Mexico will test out locally designed e-voting system


mexicoMexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) has set the goal of automating the country’s electoral system by 2018. Three years away from the deadline, the organization is still facing various obstacles. However, in light of the June 7 federal elections, the electoral agency will present an e-voting model designed and built in the country.

The pilot test that will be deployed in District 02 of Chihuahua, District 03 of Aguascalientes, and District 04 of Hidalgo seeks to become the breaking point enabling Mexico to close the technological-electoral gap where it lags behind other Latin American countries.

According to the INE, the organization’s system was built and produced by the Research and Advanced Studies Institute (Cinvestav) from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), following “international canons and protocols.”

Information presented thus far by INE shows that Mexico copied some of the world’s best practices in e-voting. One example of this is the fact that the voting machines have the capacity to print vote receipts on paper, an electoral guarantee pioneered in Venezuela. It was also revealed that the devices have a screen where voters will mark their selection, and at the end of the day the machines will print minutes with the results, which will be immediately transmitted to a data center.

The experience was designed so that voters can interact with 1,500 machines distributed across three districts in the three states chosen for the test after the voting in the federal elections (for 1,996 posts, including local and national deputies, mayors, and heads of delegation). Thus, they can verify the simplicity of the process, as well as the guarantees it offers.

INE’s Statistics and Electoral Documentation Director, Gerardo Martínez, pointed out that aside from the technical benefits e-voting offers, Mexico wants to leverage technology, as the electoral agency estimates that with the jump from paper votes to electronic ones, the cost of each vote would go from 56 cents (0.036 dollars) to 3 cents (0.0019 dollars).

The electoral agency’s bet is that after the e-voting test run, both voters and political actors will act as replicators of the benefits of automation, so that the authorities promote the adoption of technology. This would require a legal reform enabling the use of voting machines, as well as the budget approval for the production of the equipment and the compliance with vital stages such as the information campaign, technician and voter training, and drills, among others.

Latin America inclined in favor of an e-voting model


sd

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.

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.