Automated voting for immigrants is the next bet

Immigrant vote tends to be controversial in many countries, not only because the laws of several nations curtail the exercise of this political right, but also because the logistic required to make voting available to foreign nationals often hinders the process.

To turn this around, Mexico, Spain and Portugal are working for solutions. In these three regions electronic voting is being considered as a way to overcome limitations that exclude those who live their lives outside their country of origin, but who are not indifferent to the land they were born in.

In the Mexican case, a nation whose unofficial data shows 10 million of its nationals residing in the US alone, the National Electoral Institute (INE) recently announced the implementation of online voting for Mexican citizens residing abroad for the 2018 presidential elections. This was first planned for 2017, but it was delayed until next year.

According to the Institute, they hope to “within the legal framework, and responsibly, timely and fully present a strengthened remote voting model for the 2017-2018 electoral process, making the best efforts to simplify procedures and requirements as to make the model swifter, more efficient and simpler, so that our fellow Mexicans who have emigrated can have political participation”.

Mexico’s statement echoes the recurring complains by voters abroad, namely that they usually face difficulties to register and validate their condition as voters, primarily due to the condition set by some nations of having legal residency, or the fear to disclose their migratory status.

In addition, there are technical and logistic challenges that hinder the exercise of democracy.  For instance, the reception of the wrong electoral materials at the diplomatic missions, and the location of polling stations, which tend to be set in consulate or embassies far away from where many citizens live.

To sort these problems out, Portugal planned to implement an e-voting model aimed specifically at this sector of the population. This nation claims that during their most recent elections, the October 2015 legislative elections, only 11.68% of the 242,852 voters residing outside its territory went to the polls.

The Lusitanic country considers it urgent to “palliate a problem that diminishes the capacity of electoral participation for our citizens abroad”, through the introduction of postal or Internet enrolment, and the use of e-voting as an alternative to in-person or mail voting.

Finally Spain, and particularly Catalans, have complained about the lack of legislation that regulates political participation for immigrants, as well as the absence of a technological mechanism to fix the difficulties of organizing elections outside the national territory.

While these three nations advance in their internal discussions, they could consider the e-voting experiences of immigrants in different countries for their debate. There are the cases of Switzerland and The Philippines, where different automation models guarantee electoral egality among their own citizens residing either at home or abroad

Swiss citizens who live abroad can also vote online. This method contemplates the voters receiving their electoral materials via post, together with a six-digit password, so they can log into a designated website and gain access to the ballot.

On the other hand, the Commission on Elections of the Philippines (Comelec) extended the e-voting capabilities it successfully applied for the first time in 2010 to seven of the countries that host Filipino citizens, namely China (Hong Kong), Singapore, the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah) and Kuwait.


Mexico delays online voting to its citiens abroad

Mexico´s National Electoral Institute (INE) recently announced its decision to delay the implementation of an online voting alternative for Mexican nationals residing abroad, for this year’s state elections and the 2018 presidential vote.

The decision stems from a lack of budget to study, acquire and install an e-voting system, but also from a “lack of technical certainty” about the remote voting model the institute sought to implement.

According to the latest INE registries, out of the millions of Mexicans residing abroad (10 million estimated in the US alone), only 200k have requested their voter ID’s; the voting organism states it lacks both the time and the resources to meet the deadlines to guarantee an optimal use of the technology, which technicians consider key to facilitate enrolment and, therefore, turnout.

The news was not well received by activists abroad. Carlos Arango, representative of the Coalition for the Full Political Rights of Mexicans Abroad, considered the cancellation of the project to be “another taunt, another insult to Mexicans abroad”. For him, it is political, and not technical, variables that are hindering progress: “They fear our impact. They fear we might change the course of the election”, he stated.

On the other hand, one of the main political parties in the election, PRD, rejected the delay of automation, stating that the lack of political will is going to force Mexicans abroad to wait at least six more years to vote in presidential elections.

These criticisms were answered by the INE, which claimed the delay of the plan “does not mean e-voting from abroad is cancelled in the future, since there is an institutional commitment to advance the project”. The organism even promised to “design the alternatives and development routes for the system”.

Given the public and political complains, and the disposition of the authorities, activists and political parties must see this delay as a chance to get ready for the time when Mexico reopens the discussion on voting automation.

When that time comes, the debate can deepen, so it not only involves the partial use of electoral technology (i.e. limited to citizens abroad), but that it can also make inroads into choosing the safest and more effective e-voting model for the Republic as a whole.

Mexico city debuts Internet voting initiative

Mexico, a country that has been trying for years to overhaul  its electoral system, has finally taken a major step forward by formalizing one of the first remote voting projects in Latin America.

Although the initiative does not yet cover elections contemplated in the constitution and is yet limited to the election of community-based Citizen committees and People’s Councils,  it is a process backed by authorities and approved by the Federal District Electoral Institute (IEDF).

The pilot involves the use of an Internet voting mechanism, a simpler and more rudimentary version of the system used in countries like Switzerland and other democracies which have become more savvy in the use of internet technology for elections. Nevertheless, the initiative is important in that it introduces the use of electoral technology in the Mexican capital.

The voting mode to be used between August 31st and September 1st (traditional voting takes place on September 4th) covers two options: remote voting or in-situ voting at polling stations. For the former, a computer, tablet or personal cellphone can be used, whereas for the latter the voter will have to travel to strategic points in Mexico City to vote using equipment owned by the Institute.

According to the characteristics of the system made public by the IEDF, the residents of the capital who wish to vote remotely must pre-register on the Institutes’s website, in order to get an Internet voting key mandatory to activate the system.

The pre-registration password will be just one of the security mechanisms: when voting, citizens must enter a set of requested data (their user key, the OCR number in their voting credential and the Internet key), after which they will receive a message on their cellphones with a single use code (token) required by the system, and which is only valid for a brief period of time.  Only then will the screen show the voting options.

Councilwoman Olga González stated that the double authentication process for voters “will guarantee the one voter, one opinion, one vote principle”, a fundamental characteristic of every voting system that claims to be safe and transparent.

The scope may be modest, yet obervers hope that it will demonstrate to voters the immense gulf that separates the manual and automated elections and provide the impetus for the country to finally modernize its elections.