Puerto Rico bets on automation and Guatemala lags behind

PuertoRicoWhile electoral automation in Puerto Rico already has the backing of a novel legal platform, Guatemala has discarded the option of applying any advances during 2015. The Electoral Law of the Free Associated State, an instrument with which Puerto Rico dictates electoral authorities to start the e-voting implementation process, recently came into force. Meanwhile, Guatemalan authorities have frozen any possible decision regarding this matter.

So far, it is known that Puerto Rico will debut using electoral technology during the November 2016 general elections, giving the country almost two years for the State Electoral Commission (CEE) to bring it to the level of automation leaders such as Brazil and Venezuela. This progress also means pulling away from cases like Guatemala, which discarded any advance for this year’s elections in spite of suffering for decades the flaws inherent in manual voting.

It is worth remembering that in order to have efficient and transparent electoral processes, automation is a vital step, but it is not enough. A series of conditions are essential for processes to take place in such a way that the results are an accurate representation of the voters’ intent, and that the citizens perceive such fact.

First of all, it is essential to hold a transparent and clean tender process that clarifies any doubts about the suitability of the chosen company. Besides, it is necessary to have electoral authorities having technical and managerial skills as well as credibility from the public. It is also very important to hire a company with cutting-edge technology and proven experience in the deployment of automated electoral solutions.

Puerto Rico is facing a great challenge that must be met according to the norm: following the steps that guarantee the technology selection and implementation process, as well as holding pilot tests and an informational campaign so that the e-voting model chosen responds to the country’s technical and logistic demands, as well as to people’s expectations and needs.

Both Puerto Rico and Guatemala are facing different challenges, but electoral bodies must take care of all aspects entailed by automation. Technology can be used to facilitate all electoral activities, but its correct and massive use will make all the difference, as opposed to manual processes.

Colombia assesses the risks entailed by 2015 manual elections

elecciones colombia

Manual voting and pre-count have sparked doubts about the results of Colombian elections. Photo: http://www.elnuevoherald.com

2015 is a year with an important electoral calendar for Colombia. Local elections will be held in October (mayors and governors), and during the first half of the year political parties will hold their own internal polls. Furthermore, there is the possibility that a referendum for peace is held in case the Government and the FARC reach an agreement.

This foreseeable agenda will occupy a fair chunk of the year’s available time. In light of the challenge entailed by having to organize and execute elections without having to endure the ills that have affected recent electoral events, registrar Carlos Ariel Sánchez admitted there are risks such as transhumance (registering to vote in a place other than one’s residence) and excessive expenses in campaigns. However, he remained silent on serious issues such as void votes, pre-counting (initial results of purely informational nature, which often do not match the official count), double voting, or delays in the delivery of the final results.

Sánchez admitted that the implementation of an e-voting model in the country “is still pending”. Such a model should help the nation to overcome the distrust that has clouded some electoral processes. However, he pointed out that although the Registrar’s Office has the ability to implement the technology, it all depends on the Executive branch allocating a budget to it.

Colombia has a law that enables the automation of elections since 2004. In March 2012, an advisory commission was created for the implementation of e-voting, but this process has not progressed much since then. Although a call for bids was made internationally, and 16 companies applied to design a pilot test, the event still hasn’t been scheduled and resources have not yet been allocated to make viable the use of technology.

So far, two automated voting models have been approved for experimentation: Precinct-Count Optic Scan (PCOS), and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE). However, the nation is still postponing the debate that would help to overcome the system currently in use, which sometimes has worked for a manual presidential election, but which has proven to be unsuitable for more complex voting processes, such as this year’s local elections.

Colombia breaks its silence and resumes the e-voting debate

voteAfter eight months of silence, Colombia reactivated the debate about the organization of an e-voting pilot test, an experience that could entail the true transformation of the country’s old and ill-reputed electoral system.

The E-Voting Implementation Advisory Commission had not met since November 2013, but it resumed work a few days ago to decide where, when and which companies will participate in the event that will foster the use of electoral technology in the country. According to leaked information, the Commission agreed to set a timeline to call e-voting providers for a tender, and also to establish the requirements that these companies must comply with in order to bid.

All decisions made from now on will seek to outline the path toward the selection of an e-voting model that represents the advantages of automation and that adapts to Colombia’s legal requirements and the specific characteristics of the Colombian suffrage.

Accordingly, last year the Registrar’s Office made a summons which was answered by 16 companies, local and foreign, offering the two kinds of technology that Colombia intends to test out: PCOS (precinct-count optical scan), based on the use of a ballot box with an optical scanner for identifying ballots and processing votes in order to count them automatically), and direct recording electronic (DRE) technology, which consists of the use of touchscreen machines that enable casting, storing, aggregating, and transmitting votes to a computing center . These devices must also have the capacity to print physical vote receipts.

These are the companies that will compete to provide electoral technology in Colombia: Gerencia Ieconsultores, Smartmatic, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Popayán, Dominion Voting, Technology Supplier, Arolén, Sio, Avante International Technology e ID Systems, Scytl, Thomas Greg & Sons Limited (Guernsey), 3M, Colvista, Gestión Informática, Grupo ASD, DPS Data Processing & Systems, Voting Solutions Colombia, and Certicámara.

Colombia has seen its quest to modernize suffrage halted several times. Let’s hope that this new impetus drives the country safely through the path to comply with the Law that enforces vote automation, and also to leave behind a system that has jeopardized the will of the people. Democracy needs it, and the country demands it.