Electoral doubt looming over the Argentine province of Salta

salta1Almost one month after the Mandatory Simultaneous Open Primaries (PASO) in the Argentine province of Salta, doubts over the electoral system are swarming around the electronic ballot box the province has been using for years. Moreover, in addition to the failures denounced during the April 12th internal elections—as well as those registered in past elections—the review performed after the electoral process has revealed new irregularities.

A programmer named Javier Smaldone was able to hack into an “electronic ballot chip and modify its contents without leaving any trace.” The storage means was part of a test ballot box, which was used by the Electoral Court of Salta to ascertain the technical flaw.

The electoral body, supported by technology provider MSA (Magic Software Argentina), argued that they use two types of chip during the process: one for test ballots, and one for Election Day. Therefore, Smaldone’s actions would have no impact, as this was a ballot box where the system was tested, as opposed to one for use during the primaries.

This statement raised strong concerns, as in reality transparency protocols in the implementation of electoral technology demand the use of the same applications and devices deployed for the elections for all the tests, as otherwise it would be impossible to show the electorate and the political stakeholers how the automated voting model works and what its guarantees are.

An audit made on the process was not helpful to clear up any of the questions that arose, such as: why are different chips used for the same electoral process? Is it possible to prove that the test ballot boxes’ technical failures will not be replicated in the definitive ballots? How are we to trust that people in Salta voted using the correct chips?

In view of the distrust that arose, the Romero + Olmedo political front presented a constitutional complaint against the electronic ballot box at the Salta Court of Justice, as this technology will be used once again on May 17 for the elections for governor, vice governor, intendent, deputies, and councilmen. Moreover, concerns go beyond this province, as the same voting model will be used at the July 5 General Elections in Buenos Aires, the country’s capital.

Facing this reality, facts are against Salta’s electronic ballot box. The device has presented faults throughout several electoral events, denying the electorate the possibility of having equipment that shield the process and the region’s political stability. Now, practices that could be deemed fraudulent are affecting not only the election, but institutional transparency as well.