Manual voting keeps adding reasons for replacement

After the Spanish general elections of June 26th, the European country has seen how widespread suspicions about its voting system encouraged criticism from the electorate, and even how some of those critics about the nation’s manual voting went viral.

The country, Europe’s fifth largest economy, still votes manually, namely using traditional paper ballots marked and counted by hand.  Spanish electoral norms, instead of enforcing security measures, basically leave the integrity of results up to the “good faith” of technicians, poll members and electoral officers.

One alarmed voting circuit president wrote a telling account on his Facebook page of what may happen to Spanish ballots: in some cases, they have been actually destroyed and thrown in the garbage.   Such disclosure triggered a flood of critical comments, which should be analyzed given the need to optimize the system and bring about real changes, instead of just keep adding fuel to the fire.

Spanish manual voting, as many others around the world, lacks mechanisms to safeguard the people’s will.   For instance, paper ballots often get lost before they are counted, but this numerical inconsistency is not marked on a register that could be used to contest results; instead, these votes are simply counted as ‘blank’.

Furthermore, postal votes are counted with no safeguards in place, while the final tally for each poll station cannot be double checked since ballots are destroyed. The statements of vote, signed by the poll centre workers, are what becomes the representation of the will of Spanish voters, not their ballots.

Some other parts of the world have also shown manual voting to incarnate the absolute worst electoral practices.  The Argentine province of Chubut is one of the many cases where a close count has delayed official results for days or even weeks.  That location has also seen irregularities such as defective statements of vote, wrong vote counts and empty ballot boxes.

Colombia too has seen numerous elections where manual voting has made electoral authorities, and the country itself, look bad.  The reason is that every single shortcoming of this voting model has been detected throughout the years.  In principle, since amanual system allows for the delivery of unofficial results after the polls close, the final vote count can take days or weeks before it  gets approved and published, thus creating a great deal of mistrust in the official results.

Additionally, over the past few decades, Colombian manual voting methods have repeatedly been accused of allowing fraud, including tampering with the issuing of ID cards, delays in the delivery of electoral documents, irregularities when counting blank votes, empty ballots reassigned to different candidates, double voting, tampering with the statements of vote, pre-counting and delays in the delivery of results.

Coming from the need to modernize the system and to abandon a path of uncertainty and electoral malpractice, those countries mentioned above have carried out tests to improve their voting systems. All of these include e-voting.

Automation offers benefits, mainly having secure, quick and transparent elections.  The options are there, ranging from a 100% automated model to a mixed one, where the act of voting is still manual but the count involves automation technology.

The biggest difference between manual and automated models, is that while manual voting is characterized by leaving results up to the good will of poll centre members and technicians, technology opens the possibility to audit every phase of the process, guaranteeing the transparency that every legitimate election should have.

Problems with tallying cast shadows over elections in Argentina and Haiti

elecciones-argentinaLast October 25, three elections took place in Latin America. Argentina, Guatemala, and Haiti held electoral events, but results were known in only one of them.

While there will be a runoff in Argentina, and in Haiti authorities announced that definite results will be disclosed starting November the 4th, Guatemala was the only country that presented the winner of the election. Let’s take a closer look at each election:

1.- Argentina
The South American country had a high voter turnout—79% of the registry—, but the good news were followed by a  six-hour delay in the presentation of the first official result bulletin.

The election results were very close—there was a 2.5% difference between the first and second candidates—, which caused the National Electoral Chamber to delay the broadcast of the final vote count. This sparked complaints and suspicion all around the country, and also showed how precarious the Argentine manual voting model is.

The country will have its first runoff ever next November 22. The last one did not take place because one of the candidates abandoned the race. However, the slow delivery of results entailed an institutional and political risk that could have been costly, as electoral uncertaintly is one of the most dangerous experiences for democracy. This was made evident by the violent events that took place in Tucumán, Argentina, after the elections of last August.

If the margin is close during the runoff, Argentina will face a challenge that implies the need to start working in the renewal of its electoral system.

2.- Guatemala
Guatemala elected its new president: Jimmy Morales. Although something similar to what Argentina experienced happened here, when a “dead heat” made it impossible to announce results for days, the ample difference between both candidates and a 55% voter turnout made the work of the High Electoral Court (TSE) much easier.

The fact that Guatemala was safe by sheer luck speaks volumes about the poor condition of its electoral system. Democracy is very young in this country, so it is vital to aim toward the development of the electoral platform in order to avoid conflict, which this time was averted, perhaps by sheer luck too.

3.- Haiti
Out of the three countries that held presidential elections, Haiti had the most dramatic results. At the end of the election, the president of the Provisional Electoral Commission of Haiti (CEP), Pierre Louis Opont, announced that it would take ten days (starting November 4) to offer preliminary tally results.

The nation is facing strong setbacks due to its technologic and logistic constraints, aside from its weak institutionality. Although it has received financial and technical aid to run this election, its problems with the voter registry and the tallying phase reveal an urgent need to reform its electoral system.

The international community has the mission of supporting Haitians, but a stronger effort is needed in order to offer the country a voting method that makes it possible to rescue electoral certainty. On the first round, only 18% of those registered (that is, only 990,000 out of a full voting population of 5.5 million citizens) went to the polls. No better turnout is expected from the second round, either.


Latin America to experience a super Sunday with elections in Argentina, Guatemala, and Haiti


Haitians head to the polling stations under the risk of irregularities, low turnouts, and violence (Photo:

On October 25, Latin America will hold presidential elections in three countries: Argentina, Guatemala, and Haiti. The elections come after these three nations had to sort out complicated logistic and technical issues which compromised recent elections and generated doubts about their capacity to deliver reliable results.


This South American country carried out general elections in the midst of its strongest electoral crisis in recent times. Throughout the year, Argentina carried out a series of elections in which their manual voting system proved to be inefficient, to say the least. The most emblematic case of how poorly run the election were took place in the province of Tucuman. Initially, after violent protests erupted, the elections were annulled. But later, this measure was revoked by election authorities.

Many leaders and civil associations have come together to promote election automation. This includes going beyond the electronic tallying system implemented in some provinces, such as Salta.

National deputy Julio Cobos, Senate candidate, was emphatic when stating: “it is necessary to advance toward e-voting in order to eliminate difficulties in elections.” “The technology available nowadays is not expensive, schools don’t have to close for days, there’s no paying for ballots.”


Back in September, during the first round of the Presidential elections, the High Electoral Court (TSE) was not able to announce official final results due to the multiple irregularities that occurred during the process.

In spite this major setback, authorities seem confident that they will overcome the obstacles and deliver a good election. However, manual voting remains an obstacle. In light of this looming crisis, the observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) asked for “patience and temperance.”

Although electoral automation is not up for debate in Guatemala, it could certainly become part of the public agenda depending on the results of the second round.


The poorest nation in the continent will be carrying out its presidential runoff after first round with delayed results, political violence and errors on voter lists. The contest proved so problematic that in 25 districts it had to be repeated.

This situation provoked the emergence of the Patriotic Resistance group, which demands the dissolution of the electoral commission, the annulment of the first round, and the establishment of a transitional government. Nevertheless, the mission from the United Nations (UN) hoped that global support would be able to take the process to completion last Sunday.

Due to their technical and resource deficiencies, carrying out elections has become a titanic task for Haiti. Although support from the international community has been a constant ever since the 2010 earthquake, the need to renovate its election system and build greater political stability persists.