Vices and failures of manual voting set Honduras on fire


On Sunday, November 26th Honduras conducted general elections. Sadly, after nine days of counting, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) has not been able to declare a winner due to several failures in their processing of the votes.

Given the tight margin between the most voted candidates (1.5% of the voter roll) and the great number fraud claims and irregularities (e.g. numerical inconsistencies, problems with loading the tally), the TSE is carrying out a recount that has delayed the process for over a week and triggered a political earthquake.

This episode shows clearly, once again, the obsolescence of the Honduran voting system, and how manual voting can delay the publication in results and hurt the credibility of institutions.

To make matters worse, violence took hold in several regions of the country, leading authorities to decree a curfew. Deaths, looting, vehicles set ablaze, unrest and all forms of protest went on for days, creating a dire prognosis for the stability of Honduran democracy.

A sequence of unfortunate events

The poor performance of manual counting was visible from the early hours of the process on, when the Supreme Electoral Court announced they could not communicate the result of the count because of insufficient information. Immediately after, two of the candidates – president Juan Orlando Hernández and Salvador Nasralla– proclaimed themselves as winners, opening the floodgates.

The first data came almost 48 hours after the voting closed, after a slow count of less than 60% of the ballots which, far from clearing the air, only made matters worse.

In the following days, a series of situations took place casting even more doubt. For instance, after the first bulletin, in which opposition candidate Nasralla had a lead of almost 5 points on Hernández, the TSE page stopped updating for almost 36 hours; when it came back online, the result had reverted.

Right after, another technical failure on the Electoral Court website stopped the publication of results, and from then on, distrust was total for Nasralla, his supporters and a good section of the electorate.

Nasralla accuses the ruling party of having committed fraud, and states that 5,173 polling centre counts show the irregularities that are robbing him of victory. To explain how the count was altered, he requested an audience with the observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS).

This request opens a new chapter for Honduras. Elections are over and the count is too, but the electoral process is still ongoing, waiting for the proclamation of the winner.

For now, the TSE is defending its voting model, but let us remember that some months ago there was a scandal that tarnished the system for Preliminary Results Transmission (Trep) and the Integrated System for Vote Counting and Results Publishing (Siede). The former oversees the telephone transmission of manual counts to a tally centre; the latter allows for the scanning and online transmission of certified voting returns.

Both models have been used for several years: Trep since 2009 and Siade since 2012, presenting several issues and sowing mistrust. However, this year, information came to light about the origin of the contracts subscribed by the TSE and companies such as Mapa Soluciones, Geotech and Corporación Majo, which violate the minimum norms for transparency and legality for the award of public contracts.

In face of the accusations, and after what happened in the November 26th general elections, it is clear that transparency in electoral matters is precarious in Honduras. The country faces a decisive moment: they can either purge the management of their public contracts and transform their voting model, or permanently hurt the credibility of electoral authorities and public trust.

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El Salvador suspends electoral modernization


El Salvador, one of the democracies demanding most attention in the region due to the political violence that has plagued it for years, has decided to suspend the use of technology for the organization of their 2018 elections.  This decision puts in risk the transparency of the vote, scheduled for next March 4th.

According to the country’s Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), this measure is mainly a result of government budget cuts.  According to magistrate Guadalupe Medina, the reduction of $14.116.490 from their expenses has “touched the heart of the electoral process, the nerves of the process”.

Such dramatic statements come from the fact that early TSE reports show this lack of resources will affect key election processes: the modernization of the transmission process, the processing and publication of electoral results, the training of voting officials, and electoral logistics.

TSE magistrate Miguel Ángel Cardoza explained that there was a bid for the purchase of optical vote scanners on the schedule (the machines would also be used for digitizing the election returns) but this plan had to be scrapped due to the lack of funds.

It is interesting that the Salvadorian government chose to sacrifice the modernization of the counting stage of the process. In all recent elections (such as the 2015 election of deputies and mayors, and the 2014 presidential election) problems typical to manual voting, such as numerical inconsistencies and double voting, and failures by the companies chosen for the scanning and transmission of election returns to tallying centres, forced the TSE to delay the announcement of official results for weeks.

Cardoza warns that votes will need to be counted manually again, trusting that the scanning of election results will work this time, and the problems and failures will not be repeated.   He stated that the only resort is to improve the training of the poll staff, but he admitted the resources alloted for this stage were also cut.

Given the particular requirements of a voting process, and good practices for the use of technology, what happened in El Salvador needs to be reviewed.  Risking political stability by skipping vital needs for every election, and by not adopting automated systems that are tailored to said needs, can only make the voters’ will more vulnerable and harm their trust on institutions.

Scandal clouds election preparations in Honduras


Honduras will hold elections in November. The five months remaining will be spent under the shadow cast by the scandal of their organization. Four key companies involved in the process, including Mapa Soluciones, are under investigation for the irregularities in the awarding of several contracts. The scandal also involves the current directive of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

The National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) is the organism that has made the case public. Mapa Soluciones and other related companies are under scrutiny; these companies oversee the Preliminary Results Transmission System (Trep) and the Integrated Count and Result Broadcast System (Siede).  The former is in charge of transmitting, via phone, the results of a manual vote count to a tallying centre, while the latter is used to scan and send certified election returns over the Internet.

Both models have been used for several years, Trep since 2009 and Siade since 2012, both with several problems and generating mistrust. However, it is only now that the origin of the contracts subscribed between the TSE and companies like Mapa Soluciones, Geotech, Intelred and Corporación Majo is under the spotlight, since it violates the minimum norms for transparency and legality for the awarding of public contracts.

According to Odir Fernández, member of the CNA, the inquiries show that the owner of Mapa Soluciones, Faustino Reyes Rodríguez, has ties to a political party; additionally, the Trep contract was awarded to him directly just a month after the incorporation of his business, and therefore the company lacked the track record demanded by law.

The National Anti-Corruption Council also stated that Mapa was not enrolled in the State’s service providers list (they were added in 2012) and lacked municipal permits, but the TSJ overlooked these flaws and awarded them the contract, even for the 2013 and 2017 elections.

There is also an element that would, at least, raise eyebrows anywhere else in the globe: two former coordinators and advisers of the Trep system are working for Mapa Soluciones.

These irregularities are repeated with the other companies, and alarms are going off because, according to the CNA, throughout the years and “in several reports, Mapa Soluciones acknowledges the failures in Trep and the data recognition system, yet allege they should not be considered failures, but rather errors that count as useful experience for future improvement”.

Facing these facts, the Chief Magistrate of the TSE, David Matamoros Batson, declared that if the Advisory Council, which includes 10 political parties, concludes that Mapa Soluciones does not meet the requirements, a different company must be engaged.    However, he defended the Tribunal, claiming there has been a media and political narrative that intends to harm the organism and the company itself.

The presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, Luis Zelaya, announced he will take a petition to the TSE to cancel their contract with Mapa, mainly due to the company’s links to the National Party, and the failures registered by the system in the 2009 and 2013 elections.

As shown by the accusations and the findings of the investigation, transparency in electoral matters is precarious in Honduras.  The country faces a decisive moment: they can either purge the management of their public contracts and transform their voting model, or permanently hurt the credibility of electoral authorities, undermining public trust even further.