Failed bid, untested voting machines hound upcoming Ecuador polls


As Ecuador prepares to hold its general elections in less than a month, observers have expressed concerns over the use of an election technology which did not go through the regular procurement process.

This developed after the National Electoral Council (CNE) declared a failed bidding for the procurement of “service of data transmission between the CNE and the 1,818 Publication and Transmission Centers (Rtpa), used for the transmission of data from scanned precinct counts.”

Instead, the poll body has accepted a donation from the government of South Korea consisting of 2,000 digitalization and transmission machines.

Observers are worried, though, that the Korean machines will not be up to specifications.

While the CNE has expressed satisfaction over the system’s performance in a mock election, political parties have decried the lack of transparency in the testing. They are hoping that the next test on February 5 will shed light on their questions.

Former Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernández, who belongs to the observation team, said that he is concerned over several aspects of the polls including voter rolls, the IT system, and the scanners that will be used for the transmission of results.

In 2014, Ecuadorians had to endure a month-long delay before official results could be announced due to the failed performance of the Spanish company Scytl.  Now, voters are hoping against hope that the untried donated technology will somehow suit the country’s complex election needs.

Scytl in Ecuador and Mexico: Is it the same screenplay?

The Spanish Company Scytl seems to be developing a knack for controversies, in the same vein as that used in 2014 to lure entrepreneurs like Paul Allen, and investment groups as Vy Capital, in order to tap millions of US$ in investment roundtables.

It is a dangerous combination of incompetency, arrogance and effrontery that made Scytl the center of several scandals around the world, in a very short space of time. Only in 2014, Canada, Norway, Peru and Ecuador suffered firsthand “the Scytl experience”.

In 2015 it is now Mexico´s turn. The National Electoral Commission (INE) contracted this Spanish company last September 30th, 2014 to supply an online accounting system for political parties, made up of three modules: Accounting, Controlling and Transparency.

However, on December 14th alarms went off, as Scytl did not submit the first module of the accounting system on time. Since then, all facts are remarkably similar to what happened a year ago during Ecuador´s sectional elections. On that occasion Scytl failed in its attempt to deliver electoral results on time. It was not about a delay of hours, but of weeks that took Syctl to deliver the results expected that very election evening.

After a whole month of delay in delivering the results in Ecuador, the noncompliance with obligations by Syctl was very evident. In spite of that, the company refused to accept its failures and blamed the Ecuadorian Electoral Commission. To date, the Syctl website refers to the Ecuadorian experience as a total success. Last week, in light of the early termination of the Service Contract by Mexico, the company reacted similarly: washing its hands.

But coincidences do not end with a simple and binding failure of the service. A month after the elections, the Ecuadorian National Electoral Commission (CNE) took action on this matter and Syctl´s Contract was declared null and void. The contract was unilaterally terminated and the corresponding warranty charges were applied.

Through its spokesman, the company´s CEO Pere Valles, expressed his surprise at the Ecuadorian Government procedure and warned of legal actions. But is it a coincidence, or is there a modus operandi here? Precisely this week, after INE´s announcement, Pere Valles was surprised and launched a threat to the Mexican authorities.

In Ecuador (2014), much to the amazement of public opinion, Valles accused Domingo Paredes —then the President of the Ecuadorian Electoral Commission— of having an arrangement with another contractor. “We believe this (the decision) reflects the CNE President´s interest in working with another contractor” said Scytl CEO to EFE

On this occasion and during the MVS news broadcast of Carmen Aristegui, Scytl insinuated that the early termination of the Contract by INE was political in nature.

Time will pass and we will see. INE defends itself giving details on the Contract and explaining why the early termination. As yet, this Scytl threat seems to be just a simple intimidation to the electoral body, in an effort to preserve its reputation in other places, where this story —which is turning into a ritornello— may not make it to the news.

Peru turns its back on transparency and jeopardizes e-voting


Peru’s ONPE designed a voting machine, and ithas been tested repeatedly.

The recent events in Peru are a good example of how good news might not actually be so good. Although in the country it was announced that the use of e-voting, which was implemented for the first time in 2011,  would be extended to seven districts for the next October 5 regional and municipal elections, the authorities have jeopardized the process by executing certain vital stages of the electoral process in the shadows.

A simple Internet search on the elections reveals that the citizens have been poorly informed about the proceedings of the National Office for Electoral Processes (ONPE) in the organization of the event, especially in terms of automation.

For example, the electoral body responded angrily to questionings about the guarantees of a tender process it had carried out, which led the country to find out that Scytl, a Spanish company, had been chosen for the development of the automated system’s software.

ONPE reacted to accusations against the assignment of the contract to the Spanish company and against the tender process itself. The process allegedly lacked the minimum conditions to guarantee its outcome based solely on technical and electoral interests, as well as on the suitability of the company’s technology.

At first, the tender process went practically incognito during its execution, which was against one of the requirements toward the acquisition of a transparent and efficient e-voting technology: to be done openly for the whole country to know and to allow as many companies as there are in the market to compete. In this case, the tender was called at the end of June and closed one month later, but it was only this week that the media were allowed to review its execution, and only because ONPE reacted to the accusations against the Spanish company.

The process was so airtight that only one company (Scytl) bid to provide electoral software solutions for e-voting and/or security audits. In spite of this, ONPE approved the contract. The fact that the company’s Project Manager is Raúl Murga Fernández, who was the electoral body’s System Manager until May 2013, entailed an additional ethical risk.

But not only the tender process is being questioned—Scytl itself is also under scrutiny. The company is currently undergoing a legal process in Ecuador, where the electoral body declared that Scytl breached its obligations, as the software designed for the digital reading of manual voting minutes failed. It was determined that the system’s errors had deterred the timely presentation of results.

With this outlook, less than two months before the Peruvian elections, the country doesn’t know yet what will be the system that will be deployed in the 7 districts scheduled to use e-voting. Word has it that it is a mechanism called “network voting.” However, there is absolutely no information regarding its functionality.

By ignoring and bypassing the accepted criteria for tender processes to comply with transparency standards, ONPE is putting its responsibility of delivering an automated system for optimum safe voting to the country under risk.