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.