Spain turns its back on equal suffrage


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Venezuela uses devices from the SAES 4000 series by Smartmatic, which enable voting for people with disability.

The progress of technology, aside from facilitating and improving processes in numerous realms of human endeavor, is also useful to expose governmental negligence. Next May, Spain will hold municipal and autonomous elections. Although the nation has been running tests and analyses for years in order to take steps into e-voting, in recent weeks authorities have acknowledged that people will disabilities will not be able to exert their right to suffrage in the upcoming elections.

The Executive Branch has pointed out that it is “technically impossible” to use a voting system accessible to people with visual impairments, due to the large number of candidacies in the 8,116 municipalities that will go to the polls this time. The government has even mentioned that the Organic Law of the General Electoral Regime (LOREG) contemplates just one specific voting procedure for the visually impaired (ballots in Braille), but only for general elections, European elections, and referenda; thus leaving out municipal elections, and altogether excluding voters with disabilities other than visual impairment.

This recent official statement is at odds with the fundamental rights of members of any society; worse yet, knowing that in other parts of the world technology has contributed to balance the exercise of suffrage. Physical or sensory disabilities no longer pose a restriction for voters to cast their ballots and benefit from the right to vote in an universal, free, direct, secret, and equal manner. Aside from representing the best option for citizens to gain access to fast, reliable, and transparent elections, e-voting has bestowed a new meaning to equal suffrage. It has offered autonomy to voters with physical disabilities (motor disabilities, limb impairment, absence of limbs), as well as sensory ones (visual and hearing impairment).

For example, the US and Venezuela employ vastly different voting models, but they both have implemented equipment supporting the Braille system for visually impaired voters and providing headphones for illiterate voters, as well as “sip and puff” tools to facilititate suffrage for people with motor problems.

In Spain, e-voting has had numerous trials. The first one took place in 1995 and the latest one in 2011 in Castellón, Ceuta, Huesca, and Merida. However, no autonomous community has been able to take the initiative and regulate automation.

Spanish deputy Joan Valdoví considers that the Spanish Government “is still living in the 19th century” and has been incapable of “adapting to new technologies to make democracy truly accessible to all citizens.”

Electoral technology has made the assisted vote possible thanks to a new generation of cutting-edge machines; e.g., touchscreen devices with Braille system for people with visual disability to vote on their own, or devices with headphones where the machine reads the contents of the ballot in as many languages as required. Moreover, there are interfaces that enable ballot navigation using “sip and puff” devices, so that voters with motor limitations can browse through options in the ballot.

There are no excuses for discrimination. What Spain and other nations require is the resolve and a sense of equality in the exercise of suffrage, as technology is available to guarantee every citizen’s right to vote. It is time to acknowledge that people with any kind of physical impairments have the same rights to vote as anyone else.

E-voting expansion leveraged by versatility


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Photo: Impacto

E-voting detractors usually use any internal differences that might arise in a country, or political frictions coming with the adoption of electoral technology, to try to discredit its use. However, the reality is that automation is far from falling back or stagnating. In fact, it has expanded well beyond constitutional elections.

Progress in technology has not only allowed Democracy to use multiple solutions designed to improve the processes entailed by an electoral event, but its versatility is also being utilized by the many organizations that must choose authorities, approve or reject initiatives, allow or halt grassroots proposals, or approve or object to draft legislations around the globe.

Thus, it is common nowadays for universities, professional guilds, political parties, grassroots associations, parliaments, city halls, or other kind of organizations to use e-voting to offer their voters the opportunity to interact with a voting system that can adapt to their needs and guarantee speed, security, transparency, and auditability.

Within Latin America, countries like Argentina, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia, Spain, and Venezuela have experimented with automated elections within student, political, or social organizations, replicating the successful results shown in traditional elections becoming automated around the world.

These processes usually employ either of the two most widely used e-voting models: one is the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system, which consists in the use of touchscreen machines that enable voting, storing votes, aggregating them, and transmitting them to a computing center, as well as printing a physical vote receipt for each voter’s selection. The second alternative is called 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.

The aforementioned examples are just a few of the areas where electoral technology can provide more specialized software and hardware for all the stages of a voting process. These and other globally renowned mechanisms have helped to tear down barriers and enable versatility to become an indisputable ally in the expansion of e-voting.

Spain and Chile aim once more for e-voting


No two countries could be more different in the way they approach e-voting as Spain and Chile. While the former has been carrying out pilot tests since 1995 without taking any firm steps to automate its elections, the latter discussed the idea of applying electoral technology only in 2012.

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Asturias is debating a law to provide e-voting to immigrants. Picture: ABC

Despite this obvious difference, in the past few days, active political members of both nations agreed to restart the discussions on the matter, putting in the limelight their voting systems’ need for evolution, with the goal of having more electoral guarantees to offer the voters and the democratic process itself.

This is how in Spain, where e-voting has undergone several trials (the last of which took place in the cities of Castellon, Ceuta, Huesca and Merida in 2011), no autonomous community has taken the lead and made voting automation into law. However, the province of Asturias is analyzing a reform to its Electoral Law that could allow for voting technology.

According to the information made public, the first step in the transition from manual to electronic voting would include Spanish nationals residing abroad, since the possibility of making e-voting available to them is being considered. The idea is to benefit from one of the main advantages of automation: an increase in voter turnout. The swiftness of results and of the voting itself is one of the characteristics that mobilize more voters in those countries that employ voting technology.

On the other hand, Chile has said few about automating the voting process, but the accusations of up to a million votes lost in the October 2012 municipal elections have made the subject relevant once more, and politicians are involved in its discussion.

Regarding the fact that only the Senate’s approval is missing to pass a law that would make voting legal for Chileans abroad, “Red Internacional por el Voto sin Condiciones” (International Network for Voting without Conditions, a Chilean NGO) claimed that, together with the restitution of the political right to vote to immigrants, multiple voting modes should be allowed as well, such as postal and e-voting.

Both debates, the Spanish and the Chilean, could be the kick-start that the authorities need to modernize voting and level with their European counterparts (Switzerland), or even match the trajectory set with speed and success by other Latin American countries (Venezuela).