2014 was an important year for Ecuador: the February provincial elections became the first binding e-voting test with optimum results. After this initial success, it was taken for granted that the country would continue to strengthen its electoral guarantees, but the authorities decided otherwise.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that it canceled the project that would enable two million Ecuadorians to use e-voting during the 2017 elections. The entity argued that the initial investment for acquiring the technology was too high and that there was distrust on the part of the population regarding the technology. The authorities have set 2019 as a new target for launching a technology-assisted voting model.
This contradicts the public statements voiced by the electoral body throughout the year, which highlighted the experience with e-voting in 2014: the deployment of voting technology in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, provided by Smartmatic, as well as that in Azuay, provided by Magic Software Argentina; both of them capable of automating voting and safeguarding the people’s intent.
The president of the CNE, Juan Pablo Pozo, argued that the entity needed to apply a savings policy to be in sync with the country, which has been affected by the fall in oil prices. He pointed out that while e-voting requires an investment of $14 per person, manual voting costs $7 per voter.
Beyond checking whether the CNE’s calculations are correct—which they are not—, the world’s experience challenges Pozo’s argument. Countries that use e-voting confirm that after an initial investment, this system represents medium and long-term savings.
Of course, the first implementation requires covering the costs of purchasing the software and hardware, training human resources, and educating voters, but these costs decrease significantly for the next elections, as only maintenance of the technology platform is needed.
In spite of this reality, Ecuador has turned its back on automation. The country had set a development path that involved the gradual implementation of electoral technology, building upon the 2014 experience to promote electronic voting.
When comparing the monetary cost of automation and the cost of elections with no transparency, it becomes obvious that electoral security is priceless. The harm caused by delayed or doubtful results to the political class and the country in general is unmeasurable.
Ecuador even confirmed this in 2014, when Scytl, the Spanish company in charge of digitizing vote count minutes for their consolidation and vote assignment, breached their 6 million dollar contract, so it had to be terminated. The results of those elections were delayed several weeks until officially announced, which caused great political and economic distress.
However, it is always possible to make amends. Ecuador has the opportunity to decide whether to subject its people to the ills of manual voting, or to continue along the road towards the implementation of a robust electronic voting system, adapted to the country’s technical, logistic, and idiosyncratic needs.