TSE looks to set an agenda on electoral technology in Bolivia

The last electoral process in Bolivia, a constitutional referendum on presidential reelection which took place in February 2016, showed the country’s need to transition to a voting model that will not keep the population waiting for transparent and timely results.

With this objective in mind, the recently elected president of the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), Katia Uriona, announced that in his new tenure she will look to set an agenda for the organism: moving towards the adoption of technology to improve the system.

Currently the country uses two methods to get electoral results. “One is a quick transmission of results, which involves photographed election returns that are uploaded to a website managed by the Court; the other is an official vote tally in every department, using the physical election returns after they are validated” she explained.

However, none of these processes let the Court deliver an official count at the end of election day, which meant the country had to settle for exit polls.

To overcome these shortcomings, Uriona said they are analyzing the eventual implementation of automated voting for Bolivians residing abroad. They are specifically evaluating the technical feasibility and cost of e-voting, as well as the legal reformation needed for such a project, in order to shape what would be the nation´s first modern automated voting model.

Within this framework, the TSE admitted that during their last electoral process, the Organization of American States (OAS) observation team detected some irregularities and created a report with recommendations that are yet to be implemented; however, according to Uriona, the report will be discussed with aims of setting a schedule for enacting these suggestions

The text claims that “the mission witnessed that the publication of results was slow”, and it suggests “to execute the necessary legislative changes and programs so that the electoral authority is able to provide preliminary electoral results that are highly precise and will not be questioned”.

The vices shown during the last electoral processes seem to indicate there is no longer a margin for hesitation or indecisiveness in Bolivia. The TSE has said the country is prepared to assume the challenge of adopting technology. Now it is time to show there is also commitment to this goal.

El Salvador suspends electoral modernization

El Salvador, one of the democracies demanding most attention in the region due to the political violence that has plagued it for years, has decided to suspend the use of technology for the organization of their 2018 elections.  This decision puts in risk the transparency of the vote, scheduled for next March 4th.

According to the country’s Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), this measure is mainly a result of government budget cuts.  According to magistrate Guadalupe Medina, the reduction of $14.116.490 from their expenses has “touched the heart of the electoral process, the nerves of the process”.

Such dramatic statements come from the fact that early TSE reports show this lack of resources will affect key election processes: the modernization of the transmission process, the processing and publication of electoral results, the training of voting officials, and electoral logistics.

TSE magistrate Miguel Ángel Cardoza explained that there was a bid for the purchase of optical vote scanners on the schedule (the machines would also be used for digitizing the election returns) but this plan had to be scrapped due to the lack of funds.

It is interesting that the Salvadorian government chose to sacrifice the modernization of the counting stage of the process. In all recent elections (such as the 2015 election of deputies and mayors, and the 2014 presidential election) problems typical to manual voting, such as numerical inconsistencies and double voting, and failures by the companies chosen for the scanning and transmission of election returns to tallying centres, forced the TSE to delay the announcement of official results for weeks.

Cardoza warns that votes will need to be counted manually again, trusting that the scanning of election results will work this time, and the problems and failures will not be repeated.   He stated that the only resort is to improve the training of the poll staff, but he admitted the resources alloted for this stage were also cut.

Given the particular requirements of a voting process, and good practices for the use of technology, what happened in El Salvador needs to be reviewed.  Risking political stability by skipping vital needs for every election, and by not adopting automated systems that are tailored to said needs, can only make the voters’ will more vulnerable and harm their trust on institutions.

El Salvador and Honduras seek to reverse electoral malpractice

medium (1)In terms of politics, Central America has been a historically convulsive region. Therefore, its electoral systems should play an important role in maintaining political and social stability. This should have been a motive for the implementation for safe and transparent voting models, but for the last two years, problems have arisen in both El Salvador and Honduras that have hindered progress in matters of electoral trust.

El Salvador has had two consecutive elections, the 2014 presidentials and the 2015 legislative and municipal ones. Both of them have suffered technical setbacks and objections about the tallying process. Meanwhile, Honduras also experienced strong suspicions about the results of the 2013 presidential elections. These issues have led both countries to actively seek to overcome their electoral malpractice.

In El Salvador, various political stakeholders have asked the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) to reengineer the country’s voting system, with the addition of studying the viability of implementing e-voting. The country lacks a tallying system that guarantees a timely, seamless vote count.

Honduras is also devoid of a mechanism for counting and aggregating votes while safeguarding people’s intent and guaranteeing a rapid dissemination of clean results. This has created strong tensions. But at least Honduras already has laws that enable electoral automation.

In light of the need to modernize the country’s system, an event sponsored by the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP), the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (DIMD), and the National Democracy Institute (NDI) was used to advance the discussions to lead Honduras to the adoption of a new voting model.

Even though both countries have barely begun to debate these issues, it is positive that they can see the options that technology offers for promoting democratic stability in a modern electoral system. Experience has shown that E-voting has the power to settle even the most challenging elections, for instance with high levels of political polarization, complex electoral infrastructures, narrow outcomes, and up to thousands of candidates contesting simultaneously, and still yielding unquestionable results.