Colombia opens its doors to 16 e-voting companies

In less than three months, Colombia will take a decisive step towards automation by carrying out a pilot test whose purpose is to bring up the possibilities technology provides to facilitate the execution of safe, fast, and transparent elections.

The E-voting Advisory Commission has worked nonstop to outline the path the nation will follow towards the selection of a model that represents the advantages of automation and adapts to the legal requirements and characteristics of Colombian suffrage.

To this end, an international tender call was made, which was attended by 16 companies specializing in offering the two types of technology that Colombia wants to test out.

One of them is called PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan), which is based on the use of a ballot box with a scanner that identifies ballots and processes votes in order to count them automatically.

The second option is the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system, which consists in the use of touchscreen machines that enable voting, vote storage, and their tallying and transmission to a data center. These devices must also have the capacity to emit physical receipts of the selections made by the voters.

Based on this requirement, more than a dozen companies from Colombia and abroad signed up to be elegible to deploy their technology on January 31st, 2014 in the 93 electoral constituencies from the 30 provinces chosen to star on the e-voting pilot test.

The 16 companies are: Gerencia Ieconsultores, Smartmatic, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Popayán, Dominion Voting, Technology Supplier, Arolén, Sio, Avante International Technology y ID Systems, Scytl, Thomas Greg & Sons Limited (Guernsey), 3M, Colvista, Gestión Informática, Grupo ASD, DPS Data Processing & Systems, Voting Solutions Colombia, and Certicámara

Starting now, the Registrar’s Office will be in charge of studying the financial proposal that was requested from the companies and evaluating which of them meet the requirements, which range from adapting the technology and machines to rural areas that can present connectivity problems and blackouts and having mechanisms to facilitate voting to citizens with disabilities, to generating software that enables the scrutiny, tallying, and transmission of results, electoral data encryption, and auditability of all the stages of the process.

The task Colombia is undertaking could free the country from long and tense discussions, as the performance of the chosen technologies will allow discerning what system the nation needs for the future. The decision made is to end the delay in presenting election results, which damages the credibility of authorities and institutions, and also to stop the occurrence of fraud such as double voting, which has marred the elections for decades.

Experts unravel e-voting requirements


Experts evaluated e-voting best practices in Lima. Photo: Onpe

Experts from Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Norway, Austria, Mexico and Argentina reviewed the best practices in electoral automation during the “Compared Experiences in Electronic Voting Implementation” seminar, sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS) and Peru’s National Office for Electoral Processes (ONPE) on October 22 and 23.

The confluence of nations and visions on the use of electoral technology yielded a document that outlines the keys to follow to adopt e-voting and do justice to the democratic values that are supported in the exercise of suffrage: universality, freedom, equality, directness, and secrecy.

In order to preserve the value of votes through electoral technology, experts established that trust is a sine qua non, that is to say that both political parties and voters, media, and society at large must believe in automation as a tool that will allow them to have safe, transparent, and reliable elections. To this end, the implementation process must be open throughout all its stages (system search and selection, tests, tender), and application must be progressive and with a broad information and training campaign.

Along with these characteristics, they established that there are 16 basic conditions for the implementation of e-voting: authentication, vote uniqueness, anonymity, impossibility of duress, precision, verification (traceability), auditability, reliability, flexibility, accessibility, feasibility of use, cost efficiency, ability to be certified, invulnerability, openness, and cost effectiveness.

The comprehensiveness of requirements leaves no doubt as to the importance of voting in the democratic world. Besides, technology can provide each and every one of the necessary electoral guarantees for clean, safe, and fast processes.

Nations with the goal of automation cannot afford to obviate any of the stages that have been well preserved by the 30 countries that now have laws to automate elections, and in which —according to a report by the Carter Center carried out in 2012— more than 1.7 billion people can vote safely.

Some of the considerations that experts mention include carrying out a broad referendum across the nation, carrying out comparative studies, calling for a transparent tender, applying pilot programs to test the reliability of the system and its adaptation to the country’s characteristics, deploying a broad information process, and designing a progressive implementation plan that allows the whole nation to adjust to electronic voting.

Facts show that in order to modernize suffrage, a country does not need to move fast, but rather for its responsible authorities to choose the most adequate system, because the electoral technology available nowadays offers all the necessary tools to safeguard the main asset of Democracy, the vote.

El Salvador wages a battle to implement electoral technology

The High Electoral Court of El Salvador (TSE) has opened an international public tender for the “hiring of the remote digitalization, processing, and disclosure of preliminary electoral results service for the 2014 electoral event.”

In a nutshell, the project goes like this: at the end of the voting session, the scrutiny minutes —delivered by the polling station members to the TSE operators and handed out to the political actors— are received in the National Preliminary Result Processing Center for their verification, aggregation, and online disclosure. The disclosed and aggregated minute is previously seen by all the stakeholders, so that they can immediately verify it and confirm that the results match.

At the beginning of the tender process, about 11 companies expressed their interest, but only two presented formal proposals to the electoral commission: Indra and Smartmatic.

Indra has already carried out elections in El Salvador through a direct awarding done by the same judges that are current members of the TSE. One year ago, this cost the nation 7 million dollars for the deployment of 2,200 scanners. According to the media and declarations from the political parties, the project was extremely costly, especially for a preliminary result process. For the 2 February 2014 presidential election, considering 2 electoral rounds, Indra presented a total offer of US$5,459,718. Smartmatic, a company that provides electoral technology for countries such as Belgium, Philippines, United States, Brazil, and Venezuela, was the other company participating in the tender. For the 2014 presidential election, also considering 2 electoral rounds, Smartmatic presented an offer to the TSE for $4,794,267, that is, $665,000 less than Indra’s offer.

TSE must now decide between the two companies to carry out the preliminary electoral result processing. Although in terms of costs the difference is quite clear, authorities are still considering awarding the contract to Indra.

El Salvador´s economy has been lagging behind the rest of Central America for quite some time. Poverty rate has reached 30%, and worst of all, remittances, an important source of income, are diminishing. In light of this looming economy, one would guess the decision would take cost as one of the determining factors. Especially when technologically speaking both options are similar.

To be up to international standards in electoral matters, guaranteeing transparency only on Election Day is not enough. Transparency should encompass every step leading to an election, including the selection of providers.

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To find out more details about the Salvadorian presidential election, click here.