiable


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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.

Latin America inclined in favor of an e-voting model


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Direct Recording Electronic is a technology that enables voters to mark their votes on a touchscreen or keyboard equipment.

A study conducted in Peru by the National Office for Electoral Processes (Onpe) shows how electoral technology advances firmly in improving electoral practices, and also in strengthening the guarantees that countries and their citizens require to go to the polls.

This document highlights that there is “an international consensus over the need to gradually and carefully implement certain technologic solutions geared toward the automation of electoral processes,” and it also underscores the penetration rate of e-voting in Latin America. It points out how an automated model, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) is the most implemented in the region.

According to Onpe’s research, countries like Brazil and Venezuela —which have a long history of e-voting implementation— as well as Mexico (Jalisco state) and Peru —with automated suffrage prototypes— have chosen DRE instead of other e-voting modes due to its many benefits, which range from ease of use and adjustability to the possibility of shielding each stage of the process (audits). The system also brings the possibility to automate elections in their entirety (voter identification, vote collection, tallying, aggregation, and transmission of results).

This system consists in “casting ballots directly on an electronic device through a touchscreen, buttons, or similar instruments. Information about each vote is stored in the computer’s hard disk, on a diskette, a compact disk, or a smart card.” It is different from other models in that it transmits all the votes at once at the end of the electoral event. Thus, it does not require network connectivity during the elections, and enables a fast and safe tallying at the end of the day.

One advantage offered by some DRE systems is the emission of a paper receipt after each vote, known as a Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPT). This represents a valuable mechanism that enables voters to verify in real time that the vote recorded by the device is the same as the one printed by the machine. This option opens the possibility to compare printed votes with the automated tally reflected on the minutes at the end of the electoral process or even at a later date.

Onpe also mentions other nations, like Colombia and Ecuador, which are currently considering the implementation of an e-voting model based on DRE technology. However, they are also studying PCOS (Precinct-Count Optical Scan), which is based on the use of a ballot box with an optical scanner that identifies ballots and processes votes in order to count them automatically. This makes it an automated tallying technology, rather than an automated voting one. The only country in the region that has partially implemented this other voting technology is Argentina.

The study mentions that electoral technology is available, and that there are several successful implementation experiences. However, it also draws attention on the need for nations willing to modernize their suffrage to follow protocols in order to guarantee a safe and transparent implementation, and not to join the list of countries whose authorities put voting at risk by succumbing to the interests of just a few.