Spanish America strives to link technology with popular election


tabletas

The Spanish autonomous community of Canarias will use tablets for the transmission of results.

The use of technology in the delicate and complex process of organizing elections continues to expand in Spanish America. In addition to the two global benchmarks of the region—Brazil and Venezuela—, there are other countries and regions joining in, such as Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras, among others.

Two regions where technology will come closer to voters in the coming months are Mexico and the Spanish autonomous community of the Canary Islands.

In the Canary Islands, the authorities have authorized the use of tablets to speed up the transmission of results. According to the technical specs of the exercise, 1,124 tablets will be used next May 24th at the polling stations where councillors and deputies will be elected, which will speed up the process of vote tally.

This initiative shows that there are procedures that make the benefits of electoral technology evident in terms of optimizing voting processes and enforce guarantees.

In Mexico, where elections will be held in June, the National Electoral Institute (INE) has not made any progress in the development of the automation pilot test that had been promised for this year. However, the state of Chiapas will implement an online voting model that will enable citizens living abroad to participate in the elections. The process is very simple (registration, password generation, and ballot casting), and will set an example for this country, in terms of how technology can become a means of political inclusion.

Parallel to these experiences, Honduras joined the group of nations that seek to generate the legal platform that enables e-voting. A bill is under way in the Parliament for the automation of the 2017 elections. This would allow the region (which has experienced strong political frictions) to find a mechanism that guarantees the electoral will, and along with it, the path to stability.

2015 is already under way and there are several initiatives that put under the spotlight some of the objectives which some countries are pursuing in electoral matters. The good news is that most of the ideas are based on the implementation of e-voting best practices.

Spain turns its back on equal suffrage


recbraille1

Venezuela uses devices from the SAES 4000 series by Smartmatic, which enable voting for people with disability.

The progress of technology, aside from facilitating and improving processes in numerous realms of human endeavor, is also useful to expose governmental negligence. Next May, Spain will hold municipal and autonomous elections. Although the nation has been running tests and analyses for years in order to take steps into e-voting, in recent weeks authorities have acknowledged that people will disabilities will not be able to exert their right to suffrage in the upcoming elections.

The Executive Branch has pointed out that it is “technically impossible” to use a voting system accessible to people with visual impairments, due to the large number of candidacies in the 8,116 municipalities that will go to the polls this time. The government has even mentioned that the Organic Law of the General Electoral Regime (LOREG) contemplates just one specific voting procedure for the visually impaired (ballots in Braille), but only for general elections, European elections, and referenda; thus leaving out municipal elections, and altogether excluding voters with disabilities other than visual impairment.

This recent official statement is at odds with the fundamental rights of members of any society; worse yet, knowing that in other parts of the world technology has contributed to balance the exercise of suffrage. Physical or sensory disabilities no longer pose a restriction for voters to cast their ballots and benefit from the right to vote in an universal, free, direct, secret, and equal manner. Aside from representing the best option for citizens to gain access to fast, reliable, and transparent elections, e-voting has bestowed a new meaning to equal suffrage. It has offered autonomy to voters with physical disabilities (motor disabilities, limb impairment, absence of limbs), as well as sensory ones (visual and hearing impairment).

For example, the US and Venezuela employ vastly different voting models, but they both have implemented equipment supporting the Braille system for visually impaired voters and providing headphones for illiterate voters, as well as “sip and puff” tools to facilititate suffrage for people with motor problems.

In Spain, e-voting has had numerous trials. The first one took place in 1995 and the latest one in 2011 in Castellón, Ceuta, Huesca, and Merida. However, no autonomous community has been able to take the initiative and regulate automation.

Spanish deputy Joan Valdoví considers that the Spanish Government “is still living in the 19th century” and has been incapable of “adapting to new technologies to make democracy truly accessible to all citizens.”

Electoral technology has made the assisted vote possible thanks to a new generation of cutting-edge machines; e.g., touchscreen devices with Braille system for people with visual disability to vote on their own, or devices with headphones where the machine reads the contents of the ballot in as many languages as required. Moreover, there are interfaces that enable ballot navigation using “sip and puff” devices, so that voters with motor limitations can browse through options in the ballot.

There are no excuses for discrimination. What Spain and other nations require is the resolve and a sense of equality in the exercise of suffrage, as technology is available to guarantee every citizen’s right to vote. It is time to acknowledge that people with any kind of physical impairments have the same rights to vote as anyone else.

Biometrics protect voting


voto

Brazil has an electronic ballot box with a number keyboard and a biometric identification device.

Double voting and identity theft are two of the electoral frauds that often smear elections in Latin American countries. However, these regrettable practices are not exclusive of our region. In Europe, they were put under the spotlight after the European Union’s legislative elections on May 25th, when a journalist admitted to having voted on two occasions, as he had dual citizenship and could vote both in Germany and Italy.

The illegal action of assuming another voter’s identity or voting multiple times has altered electoral results in many countries, decreasing citizens’ trust in the system and forcing authorities to look for best practices to safeguard suffrage. That’s why, biometric identification—fingerprint scanning for identity verification—began to be adopted in the electoral industry after its ample use in the industrial and business world (for controlling access of people, for example).

Nowadays, many countries can serve as an example for the European Union and the nations with no tools to authenticate their voters’ identity. Technology expert companies have designed voting devices that enable the possibility of fulfilling the “one vote, one voter” premise.

Two cases worth highlighting correspond to Brazil and Venezuela, which are leaders in the use of electoral technology in Latin America, as they have e-voting models that incorporate biometric identification. Brazil uses machines with number keyboards to register voters’ fingerprints before voting, while Venezuelans have what they call an Integrated Authentication System (SAI) —a mechanism with fingerprint scanners (biometric identification devices) that enables the machine to be unlocked only after each voter’s biometric authentication.

simulacro05

The new SAES machines Venezuela uses include a biometric identification device. Photo: AVN

Colombia, which has been trying to automate its elections for many years, has begun the process of technology adoption with a biometric system consisting of devices capable of capturing each voter’s fingerprint (before voting) in order to compare it with those stored by the electoral system. The Registrar’s Office has stated that this technology has proven effective deterring identity theft.

A clear demonstration of the effectiveness of this mechanism was offered recently by the Carter Center, which revealed the results of an audit to Venezuela’s SAI for the 2013 presidential elections. The report indicates that the biometric system used “has the capacity to identify multiple voting or usurped votes post hoc (…) and the incidence of these was relatively low,” as only 247 cases were detected out of 15 million ballots cast.

Going back to the EU, where thousands of people have dual citizenship, with two passports that enable them to vote in two countries during a single process, biometric identification can be adapted to guarantee elections free of identity fraud. Through the use of technology, the EU can make it clear that by protecting each voter’s identity, it is protecting voting itself.