Ecuador’s electoral progress hindered


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Ecuador postponed its e-voting project until 2019, so it will be using paper ballots in 2017 (Photo: http://www.lahora.com.ec)

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.

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Spanish America strives to link technology with popular election


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The Spanish autonomous community of Canarias will use tablets for the transmission of results.

The use of technology in the delicate and complex process of organizing elections continues to expand in Spanish America. In addition to the two global benchmarks of the region—Brazil and Venezuela—, there are other countries and regions joining in, such as Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras, among others.

Two regions where technology will come closer to voters in the coming months are Mexico and the Spanish autonomous community of the Canary Islands.

In the Canary Islands, the authorities have authorized the use of tablets to speed up the transmission of results. According to the technical specs of the exercise, 1,124 tablets will be used next May 24th at the polling stations where councillors and deputies will be elected, which will speed up the process of vote tally.

This initiative shows that there are procedures that make the benefits of electoral technology evident in terms of optimizing voting processes and enforce guarantees.

In Mexico, where elections will be held in June, the National Electoral Institute (INE) has not made any progress in the development of the automation pilot test that had been promised for this year. However, the state of Chiapas will implement an online voting model that will enable citizens living abroad to participate in the elections. The process is very simple (registration, password generation, and ballot casting), and will set an example for this country, in terms of how technology can become a means of political inclusion.

Parallel to these experiences, Honduras joined the group of nations that seek to generate the legal platform that enables e-voting. A bill is under way in the Parliament for the automation of the 2017 elections. This would allow the region (which has experienced strong political frictions) to find a mechanism that guarantees the electoral will, and along with it, the path to stability.

2015 is already under way and there are several initiatives that put under the spotlight some of the objectives which some countries are pursuing in electoral matters. The good news is that most of the ideas are based on the implementation of e-voting best practices.

Scytl in Ecuador and Mexico: Is it the same screenplay?


The Spanish Company Scytl seems to be developing a knack for controversies, in the same vein as that used in 2014 to lure entrepreneurs like Paul Allen, and investment groups as Vy Capital, in order to tap millions of US$ in investment roundtables.

It is a dangerous combination of incompetency, arrogance and effrontery that made Scytl the center of several scandals around the world, in a very short space of time. Only in 2014, Canada, Norway, Peru and Ecuador suffered firsthand “the Scytl experience”.

In 2015 it is now Mexico´s turn. The National Electoral Commission (INE) contracted this Spanish company last September 30th, 2014 to supply an online accounting system for political parties, made up of three modules: Accounting, Controlling and Transparency.

However, on December 14th alarms went off, as Scytl did not submit the first module of the accounting system on time. Since then, all facts are remarkably similar to what happened a year ago during Ecuador´s sectional elections. On that occasion Scytl failed in its attempt to deliver electoral results on time. It was not about a delay of hours, but of weeks that took Syctl to deliver the results expected that very election evening.

After a whole month of delay in delivering the results in Ecuador, the noncompliance with obligations by Syctl was very evident. In spite of that, the company refused to accept its failures and blamed the Ecuadorian Electoral Commission. To date, the Syctl website refers to the Ecuadorian experience as a total success. Last week, in light of the early termination of the Service Contract by Mexico, the company reacted similarly: washing its hands.

But coincidences do not end with a simple and binding failure of the service. A month after the elections, the Ecuadorian National Electoral Commission (CNE) took action on this matter and Syctl´s Contract was declared null and void. The contract was unilaterally terminated and the corresponding warranty charges were applied.

Through its spokesman, the company´s CEO Pere Valles, expressed his surprise at the Ecuadorian Government procedure and warned of legal actions. But is it a coincidence, or is there a modus operandi here? Precisely this week, after INE´s announcement, Pere Valles was surprised and launched a threat to the Mexican authorities.

In Ecuador (2014), much to the amazement of public opinion, Valles accused Domingo Paredes —then the President of the Ecuadorian Electoral Commission— of having an arrangement with another contractor. “We believe this (the decision) reflects the CNE President´s interest in working with another contractor” said Scytl CEO to EFE

On this occasion and during the MVS news broadcast of Carmen Aristegui, Scytl insinuated that the early termination of the Contract by INE was political in nature.

Time will pass and we will see. INE defends itself giving details on the Contract and explaining why the early termination. As yet, this Scytl threat seems to be just a simple intimidation to the electoral body, in an effort to preserve its reputation in other places, where this story —which is turning into a ritornello— may not make it to the news.