Ecuador goes to the polls again

12.8 million Ecuadorians are called to vote on February 19th to elect a new President of the Republic, 137 members of the National Assembly and 5 legislators to the Andean Parliament.

For months, the country debated and questioned the decision of the National Electoral Council (CNE) of accepting a “donation” of 2 thousand devices to be used for vote counting and the broadcast of results.

Until today, and after three simulations carried out during the preparation stage of the election, the authorities have limited themselves to communicate that the system is ready; however, they have not offered details on how the vote counting scanners performed.

Facing this lack of information, it is good to remember the critical steps Ecuador must take – steps on which its political and institutional stability will rest.

First, there is the matter of rapid counts, which are nothing but preliminary voting results.  During these elections, the CNE will debut this process, and it will be based in the selection of a random sample -between 25% and 30%-  of the Vote Reception Boards, i.e. the location where the certified election returns are tallied. A total of 9,617 people in the country were trained for this task.  Additionally, 650 people will operate the call centre that will receive the reports resulting from this quick count, so they are made public a few hours after the polls close.

The second step that calls for attention will be the scanning of the election returns.  CNE President Juan Pablo Pozo explained that as soon as the voting is over, the members of the Vote Reception Boards will begin the count and the filling of certified election returns, which will then be handed inside a sealed envelope to a collecting police officer so they are taken to the scanning area. There, the returns will be digitized and sent through an electronic system to be posted online and be made publicly accessible.

Although this mechanism may seem diligent, Pozo himself has stated that the official forecast is to present conclusive results five days after the polls close. This, given the country was satisfied with having only preliminary results on election day and using equipment that fails to improve the model, since the devices only scan and transmit manual election returns.

Next Sunday we will know if the statistical approximations of quick counts were enough or, to the contrary, if the country’s electorate and the political climate demanded expedient official results.  Right then is when the lack of a speedy vote processing system such as e-voting will be made evident.  The die is cast.  We can only wait.

Ecuador goes to the polls with more doubts than certainty

Foto: Últimas Noticias

On February 19th, Ecuador will be holding general elections. In preparation for this event, the National Electoral Council (CNE) carried out their third simulation test of the electoral infrastructure and declared themselves ready.

According to the authorities, during the last test before the elections – February 5th – the 1,799 locations that will be working during election day were activated, and their operational readiness was proved.

CNE President Juan Pablo Pozo stated the system is “completely ready” to fulfil the process, where a new President, 137 members of the National Assembly, and 5 legislators for the Andean Parliament will be elected.

“All systems have passed the certification norms the Electoral Council has today; therefore, we guarantee the country this will be a flawless process”, stated Pozo, without mentioning the results of the test.  Regrettably, there is little know about the the performance of the quick count – previously an exit poll, and now in the hands of the CNE. There were also no comments on the performance of the donated scanners that will be used to put the certified electoral returns online.

Political parties have voiced concerns about the voter roll and as the quick count process; the latter aims to deliver preliminary results three hours after the polls close.

Some political spokespeople have also voiced concerns over the selection of the Vote Reception Boards, which will be in charge of issuing non-official results, given the fact they were not chosen in accordance to the nation’s voting distribution and the risk which that entails.

Other political parties have questioned the lack of audits on the technology, the voter rolls, and the system itself.  Gilmar Gutiérrez, leader of Partido Sociedad Patriótica (PSP), denied that any party has attended the alleged revisions carried out by the CNE.

Despite the concerns, the stage is set in Ecuador. 12.8 million voters are called to the polls. Both the non-official results and the use of equipment to scan the election returns and transmit them are generating more suspicions than certainties, but we will have to wait to evaluate this process on which the nation’s political stability depends.

The United States before the opportunity to improve its voting systems

The November 8th elections in the US have left a mark not just in the way of the presidential results, where Donald Trump won over Hillary Clinton in electoral votes but not in the popular vote. They can also be the framework for the country to keep evolving on the subject of electoral guarantees.

At the end of the process, the Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) published a preliminary report that highlights the civic behaviour of the electorate and also some technical issues that delayed the voting in several counties.

The observation team, who worked in the United States for the first time, stated that “in occasions, the long lines were due to sporadic failures of the voting equipment, like the scanners, or in the case of Colorado, the Statewide Voter Registration System (SCORE), which was down for 20 minutes”.

The organization warned that these technical issues were solved efficiently by following the procedures for eventualities that had been previously adopted; however, other analyses state that many of these problems could be a result of the obsolescence of the machines used in every state of the union, whose respective administration duties lie on each county, meaning several different models are operative.

In the wake of the Voting Day events, these issues did not generate any problems or doubts about the results, however it is important to insist on the need that local authorities have to renew their technology.

Updating the equipment would not only make the voting easier, strengthen security and shield the process, but could also improve one of the weak spots of voting in the USA: the results broadcast on election night are only preliminary, and every state has an average of five weeks to formalize the count.

The situation is that after a week has elapsed there is still not a definitive count, since the early voting is still being counted; early voting takes place two weeks before the election but is counted long after, depending on norms that vary by county or state.

The Untied States has a solid democracy, and the Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon made an appeal to keep this spirit alive after the election: “after a disputed electoral campaign that often caused divisions, we should remember and reaffirm that the unity in diversity that characterizes the United States is one of the country’s strengths”.

However, upgrading voting technology will not only make the electorate feel safer, but also show other countries that with the right technology no action can subvert the popular will.