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.

A stumbling block threatens the institutionalism of Ecuador’s CNE

CNEEcuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) is experiencing a credibility crisis after its newly-appointed board was practically forced to quit thanks to the unexpected resignation of one of its counselors due to her having a political affiliation.

The CNE had a Board of Directors—presided by Paul Salazar—for eight days. Salazar set forth the need to undertake an all-encompassing reform of the Democracy Code. However, the newly-incorporated counselor Gloria Toapanta suddenly quit, seemingly as part of a political move regarding her partisanship, as she is a militant of the Alianza País party. This restrains her from keeping her post.

Although the desertion of an advisory post should not have altered the Board’s composition, both Salazar and vice president Mauricio Tayupanta resolved to put the rest of the posts at the disposal of the CNE members, until the vacancy left by Mrs. Toapanda was filled. The situation, far from being solved transparently, abiding by the norms, became a process that already has raised legal procedures against it, as new authorities were appointed at the same time as the post was being filled in a suspicious manner.

The reviews by the media shows that three people were considered apt to fill the vacancy: Solanda Goyes and Mónica Rodríguez, substitutes designated in last December’s contest carried out by the Citizen Participation Council, where Toapanda won. Besides, Ana Marcela Paredes, first substitute from the 2011 process, also requested her incorporation.

According to Article 20 of the Democracy Code (CD), at the resignation of one of the main advisors, his or her post will be filled by the subsitute with the highest score at the contest where he or she was elected. In this case, the contest that applies is the one carried out in 2014.

Solanda Goyes, who obtained 88 points in last year’s contest, claimed to be the first substitute. However, CNE counselors voted for Paredes, who was voted substitute in 2011 with 77.75 points. The affected candidate will file for protection and will take action against the appointment.

Thus, Paredes’s entry gave way to the appointment of Juan Pablo Pozo and Nubia Villacís, who were appointed president and vice president of the CNE, respectively. After the issue was seemingly settled, different people, among them Fausto Camacho, former CNE member, criticized several of the State’s institutions for joining together to contravene the law. Camacho annouced that he will also take legal action.

Although Pozo defended himself from the criticism arguing that CNE “is not an allocation council,” the entity is now facing an institutional crisis that is jeopardizing not only the body’s future, but also the country’s electoral guarantees, as Ecuador has been immersed in a process of suffrage modernization, in which the technology it will use to automate voting has been under evaluation.

CNE’s institutional frailty might become an obstacle not only for the country’s electoral development, but for the preservation of suffrage. It is now the turn of legal instances to activate the mechanisms that enable the solution of what clearly looks like a political stumbling block.

E-voting rising on the Argentinean horizon

mediumIn light of the lack of an e-voting project at the federal level, several Argentinian provinces have chosen to go one step ahead and experiment with electoral technology in recent years. Only this year, the governments of Buenos Aires, Posadas, Misiones, and Mendoza approved the use of some form of e-voting system for the 2015 elections.

In their transition toward e-voting, the regions of Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe have implemented the model known as the electronic ballot box with smart ballots, which is not a comprehensive e-voting solution but a device designed to automate tallying.

This experience—which has yielded positive results sometimes, and sometimes has presented problems—should be taken as a trampoline into the advancement of e-voting implementation, rather than being seen as the “fast way” to perform automation.

Argentina has the possibility of enjoying all the benefits that electronic suffrage has to offer. These range from the effective validation of voters’ identities and a simple voting process, to the digital and printed recording of each vote, as well as the tallying, aggregation, and transmission of results, and the system audits throughout all stages.

To go from using only automated tallying, still favoring manual suffrage, to delivering a 100% automated voting system is the decision that the authorities must make in 2015. These regions are facing the option to bet on improving their current voting system, one where human error—intentional or unintentional—is minimized while speeding up and streamlining processes that are simply impossible in traditional elections.

Electoral guarantees are at the decision-makers’ reach. Only political responsibility and respect toward the people’s intent will make it possible for e-voting to dominate Argentina’s suffrage.