Córdoba sets standards for the use of e-voting in Argentina


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E-voting yielded positive results in Marcos Juárez and La Falda, municipalities of the Córdoba province in Argentina (Photo: http://www.diaadia.com.ar)

Recent elections in different Argentine provinces made it possible to consolidate the nation’s democratic system, and also defined benchmarks for the use of e-voting in the country.e

Two types of electoral technology were tested out during the July 5 elections in Buenos Aires and Córdoba. The performance of one type was vastly different from the other.

While Córdoba (specifically in the La Falda and Marcos Juárez municipalities) used technology provided by Smartmatic—which automates the most important stages of voting: capture, tally, aggregation, and transmission—, the capital of Argentina used the Single E-Ballot (BUE) provided by MSA (Magic Software Argentina), which only automates the tallying.

Results gathered by the electoral authorities and the media show that while in Córdoba the voting process progressed neatly and quickly and results were presented 45 minutes after the polling places were closed, Buenos Aires presented irregularities before and during the elections. In fact, 532 polling places were left untallied due to transmission flaws.

These results were discussed by the authorities and civil associations. For example, Luis Rubio, spokesman from the Supreme Court, stated that “by the early morning around 12 percent of the votes were left untallied and nobody said anything.” Governor José Manuel de la Sota also acknowledged that the single ballot’s counting system “made tallying slower.”

On the other hand, the secretary of the Electoral Court of Córdoba, María José Páez Molina, pointed out that the “(e-voting) process was carried out normally, meeting expectations, and posing no problem for voters.” The entity’s spokesman, Jorge Namur, added that the fact that the day was successful makes it possible to anticipate the extension of e-voting to the entire province.

A positive aspect in both electoral processes is the citizens’ willingness to use technology to vote. Córdoba Transparente, an organization that monitored the electoral process in La Falda, stated that the survey carried out on election day showed that 92% of the population considered that machine-assisted e-voting was easy to use, and 89% said the system was fast. In Buenos Aires, more than 70% of the people said that the electronic system is faster than the manual model.

After the event, Córdoba made it clear that it made the right choice in e-voting for its citizens. On the other hand, Buenos Aires still has pending work to do: it needs to seek a technology model that guarantees the process, and that automates not only the tallying, but the whole electoral process. Buenos Aires might as well follow the example set by La Falda and Marcos Juárez.

Paper vote receipts: Making the vote verifiable


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Some DRE machine models have the capacity to print a vote receipt on paper automatically.

In their search for an e-voting model that guarantees accuracy, ease in ballot casting, and verifiability, countries are increasingly opting for e-voting solutions that include printing a vote receipt. This type of receipt is called a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

The main attraction of VVPAT systems is the fact that they enable voters to check in real time that the vote registered, which is the one printed by the machine, matches the choices they just inputted. In addition to enabling this verification, physically printing each vote generates a paper trail that opens the possibility to manually count and compare paper votes totals with the automated counts reflected on the minutes.

Due to the electoral guarantee involving the use of VVPAT, some countries now demand it with e-voting solutions, such as Brazil and India. Although the first of the two is an automation pioneer, its machines do not have printers that replicate digital votes on paper. For this reason, several initiatives have arisen to renew the country’s equipment so as to give way to paper trails for votes.

On the other hand, although India has become a benchmark in the successful implementation of voting machines, it has not yet fulfilled its promise to modernize its system by implementing paper trail printing in order to shield the people’s intent. However, the Supreme Court has already issued a ruling demanding its use.

Venezuela is a pioneer in the use of VVPAT in the region. The mark this practice leaves was reflected on a study conducted by Peru’s National Office for Electoral Processes (Onpe), which shows how the DRE model is progressing firmly compared to other e-voting models. It also shows how paper trails are gaining ground both in countries where electoral automation is used and countries where its implementation is still under study, such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

The way e-voting has found a way to defeat suspicion and fear has been shielding all the phases of the process. VVPAT is a guarantee for expansion.

Buenos Aires struggling due to e-voting contract award


bairesBuenos Aires has put to the test the adage “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, also known as “Murphy’s Law”. Instead of following a safe and transparent process, the capital of Argentina is undergoing an e-voting selection and adoption process that has brought trouble upon it –possibly a lot of trouble.

After the city decided to implement electoral technology in late 2014 and called for a tender process in order to implement e-voting during the April 26 primary elections and the June 5 general elections, it is now facing doubts and suspicion coming from different angles: the tender process has gathered several accusations, the selected electoral technology does not automate voting but only tallying, and the electoral calendar is starting to overlap.

The process’s black spots started with the tender process in which MSA (Magic Software Argentina) was selected to automate elections for Buenos Aires. Politicians and even social activists found it suspicious to award the contract to a company that had previous connections with the city’s government, as well as the fact that the tender process was practically tailored to the company’s needs, essentially dismissing all competitors in spite of their possible superiority.

To understand the suspicions cast over the selection process, it suffices to mention that Smartmatic, the second company to bid on this tender, is well known for offering technology capable of automating 100% of the voting process, while MSA offers devices that only automate tallying.

Although Smartmatic presented a more cost-effective bid and has implemented e-voting in countries as dissimilar as the Philippines, the United States, Belgium, and Venezuela, while MSA has only worked in Argentina—and in a pilot test in Ecuador—, Smartmatic was immediately and unceremoniously discarded.

Besides, instead of adopting a technology model that really did automate suffrage, the Buenos Aires government decided to simply replicate the technology used by MSA in Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe—a model known as the electronic ballot box with smart ballots, which is not a comprehensive e-voting solution but a device designed to automate tallying only. This means that the authorities have chosen to use a technology that does not solve the problems entailed by manual voting, instead of opting for a model that offers the complete array of benefits that electronic voting brings.

As if the accusations weren’t enough, implementation is also in jeopardy. More and more people are warning about the suspension of the electronic ballot box altogether, as the electoral calendar has already begun and there is no plan to complete the key stages of e-voting implementation. For example, there has been a warning that the company and the authorities won’t be able to guarantee a suitable deadline for technician and voter training for the primary elections (at least three months), as nothing is known about the process two months away from the elections. There is a possibility that automation is altogether suspended for this event.

The outlook in Buenos Aires is desolate, but there can always be a light at the end of the tunnel. The future of voting in the city depends on the authorities rectifying and beginning a process that abides by the highest standards and not by political interests, where the company’s experience and ability to offer an e-voting model adjusted to legal, technical, financial needs, as well as those related to idiosyncrasy, prevails.