Latin America inclined in favor of an e-voting model


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.

Colombia: Slow but steady progress toward automation

eleccionescolombiaColombia’s negative experience with manual voting has been going on for years, mainly because the first results as a rule have been non-official, and the “successful” system used to elect one post—such as the country’s President—has proven totally deficient when elections acquire some degree of complexity—governors, mayors, deputies.

Based on the need to advance and leave electoral scandals behind, the country has created the Advisory Commission for the Implementation of E-Voting, a group that pushed forward the resolve of modernizing suffrage once again this year.

The task force held a new meeting recently and agreed on requesting the General Solicitor’s support, along with the National Registrar’s IT Management, to “define the most important technical aspects to be required of companies interested in conducting the e-voting test” being prepared by the Nation.

Last year, the Registrar’s Office made a summons attended by 16 local and foreign companies specialized in two kinds of technology that Colombia intends to use: PCOS (Precinct-Count Optical Scan), based on the use of a ballot box having an optical scanner for counting ballots, and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), which consists in the use of touchscreen machines that enable voting, storing votes, tallying them, and transmitting them to a data center. This equipment must also have the capacity to print physical proof of the selections made by voters.

The Advisory Commission informed that the companies seeking to furnish electoral technology for Colombia are: Gerencia Ieconsultores, Smartmatic, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Popayán, Dominion Voting, Technology Supplier, Arolén, Sio, Avante International Technology and ID Systems, Scytl, Thomas Greg & Sons Limited (Guernsey), 3M, Colvista, Gestión Informática, Grupo ASD, DPS Data Processing & Systems, Voting Solutions Colombia, and Certicámara.

The Advisory Commission agreed to present the proposal for the gradual implementation of e-voting as soon as possible, and also to approve the technical document with the guidelines for the pilot test that will be delivered to the National Government.

Colombia is advancing slowly but steadily toward automation. The Commission has been active for over two years, but now it exhibits confidence that for 2015 it will complete the cycle that will enable the country to test out the benefits of electoral technology, so that the nation can effectively leave elections with delayed results and fraud allegations in the past.

E-voting expansion leveraged by versatility


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.